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Hidden Gems


JAPAN | Thursday, 21 May 2015 | Views [129] | Scholarship Entry

On the outskirts of Sapporo, Japan, there is a small underground bar. It won’t be found unless you go looking for it, and what is inside is not typically Japanese. It isn’t a maid bar, or a sake bar, or any of the classic and unusual Japanese bars you might find in Tokyo or Osaka.

It is a craft beer bar, the first of its kind in Japan.

Stepping out of a cab into a quiet suburban street, I didn’t know what to expect of ‘Mugishutei’. It was the middle of February and the snow was bucketing down around me. The cab drove off, and I was left looking around for something that resembled a bar. The entire street was empty, each side lined with large, grey apartment blocks. I was almost certain I had been led astray, with no cabs or people in sight.

I was close to walking back the way I had come, in hopes of hailing a cab and going to the centre of the city. It was then I saw a small door, with a Chimay logo above it. I opened it up and was met by a dark staircase, the walls lined with used bottle caps. I was in the right place.

At the bottom of the stairs I walked through a curtain into a tiny, dark room. The place was completely empty, except for a man who looked like Santa Claus standing behind the bar. He greeted me with an American accent. His name was Phred (Yes, with a ‘P-h’ - I learned this later, as ‘Phred’ sounds exactly the same as the conventional spelling, when spoken). Phred was the owner, and had started Mugishutei in 1980.

Along an entire wall of the bar were fridges filled with both craft beer from Japan, and imported from all over the globe. They have a pretty casual system at Mugishutei; take what you want and then pay at the end. An honour system in a bar is something that can only exist in Japan. Phred sat at my table for a while and we spoke about craft beer, and his experience living in Japan for the past thirty years. He talked passionately about his love for the people, and his experience of a culture that had slowly begun to open up to the rest of the world. What I witnessed in Phred was the best of two very different cultures.

I’ve travelled all around that beautiful country over the last seven years, experiencing the best of the rich, traditional Japanese culture. But in Mugishutei, what I witnessed was a small piece of a more open and ever-evolving modern culture in Japan. Kampai!

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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