A friend traveling to Tokyo asked for ideas on authentic places to visit. I have lived in Japan during 3 very different stages of my life: as a 14-year-old wide-eyed exchange student, then at 21 when I stayed in a rural Buddhist temple to advance my university dissertation on the role of Zen in the Japanese garden, (most useless career advancer ever), and then again in Tokyo in a career that had nothing to do with Zen: financial TV presenter.
One of the most authentic places you could experience beyond literally making sushi with Jiro is "Nonbei Yokocho," a dark and narrow street on the underside of famous Shibuya station that looks straight out of Samurai movie set. Here you will find teeny tiny old-style Japanese bars nestled side by side that seat only about 4 to 6 people each. Most patrons are "salarymen"* who stop by their favorite bar on a regular basis.
But the most special feature of these bars is the middle-aged "Mama-san", the mother-like figure who stands behind the bar counter, pouring you drinks and nodding and listening to you pouring out your hopes, fears, annoyances and anything else that a glass or two of sake tends to bring out at the end of a long day. It's no coincidence that this street of red lanterns aptly translates to "Drunkard's Alley".
But it got me thinking. Wouldn't we all fare better if we had an objective third party to grumble to every night after work? A little motherly care with no judgment for the price of some yakitori and a strong brew? Then we could go home to our loved ones moan-free, having left them behind in the alley with the Mama-san.
It's basically the Japanese version of a therapist. Many Americans visit a therapist at least once in their life, which is millions of dollars spent on the couch each year, and that doesn't even get you a drink!
So, maybe there's a business opportunity to start a "Nonbei Yokocho" complete with Mama-sans here in the US. Failing that, maybe someone should open a chain of therapy clinics in Japan.