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[Oninoude] is a Bar to Enjoy Awamori, Pottery, Okinawan Cuisine & Yuntaku (Conversation)
post : 2020.02.18 19:00
A bar with a unique name, Oninoude, opened in July 2016, about a 10-minute leisurely walk from Kokusai Street toward the Noren Ichiba market. You can’t miss it, with its many glass sake bottles peering through the front windows and at hanging at the door is a creative Noren curtain that welcomes its patrons.
As you walk through the curtain with the happy Buddha welcoming you and step inside, you’ll find a great vermilion-colored wall filled with shelves lined with sake bottles.
At the center of the wall is a Yasha demon mask, and just underneath that is a beautiful vase with a very strong presence. That vase is called “Oninoude”, and that is what the bar is named after.
“An Oninoude is the name for this type of long, narrow Tokkuri, and is my favorite pottery,” explains the bar operator, Chosho Sakukawa. He continues to talk about its charm, “Oninoude is diverse and can be used for various purposes. From one piece of pottery, it can expand to meet various uses, from a Tokkuri sake container, flower vase, head rest, and at times, as a weapon.”
There are numerous types of sake bottles, Okinawan sake containers called “Kara Kara”, as well as the Okinawan “Chibugwa”, likely the smallest Ochoko sake cups in the world. There are also unique pieces like sake containers made from coconuts, cups made from green turban shells, and rare sake equipment like Sarukachi pestle rods, and Kina Yaki pottery pieces from Yomitan.
As Sakukawa-san points to some of the pieces, he explains, “That one is from 200 years ago, and this one is from about 400 years ago.” The pieces are truly beautiful and valuable, that I though, “Am I in a little museum?”
The episodes and stories surrounding the pieces that were told by Sakukawa-san were intriguing, and the unique Okinawan pieces on display were amazing to see and entertaining to hear about, and I found myself asking about all the interesting pieces that caught my eye.
Among the unique and eye-catching pieces were also sake containers created by some of the greats in Okinawan pottery.
For example, there were works by the late Jiro Kinjo, the first Okinawan to be recognized as a living national treasure (title holder as a nationally designated important intangible cultural asset), as well as those by the late Seisho Kuniyoshi, whose works are very popular among pottery lovers especially from across Japan. One of the attractions to Oninoude is that you can enjoy the luxury of sipping Awamori from special sake cups created by some of the greatest potters.
“At this nighttime establishment that I started out of my love for pottery, Awamori was indispensable. I was fortunate to meet Kawaguchi-san from Awamori Shinbun, and with their help, I was able to get a basic lineup of Awamori selection, and now, I offer 400 varieties of Awamori. I even offer the rare Awanami, which is an Awamori distilled on Hateruma Island and is rarely available outside of the island. I serve this special Awamori for just ¥100 and that’s definitely not very common,” says Sakukawa-san, as he pours the Awanami in three sake cups.
“The taste differs according to the size, thickness, shape, and the composition of the materials of the sake cups. Here, try them and taste the difference.”
I took sips of Awamori from the different sake cups, and indeed, they did taste different. I had no idea that the taste can change so much according to sake cups. I was amazed at this new discovery.
Now, we can’t leave out tasty dishes to accompany the Awamori.
With the minimum charge (¥1,000), Sakukawa-san sometimes serve up small dishes called Otoshi in Japanese, on the house. On the day that I went, he served an assortment of tasty selections on one big dish. It had vinegar Goya Sunomono, Shibui (winter melon) with Okura Sauce, Potato Salad with Porcini Mushrooms and Bacon, Smoked Nankotsu (soft cartilage) Soki Pork Ribs, and Pickled Daikon Radish. The Smoked Nankotsu Soki Pork Ribs were smoked with Karaki wood, which is also known as Ryukyuan cinnamon. All of these selections went very well with the Awamori.
Above is Shio Rafute, or salted pork which is braised with plenty of rice and Awamori over six hours. The thick texture of the rice is gentle and also very filling. If you’re looking to enjoy the wonderful seasonal dishes of Okinawa prepared by Sakukawa-san, be sure to make your reservations in advance. [Photo Courtesy of Oninoude]
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and my mother taught me the basics when I was a boy. I prepare the dishes using Okinawan ingredients and seasonings as much as I can. Oh, and my knives are also made in Okinawa, too,” Sakukawa-san says with a laugh.
I was impressed with his thoroughness in choosing cooking tools that were also made in Okinawa, along with the ingredients and seasonings.
Dishes that accompany the Awamori are tantalizing, but the carefully prepared sweets are excellent, too.
Their original Zenzai sweet beans are made with beans cooked in Awamori and coffee, and finished with Okinawan coffee cherries marinated in Awamori. It wasn’t too sweet either, and it was a treat for grownups who enjoy Awamori.
Awamori Raisin Sandwich [Photo Courtesy of Oninoude]
Tannafakuru is a slightly sweet confectionary enjoyed as a snack by the local people, and they’re commonly eaten as they are. But here, at Oninoude, they’ve sandwiched cream cheese and Awamori raisins to create something completely new, the Awamori Raisin Sandwich. They’ve turned the familiar Tannafakuru into a wonderful treat to go with an alcoholic beverage.
“My hobby is appreciating pottery pieces. When I have time, I go out to photograph Shisa lions, look at various shapes of rooftops, and go to various municipalities to see their cultural properties. I like shapes and molds, too. I’m also interested in history and culture. So, you can say exploring around Okinawa is one of my hobbies, too. I just simply love Okinawa,” says Sakukawa-san, who was born and raised in Naha.
In our conversations, his passion for Okinawa was‘t just evident, but overflowing. His love for Okinawa is definitely huge.
Sakukawa-san explained how the enjoyment of Awamori can be greatly enhanced through selections of sake cups. He also spoke about his two challenges:
“The first challenge is to come up with new dishes using Awamori while combining forgotten ingredients and also those that we can only find in local markets. The second challenge is in the arrangement of the bar. Everything in the establishment is done by hand, and I hope to evolve in ways to match the seasons, and offer a layout that’s comfortable and enjoyable for the customers through decors like folk tools of Okinawa in the bar. I hope people will drop by and enjoy the history and future of Oninoude.”
The charm of pottery, Awamori, Okinawan cuisine, and various other attractions of Okinawa are offered here at Onionoude. It’s not so common to find a bar that stimulates our curiosity and the five senses at the same time. I think I’ll be walking through the happy Buddha Noren curtain again tonight, to enjoy more talks with Sakukawa-san.
Address: 1-7-13 Tsuboya, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 18:00 to 24:00
*Prices shown in the article are current as of January 2020.
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Mika Asaka