The Spirited Traveler: Toasting in Tokyo

Tue Jun 7, 2011 8:52am EDT
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By Kara Newman

NEW YORK (Reuters) - - "Kampai!" is the Japanese equivalent of "Cheers!" If you're traveling through Tokyo, with its vibrant array of sake, shochu, whisky and cocktail bars, this is one word you'll get to know well.

I've been enjoying a new book about this very topic, "Drinking Japan" by Chris Bunting, a Tokyo-based newspaper journalist; a portion of the book's proceeds are donated to Japan Earthquake Relief.

"Post-war Japanese business culture was at least partly built on hard drinking," Bunting says. "The cultural norm was for salarymen to spend endless long evenings out on the town with colleagues and clients."

Although that norm has relaxed somewhat, Japan still enjoys a "complex and deeply rooted drinking culture." However, in order to enjoy Tokyo's watering holes, first you need to find them.

"The best bars are not always the ones that you can see into from the street," Bunting warns.

Further, travelers should know that most bars in Japan have an entrance fee, often levied by giving a small dish of food that has not been ordered by the customer but is put on the bill.

While far from a comprehensive list, here are a few of Bunting's Tokyo picks:

For sake: Akaoni 9 (Sangenjaya 2-15-3) is perhaps the best-known premium sake pub in Tokyo, offering more than 100 varieties of the rice-based spirit. Meanwhile, Shusaron (2F, Takanawa 4-10-18) is "quite simply the best place in the world to drink aged sake," in large part due to the encyclopedic knowledge of landlord Nobuhiro Ueno.   Continued...

<p>Bottles of malt whiskey are displayed at a whiskey merchandising event in Tokyo February 10, 2008. REUTERS/Issei Kato</p>