Imanaka Saketen @ Juso

by ˜Matt Kaufman

Photo by Ross Randles

Juso is located one stop from Umeda on the Hankyu line. All trains heading to Kobe, Himeji, Kyoto and Wakayama stop at Juso so it is a major entertainment hub for commuters on their way home. The area hasn’t change dramatically since director Ridley Scott filmed scenes in the red light district  for the 1989 film Black Rain

If you exit the West side of Juso Station you will see a bustling maze of bars and restaurants in area that affectionately known as Shonben Yokocho (Piss Alley) since it’s days as a notorious black market that sprung up after the war. Much of Shonben Yokocho burned down in 2014, but residents and local businesses bonded together to organize to rebuild, and it is as vibrant as ever.

The East exit leads into a shotengai. Walk down and you will come across  old liquor shop named Imanaka Saketen on the left that has been serving the neighborhood since 1928. There is a row of vending machines outside selling cigarettes, soft drinks and beer. An old man is a drinking a can of Asahi Super Dry by a stack of empty Kirin Lager beer cases. 

Photo by Ross Randles

I walk through the door. I have been here many times and it always feels like I have stumbled onto the set of the 1955 movie House of Bamboo, but no Hollywood set designer could ever fully create the sepia haze that permeates Imanaka. Paper lanterns  hang from the ceiling near a vintage Nikka Whiskey sign. A white manneki neko covered with grease waves at me from a shelf of whiskey bottles. A large Seiko clock quietly ticks away on the wall above a horse racing calendar.

Imanaka. Customer
Photo by Ross Randles

The crowd is mixed. Younger men and woman, some born a full decade after the magical year of 1985 when The Hanshin Tigers won the Japan Series, drink at small tables alongside Showa royalty whose wonderful, loud, outrageous, fashion sense is on display tonight. I spot a man in his early sixties with a pencil-moustache like John Waters wearing red fedora, gold horned-rimmed glasses, and long sleeve blue Hawaiian shirt worn over a red t-shirt talking to a woman dressed in a leopard print blouse, purple tights, and a red sash belt. People are chatting and laughing, not a single person is staring at their phone.

I make my way to the counter and squeeze in between a septuagenarian wearing a freshly pressed black suit a slightly younger man with a slicked-back ducktail haircut who reminds me of tough-guy actor Bunta Sugawara.

After ordering a large bottle of Kirin Lager Beer (¥400) from the young woman behind the counter and explain that I am doing a senbero, a term coined by the late cult writer Nakajima Ramo fill up and on food and drink for 1,000 yen. She suggests I order the katsuo tataki (skipjack sashimi; ¥300) and aji fry (fried horse mackerel; ¥160) and a hardboiled egg (¥70).  The aforementioned septuagenarian tells me to cancel the order of Kirin Lager. He explains that I can save money by ordering a large bottle of Kirin Tanrei happoshu beer (¥330). I’ve never seen Kirin Tanrei in bottles before. 

Photo by Ross Randles

The young woman patiently taking my order tells me that I now have enough money to get a glass of shochu (¥210) or a Tokyo korokke (¥80), which turns out to be American-style tater tots. I decide to get both which brings the bill to ¥1,150. I slide the shochu to my new drinking companion. I have exceeded the senbero limit but I am sure that Nakajima Ramo would understand.

Photo by Ross Randles

Imanaka Saketen.

2-6-11 Juso Higashi,Yodogawa KuOsaka


Open 365 days a year.10:00-22:00 M-SA, 10:00-20:00 Sundays and holidays.

Photo by Ross Randles
Photo by Ross Randles
Photo by Ross Randles

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