Reimagining the Traditions of Food in Tokyo
In today’s Tokyo, eating becomes indicative of kinship, comfort and closeness, and between the tiny hole-in-the-wall bars, old-time wineries and traditional cafes, the city’s underground food scene manifests as the glue for a fragmented generation living in a sometimes isolating world. We teamed up with adidas Originals for the release of their ‘Home of Classics’ pack, a collection dedicated to glorifying classic styles, designed to be worn and loved by journeyers the world over. Guided by Tokyoites, Keem De Peralta and Yesbwoy, we went Trippin to two of Tokyo’s most treasured eateries which are bringing old-school Japanese spirit of hope and regeneration to the here-and-now.
“The trends move very fast and everyone keeps trying to follow them. We stay the same but remain great”
Traverse around the globe and you’re met with the inescapable fact that food undoubtedly defines a place, its people and their culture. The role of food is multifaceted, defining and reflecting struggle, prosperity, celebration, history and religion - Tokyo’s cuisine is no different.
Japan has experienced seismic regrowth in the last seventy years to become the third largest economy in the world, but iconic dishes have remained a constant. Tokyo’s food largely follows the ‘fast food’ style: readily available, freshly-cooked foods sold on street corners, hailing back to the feeding of merchant workers in the Edo period of 1603-1868. Tokyo, then known as Edo, was a bustling merchant centre, whereby quick and nourishing meals for the myriad sailors and salesman were required, including tempura, soba and sushi - foods that have grown to become much-loved staples of Japanese cuisine.
Scattered across Tokyo are izakayas, traditional Japanese pubs serving up Edo-style snacks and drinks in a relaxed, informal setting. One of these is Hanbey, whose old-school concept harks back to the post-war period of regeneration for the people of Japan. Located in Kabukicho, Tokyo’s famous red-light district in the heart of the Shinjuku neighbourhood, Hanbey is plastered with the past, from its menu to its games selection. Izakaya favourites such as yakitori (chicken skewers), age-pan (fried bread) and octopus weiner take pride of place here.
The Showa (post-war) period is transported to the present day, with pop culture iconographic figures displayed proudly and a soundtrack that pays homage to 60s pop. The owner of Hanbey defined the concept as “travelling back to a time when Japan was rebuilding the country after losing the war in 1945”. Looking around, it’s not a space that evokes the destruction of an immediate post-war environment, but rather exudes a spirit of progress, despite being firmly inspired by the past.
In a period where life seems ephemeral and trends constantly emerge and disappear, Hanbey stands resistant: “the trends move very fast and everyone keeps trying to follow them. We stay the same but remain great”, the owner assures us.
The old inspires the new - this spot is favoured by the more progressive younger generations in Tokyo - and Hanbey constitutes a perfect springboard for further inspiration, so it's of no surprise that Tokyo’s creative elite are passing their precious downtime hours here. As Keem tells us, current youth culture champion new and exciting spaces while still helping to preserve the more traditional institutions and practices.
He says that hang-outs like Hanbey become always transcendental: the power of a good izakayacan “unite and define us”, showing just how important spots like these are to the subcultural geography of Tokyo.
Sober takes its name from Japanese soba noodles, a traditional Japanese noodle made from buckwheat flour, hailing from the Edo era of Japan, a time in which Japan was mobilised under one rule, and where arts, culture and economic stability began to surface.
The city finds ways to transform itself from one day to the next: “trends move very very fast here”, Yesbowy notes. Locales like Sober and Hanbey take on a new significance as beacons of a different way of life.
On our visit, we spoke to the owner of Sober, Terrine, who was keen to tell us more about how both locals and tourists alike flock to Sober to experience real soulful Japanese dishes, in a break from homogeneity. Incorporating the spirit of an izakaya, in which food and drink are served and enjoyed side-by-side, but with a unique menu comprising soba, including funori soba, a regional food from Niigata, a city on the west coast of Japan. Guests use this space to recharge and play rounds of mahjong, a tabletop game similar to Rummikub that uses intricately-patterned tiles, but the atmosphere remains convivial, rather than competitive - “people come here simply to chat”. Designed for fast food to be enjoyed in a slower setting, spots like Sober redress the frantic pace usually associated with street food eating to allow guests to absorb and take in the setting.
Emerging relatively recently in June 2018, Sober was founded by local designer Kaito Yamamoto, director of concept store Son of the Cheese. Terrine tells us the main focus for Sober was to “provide a private hang-out place for people exploring the street of Dogenzaka”. Away from the busy street, Sober has tried to cultivate a feeling of exclusivity, and its own separate subculture. There is an ornamental key situated near the entrance, “just for fun” as “[Sober] is open for everyone”, but this really emphasises the individual character of the joint.
By bringing the more concealed cultural mores to the foreground in spots like these, Tokyo residents can really celebrate their history while still relishing in fresh takes on Japanese spirit as they emerge throughout the city. “The energy in here inspires us”.