Akafudaya between Roppongi and Azabu. Happy Days Are Here Again.
by Charles J. Waggon
Old buddy Fred called the other day. Back in Tokyo for a quick visit. Fred and I worked together, what, about 35 years ago. Special project for the boys in Langley. Fred wanted to meet at Players, the little piano bar under the Almond, ground zero in High Touch Town.
Didn’t have the heart to tell Fred that Players closed years ago. He’d fancied that cute little piano player who worked there. She wouldn’t have nothing to do with him, so Fred fancied her all the more.
Also didn’t have the heart to say Roppongi’s turned into a third-world capital all its own. Most classier joints closed up shop. Like Players, white grand piano bar, stools all round, crystal vase atop the piano holding just one rose, lit up by a spotlight.
Fred was pacing by the old Players door when I showed up.
“Charlie Jake, where’d Players go?” Fred asked.
Told him it was at least a two-drink story, and we headed down the hill to Akafudaya. I found this place last year, surprised to see places like this still in Roppongi. Simple, noisy, unassuming, crowded, food in the low three digits. Back when your working class folks lived in the back streets of Roppongi, Azabu, and Hiroo.
“At least the sake is much better than it was back during the ‘Nam days, Fred,” I said after we’d toasted on our first Uragasumi Nam a sake, an earthy delight at ¥650 for a generous glass. Why, sure Roppongi was way more fun and a bit classier back in those days, but there weren’t hardly any sake worth drinking.
I filled Fred in on what happened to Roppongi while we filled up on chow. Scallop sashimi (¥280) all soft and buttery ‘cept without the butter. Tara-no-me tempura (¥350) with a steaming little bowl of kombu broth for the dipping sauce. Crispy shishamo fish (¥300 for three), bit skinny but tasty, eat ’em whole. Maguro Natto (¥350), raw tuna and fermented soy beans. This is Japanese soul food. After big glasses of Dewazakura, a solid sake from Yamagata, we switched to beer for the cool-down. Had we kept drinking sake at that pace, they woulda had’ta get two wheelbarrows to haul us out of there.
Kept eating, though. Fried potatoes, jackets on, ¥200. Then rice for the road. Fred got ikura don (salmon eggs on rice) and I got uni don (sea urchin roe on rice), here only ¥850 each.
You get the picture. Good solid izakaya food and drink. Honest dishes of solid tasty grub for way under ¥1,000. Thing is, you gotta read Japanese or bring someone who can.
Plus, a bunch of decent sakes for between ¥550 and ¥650 for a 180ml glass. You can even get a Hoppy here for ¥300; if you don’t know what that is, never mind. If you do, then you might start singing Happy Days Are Here Again. If you ever get the feeling you’d like to turn the clock back in Roppongi, here’s the place to do it.
WHAT TO EAT
Seafood, cooked or raw. It’s cheap and good.
WHAT TO DRINK
Good sake, or cold beer if you have to.
WHERE TO SIT
At the counter.
HOW MUCH DID IT COST
A bit under ¥3,000.
WHO GOES THERE
Regular stiffs, working in some office. A few women, too.
WHO TO ASK FOR
Akafudaya (Azabu Shop)
5-9-16 Roppongi, Minato-Ku, Tokyo
Dinner: 5pm-5am (to midnight on Sundays and holidays)/em