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“Music belongs to everyone.” With heartwarming hospitality and delightful regular customers, the folk music Izakaya [Ashibidukuru Eiraku] in Sakaemachi, Naha City, welcomes all.
post : 2021.03.28 18:00
When bar-hopping in Naha, Sakaemachi is usually included as one of the areas to head to. The Sakaemachi area is spread out on the east side of the Asato Yui Rail Station, with the Sakaemachi Market at its center. It is home to numerous unique establishments.
Take several dozen steps eastward from Sakaemachi Rotary (intersection), and you’ll find [Ashibidukuru Eiraku] with its red lanterns and yellow Noren curtains at its entrance. This establishment is very much an Okinawan izakaya pub that offers you a chance to enjoy great food and drinks while enjoying Sanshin (Okinawa’s three-stringed instrument) and singing up close.
The Nushi, also referred by the regulars as Taisho, is the owner of the establishment, Chotai Ishihara. Taisho has played the Sanshin since the tender age of six and is presently a teacher of Miyako and Okinawa Minyo folk music. His skills are well-known and he has even been awarded the Ingya Award in the 5th Nariyama Ayagu Festival*.
*Nariyama Amagu Festival: An annual Minyo festival (performance arts culture event) held in Miyako Island since 2006. It is held in the Tomori district of Miyako Island, home to Nariyama Ayagu, a famous Minyo folk music. The annual event is held to pass down the traditional culture of the island and for local revitalization.
Taisho says, “I want my establishment to be a place where people can connect and expand their network. In such a big world, I want to cherish the meetings of people in this particular spot.”
He smiled as he shared an episode that describes how he cherishes connections and bonds between people, “We’ve had five couples who proposed here, and they’ve all gotten happily married.”
Kimi-san, who started working at Eiraku after a year since its opening, runs the kitchen. Other than the cooking, the rest is done by the Nushi himself.
Some of the most popular dishes prepared by Kimi-san, who graduated from a culinary school, are the Tofu Champuru and Somen Champuru stir-fries. The dishes offer the warmth and taste of a great homecooked meal.
Originally from Chiba Prefecture, Kimi-san shyly says, “I learned how to prepare Okinawan cuisine from my Uchinanchu (Okinawan) friend. The trick to Somen Champuru, I think, is to stir-fry the thin Somen noodles quickly.”
The Nushi says, “The most popular Awamori are Taragawa and Kumejima’s Kumesen, but we have everything that the customer wants. Especially because there’s a liquor store right next door (laughs). Just tell me what you want to drink and I’ll just scoot over next door to pick it up!” What a great place for Sakinuma (alcohol lovers).
“I make a point of striking up conversations with customers who come alone.”
This is backed by the Nushi’s hopes and feelings that, “You’re not alone when you come here. Start a conversation with anybody and everybody and make friends.”
The Nushi continued to tell me about his own beliefs in Utuimuchi (hospitality). “The customers are 60% local and 40% from the rest of Japan. We get a lot of repeat customers. I want to offer the best hospitality to my customers who choose to come here out of all the establishments available in Naha. I make sure that people can relax and enjoy themselves at ease.”
There are about 10 Sanshin hanging from the wall.
“That one is from Taketomi Island, and the one with the red cords is from Tottori Prefecture, and the pink one is from Akita Prefecture.” He told me the stories behind the Sanshin and how they ended up here in his izakaya. There were ones that were left as keepsakes to the persons who had sent the Sanshin to the Nushi, saying, “Please take care of this Sanshin. The Sanshin will be happier at your izakaya than in my possession since it’ll get to make music every night.”
Seeing all the Sanshin hanging side by side, those that belong to the izakaya, those that belong to the Nushi’s students, and all the ones that were sent to him from across from Japan, quietly but firmly displayed the uniqueness of the owner and his izakaya. He says, “Sanshin is a living thing. Each one of the Sanshin has a soul. We have to take good care of them.”
“I perform every night, but there’s no set time. I just start when the atmosphere is right, or when people ask me to. The singing and Sanshin performance are simply just entertainment on the house. We only charge for what you eat and drink. There’s no stage or anything so I hope people can just relax and enjoy.”
Then, the Nushi picked up a Sanshin, and as if on cue, people who were there also picked up a Sanshin or drums, and the performance began, centering around the melody that the Nushi began to play.
“No matter where you go in the world, the greatness of music is the same. In this small island chain of Okinawa, we have songs and Sanshin. The Sanshin is one of Okinawa’s treasured cultures. I hope that people will feel the power behind the sounds of the Sanshin.”
The singing accompanied by the Sanshin without microphones was wonderfully relaxing and down-to-earth and unlike a full-on stage performance. It was like witnessing an authentic “life on Okinawa” with people from the neighborhood gathered to enjoy themselves.
The Nushi and his regulars were just so friendly and warm. The izakaya and its customers, from regulars to first-timers, there were no walls but just genuine friendliness. The Nushi’s reassurance that “you’re not alone here” was physically and mentally felt throughout his establishment.
Perhaps the relaxing air of Eiraku is created through the heart of the Nushi’s aspirations to “create a comfortable atmosphere” and his Utuimuchi (hospitality), and delivered through the sounds of the Sanshin that echoes through the regulars and throughout the izakaya itself.
As a person who is into music, I felt the words of the Nushi resonate.
Minyo (folk music) is the voice and song of the people.
It isn’t just for the chosen few.
Music belongs to everyone.
Music is there for everyone.
“Everyone has a natural musical instrument; clapping. So, anyone can join and everyone can enjoy.
It’s the power of music that we can spend a delightful time with everyone with their smiling faces. Whether it’s piano or guitar, or whatever it may be, if you’re into music or you once were in the past, pick it up again and don’t stop.”
The words of this Sanshin teacher echoed through my heart.
“In Okinawa, we have songs and Sanshin music closely knitted into our lives.”
If you get a chance, visit Eiraku in Sakaemachi to experience it.
Address: 1F Mekaru Bldg., 172 Daido, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 18:00 to 0:00
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Mika Asaka.