Kagaya: Izakaya dining as performance art
All seems normal when you first enter the small izakaya Kagaya, especially if you're early and the six tables have yet to be occupied. After taking off your shoes and placing them on the nearby shelves, you are asked sit down at your table. At this point, nothing seems out of the ordinary. An older woman is in the 'kitchen,' looking like she could be Mark Kagaya, the restaurant owner's mother. (She's not.)
And then it starts. Out from a curtain comes a radio-controlled version of Japanese cartoon character Anpanman with your oshibori hand towel resting on its head. Things only get stranger from here.
Kagaya is what you would call a 'variety izakaya,' where entertainment is as much a part of the dining experience as the food and drink. What kind of entertainment, you ask? That all depends on the mood and improvisations of owner/waiter/host Mark Kagaya -- and the audience's reaction to his antics.
Mark originally took over the restaurant from his parents around 20 years ago. At first it was more of a regular izakaya with a touch of wackiness, but then he kept doing more and more, adding performances, to the point where that's that main selling point now.
For example, when ordering a drink, you have to also decide on the 'international' manner in which it will be delivered. "English" will see your bottle delivered in the hands of a Mr Bean 'dear teddy,' while a "French" rendition starts with Mark in a beret singing a chanson and then sketching a portrait.
Also get ready for a wide range of novelty items. Drinks are served in battery-powered mugs that shake as you pick them up -- or let out a loud burp when placed on the table.
The food? You have three choices, like the "Ah- ! I can finally get off work! I'm starving man!! Master, would you get me something good, please?" (which runs ¥2,100) or maybe the ultimate "Hey Master, you know what, today I'm feeling free, get me something, 'wow' me, 'bang' me. You know what I'm talking about!" (for a very reasonable ¥2,625). They are both set meals of typical izakaya fare, including grilled fish, fried chicken, tonjiru pork miso soup and stewed pieces of pumpkin. For a restaurant so bent on providing a wacky experience, the food is surprisingly tasty.
Of course, you can't just order the food like normal. Mark asked me to request my set in the manner of a musical, wherein I became the very model of modern Major-General.
By the time you leave Kagaya, you'll have a had a few laughs with everyone in the room. The surprise and occasional sense of wonder leaves you nodding in amusement, and there are many laughs to be had at the expense of other patrons as they endure strange requests from the host. If you are looking for a pub "experience" beyond suffering through your meal next to drunk, boisterous salarymen at the adjacent table, Kagaya should be at the top of your list.
Kagaya: Hanasada Building B1F, Shinbashi 2-15-12, Minato-ku, tel. 03 3591 2347, www1.ocn.ne.jp/~kagayayy, 7pm-12am
Preview image by Flickr user danirubioperez.