A Small Bar in the Mountains
Passing the main street of Yamanaka Onsen at night, one soon leaves behind the beautifully lit up the Soyu Kiku-no-yu and finds oneself drawn to a small, traditional house in the back streets right next to the mystical Hasebe Shrine. Entering Washu Bar Engawa, one’s eyes are drawn not only to the many beautiful details like the wooden inlays in the doors, but also to the wide array of saké bottles and the owner’s heartful and welcoming smile.
A Long Journey
Before opening Washu Bar Engawa in Yamanaka Onsen 2014, SHIMOKI Yūsuke, born in the neighboring Yamashiro Onsen, went a long way learning about all diverse kinds of spirits, but became especially interested in Japan’s original drink, nihonshu, or as it is more commonly known, saké. While working for a nihonshu retailer, having left Kaga to learn more about drinks in Kanazawa, he became determined to open the bar as a place for people to meet and have fun together in his hometown. Led by this decision, he moved to Tokyo to become a barkeeper but, being unsatisfied with how the spirits were handled, moved on to learn about nihonshu.
Back in Ishikawa, he faced opposition to his idea of a nihonshu bar as the drink was declining in popularity, but was welcomed in Yamanaka, where he received more opportunities to gain experience with the drink, analyze how it is made firsthand, got to know a lot of brewers in the town, and finally opened Washu Bar Engawa. Continuing his journey, he became not only a certified connoisseur of and specialist in saké and other drinks, but was also recognized by Kaga City as a saké-ist, a term he coined after famous Japanese art critic Okakura Tenshin’s term Teaist for tea lovers, traveling around the world to convey the appeal of the drink as well.
Lightheartedly Enjoying a Few Cups of Tradition
At Washu Bar Engawa, SHIMOKI aims to convey the appeal of nihonshu not only with regards to its depths as an expertly crafted drink with many different facets of flavor, but also, and maybe even more importantly, as something that brings people together to have a good time without any conditions. Whether you want to get to know nihonshu’s many types and how they differ, or you are a seasoned connoisseur and want to explore something new or special, SHIMOKI is happy to help select and connect every guest with the best-fitting cup or bottle.
He also encourages customers to revisit brands they have already drunk before to get to know them better, which he finds often brings about surprising new discoveries about one’s own taste in saké and another connected field he holds dear: crafts. Depending on the shape and material of the vessel one is drinking from, the taste of the drink itself also changes and makes every experience a little bit different. That is why SHIMOKI also enjoys serving his drinks in different cups and serving vessels made by local urushi lacquer, wood, and ceramic artists, sometimes even requesting custom utensils directly from them. This is another way in which he wishes to promote both the understanding of local culture and the fun of drinking.
For SHIMOKI, Kaga and Ishikawa are the perfect places to discover and enjoy the best Japan has to offer. With both the mountains and the sea close by, the region’s culture has a lot to offer, be it craft, food, nature or nihonshu. In his bar he aims to bring visitors and locals closer to this culture and one another in the spirit of imakagiri (今限り), or making the best of the moment.
How about a cup of nihonshu with friends and friends-to-be in Yamanaka?