A view from the city: Tokyo

Angel Brown speaks to Hiroaki Nagashima, beverage marketing producer of HOTERES and magazine/barkeeper

Tell us a little about the history of your city’s drinking culture. What are the traditional drinks and how are things changing? Are young people drinking differently to old people?

Sake is an unforgettable traditional Japanese liquor. Consumption of sake was at its best in the 1970s. Almost every Japanese person drank it then, but demand decreased after 40 years. The next trend was whisky, but this market reached a low after a high. Now both sake and whisky are booming, but it’s not as big a market as before.

The younger generation has an interest in any alcoholic drink, not just sake and whisky. There are many opportunities to drink sake. Its quality has improved over the past 10 years and the whisky Highball culture has changed the market.

Both the consumer and producer generations have changed. We must constantly communicate the appeal of alcoholic drinks to consumers.

How advanced is cocktail culture in Tokyo?

We have an advanced style and unique culture. Bartenders have much creativity when making cocktails and many of these were made to introduce Japanese ingredients, materials and cultures. Cocktails are also popular in restaurants, not just bars. The unique Japanese style is called ‘sour’, which would be a shochu Highball, for example. There is also praise in Japan for being classic, and not changing our unique cocktail culture.

Who and what are the pioneer bartenders and bars?

The starting point of cocktail culture in Japan was in Yokohama. Before World War II, there were some bartenders who made cocktails in Ginza.

But the pioneers of the modern cocktail culture were: the late Kiyoshi Imai at the Palace Hotel, Kazuo Uyeda at Tender and Takao Mohri at Mohri bar. The most pioneering place would be Tokyo Kaikan because they all used to work there.

Now it is Manabu Otake and Michito Kaneko, World Class champions; Shingo Gokan, winner of Bacardi Legacy; and Shuzo Nagumo, who has great creativity and has opened some good bars over the years. Shigeyuki Nakagaki, although not in Tokyo, is respected by many bartenders.

Where do you think the city ranks in terms of bar scenes in Asia? Is it leading the way or are other cities and scenes more influential?

There are so many bars in Tokyo and there are many bartenders who compete in monthly bartending competitions.

Bartenders here are good at serving challenging cocktails. The leading city is not only Tokyo, for cocktail culture there are: Hachinohe (Aomori), Shizuoka, Gifu, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. There are many valuable destinations to visit for drinking advanced cocktails but we need the ability to entertain and communicate with more tourists.

Do economic shifts affect cocktail consumption?

Economic shifts have a big impact, cocktail consumption is not at its best. There are many choices in Japan: wine, sake, shochu, whisky and beer.

Wine consumption has been increasing in recent years. It is a hard challenge to lead consumers to choose cocktails among the other choices.

What are the challenges bartenders/bar owners face?

Deflation, Tokyo’s high rents, labour costs and lack of personnel. At the moment you can still smoke in shops in Tokyo, but this will become completely non-smoking towards the 2020 Olympics. That will have a big influence.

Who made you the best cocktail you’ve had in Tokyo?

There are two – a Manhattan by Shimbashi Kiyoshi at Sanlucar Bar and a Jack Rose by Yuko Miyazaki at Tenderly. Shimbashi is famous for his shaking and a fantastic stirring technic. Yuko has great hospitality. Both cocktails are not creative, but I can drink the same one with confidence every time.