Sometimes it's tough as a foreigner living in Japan. Sure, most of us want to experience the culture, learn the language, and fit in. Yet, it's a fact that we are gaijin and will ever so remain. There's a wall there that can never be completely breached. Occasions will surely arise when we don't want the pressure, the feeling of inadequacy or the isolation that comes with our efforts to immerse ourselves in the "real" Japan.
What to do on those occasions? We can cocoon at home or visit a local gaijin bar. These helpful havens all have the following in common: a place to meet an international mix of other gaijin and gaijin-friendly Japanese; no "seating" charge; English-speaking staff; reasonable prices; networking opportunities; and a food menu.
Tsukuba Science City has basically five gaijin bars. In the ongoing effort to bring the readers of AT the best of thoroughly researched reports, I took it upon myself to visit each, interview the owner/manager and sample the wares. Complete with personal bias, here are the results of my exhausting survey:
Frontier Bar and Grill - Located in Amakubo, near the corner of Higashi Odori and Kita Odori. This is in an active entertainment district with many restaurants, bars, snacks, etc. and not far from Tsukuba University. Open seven days a week from 8pm - 5am. Hamburgers, hot dogs, fish and chips, etc. Their new specialty is perogies - imagine potato gyoza. All prices 600 yen, except for band nights, when it's 700 yen.
Frontier is my personal favorite for the following reasons: It's the largest (up to 200 people); offers live music with full-on rock, jazz, funk and amateur Japanese bands on most weekends; offers dancing; owner, Jon Hesse, is a friendly, usually reasonable sort of guy, who likes to get down and party even more than most of his patrons (he's got the right attitude); offers darts (Wednesday competition), foosball, chess, mah-joong (Monday competition), Trivial Pursuit and other games; the staff is great, the Hungarian bartenders are a "special" treat; Guiness on tap; outdoor seating. Wednesday is ladies night - 300 yen for the lasses. On a good night, this place really rocks!!!
ToeJam "Why did you decide to open a bar here?"
Jon "After years of wasting money in bars, I was continually disappointed with the lack of entertainment in Tsukuburg (sic). I like live music and I wanted a place that I, as ,a customer, would like to drink at. A place with no table charge and strong mixed drinks."
ToeJam "What are the plans for the future regarding your bar?"
Jon "We plan to get a pinball machine and an even better offering from the kitchen."
ToeJam "What was your worst experience?"
Jon "Getting beaten up by six Neanderthals. They had just beaten up one of my customers, and then they attacked me."
Hot Stuff - Located near the corner of Nishi Odori and Doho Park (by West House Restaurant). This area also offers a French restaurant, a Japanese live music house, a good bakery and excellent coffee shop. The bar is on the second floor, corner, with large windows and seating for about 45, with a total capacity of about 80 people. Hours of operation are every day, 8pm - "morning". Most drink prices are 500 yen. The food menu includes pizza and chicken. The owner Tetsu Murase reportedly has a heart of gold and is a super nice guy, with limited English abilities. The staff, mainly the lovely Nori-chan, is consistently friendly and the drinks are strong. The atmosphere is conducive to conversation. The Tsukuba Walking and Mountaineering Club meets here each Wednesday from 8:30 on and invites all to join them for a drink or three. Special events include omiai meetings, wedding parties and dance parties. Did I mention, the cocktails are well known to be particularly potent here?
ToeJam "Why did you decide to operate a gaijin bar?"
Tetsu "I wanted to make a place for foreigners to meet and exchange information."
ToeJam "Where are your gaijin customers mainly from?"
Tetsu "From the earth."
Gold Rush - Located almost directly below Hot Stuff on street level, this intimate, well-appointed pub can be recognized by the large wooden Indian (North American) guarding the entrance. Hours of operation seven days a week, from 7:30 - "late". Owner Yoko Sagawa speaks excellent English and is not at all averse to drinking and chatting with her customers. Staff members Leon and Naoki serve professionally made cocktails with a smile. Darts and a fine sound system add to the ambiance. Liars' dice contests are featured weekly. Menu items include pizza, pilaf, nachos, chesse platter, etc. Drink prices start from 500 yen. Special events hosted here are karaoke and parties of all kinds.
ToeJam "What are some of your biggest problems?"
Yoko "No big problems."
ToeJam "Please describe your best experience."
Yoko "Seeing my favorite customers meet and get married."
Red River - Staying in the same neighborhood, about a block towards Nishi Odori, we find this street-level pub, which is perhaps losing it's status as a gaijin bar as the foreigner contingent seems ever less present.
Sweet Home Chicago - Moving to the other end of town, on the corner of Tsuchiura Gakuen Sen and Route 408 (behind the 7-Eleven) is this blues bar and restaurant. Open seven days a week from 8pm - 2am, Sunday 6pm - midnight., manager David Lucas (from the Chicago area) provides a clean, new, and cozy room with inside seating for about 40, in addition to a brand new outdoor seating area. David loves the blues, and it shows, both in the wide selection of blues CD's and the decor. This is another venue for live performance, offering blues bands, a Beatles copy band (Old Zips), and acoustic entertainment. Not to be missed is Okayan on Wednesday nights - a fantastic ragtime, jazz, etc. guitarist. The food selection here surpasses most other gaijin bars. Friendly staff members Keichiro and Satomi make up for the occasional aloofness of the "Master".
ToeJam " Why did you decide to establish a gaijin bar here?"
David "After seven years in Tsukuba, I was desperate for something that looked and sounded like home."
ToeJam "What do you like best about this job?"
David "Gin and tonics, rum and cokes, and meeting music lovers."
ToeJam "What are your future plans?"
David "I'd like to get B.B. King or another living blues legend to play at the bar."
ToeJam "What's your worst experience?"
David "Paying the rent every month."
Ali's Kebab - Hard to find the first time, but worth it. Located on Science Odori in Tokodai, it's really more a restaurant than a pub, yet has a fully stocked bar. Open from 6pm - midnight except on Mondays. Newly opened and spotlessly clean, it's a great place to enjoy middle-Eastern food and a few beers. Owner Ali Tavakoli, from Iran, is a really nice guy and man about town, as well as an excellent cook. Together with his sidekick, Reza, they know how to make you feel welcome. Drink prices average 500 yen, but with a coupon from Alien Times you get a free draft beer! Ali's has room for about 35 customers. You can also purchase a delicious Ali's kabab from one of the famous yellow trucks around town for 500 yen. For a full review of Ali's, see Alien Times, vol. 14, April edition.
ToeJam "Why did you decide to open this restaurant?"
Ali "I wanted to offer foreign food which was not available previously in the Tsukuba area."
ToeJam "What are your plans for the future?"
Ali "I want to expand my business throughout Japan."
ToeJam "Please describe your best experience."
Ali "When customers tell me that their meal was delicious."
ToeJam "How about your worst experience?"
Ali "Getting started, when nobody knew what a "kabab" was!"
So, folks, there you have it. With this guide in hand, I guarantee you can spend a pleasant night on the town, right here in Tsukuba. Therefore, don't always hide within your four walls. Get out there and meet some of the interesting expats and locals who frequent these hangouts.Tell them ToeJam sent you...
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