During my trip to Japan a few months ago, I encountered a word that has stuck with me till now: shokunin. Its loose definition in English is an “artisan” or “creator”, and it follows the concept of being truly dedicated to one task to the point of perfection. It isn’t purely technical either, extending to the spirit of pride, passion and all-round goodness in your work. We’ve all heard of the famed Jiro Ono, a master of sushi, so instead I wish to share my experience with the people who arguably have shokunin kishitsu or “craftman’s spirit”. Along the Toei Oedo metro line sits a discreet little place called Bar Gen Yamamoto. When I first heard of Bar Gen Yamamoto, I asked my colleague in Tokyo to help me book a few seats due to my limited ability to speak Japanese. A moment later, she passed the phone to me while mouthing “he wants to talk to you”. In other words, Gen Yamamoto wouldn’t let someone else book me a seat, it had to be me. This brief interaction was just a tiny indication of the attention to detail that Gen Yamamoto places in his craft.
The bar itself is absolutely beautiful, carved out of a 500-year-old Mizunara tree, seating only eight at a time. There is no music or gaudy bar décor, merely an ikebana flower arrangement near the door. The menu itself is limited to either a tasting of 4 or 6 cocktails. The bar’s philosophy, to me at least, seems quite simple: to make really really good cocktails.Despite a minimalist philosophy, the drinks require a creative intelligence and respect for the complexities of taste and texture. Not only that, but Gen Yamamoto, like many wonderful chefs in the world, places a great emphasis on locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, which makes a world a difference if you’re obsessed with the tastiest life possible.
The result? A union of fresh flavours and spices, like the citrusy yuzukichi and ginger from the Kochi prefecture, that simply melt on the tongue without overpowering the senses. I can’t stress enough how delicately balanced our tasting menu was, starting with the vibrant and springy flavours of sencha green tea and Hokkaido fresh apple, and ending with a creamy concoction of stone grilled sweet potato and milk with sweet potato shochu (topped with paper thin chocolate shavings of course). All the while, Gen speaks softly about his creations, introducing each one carefully, with the hint of a smile every time a customer takes their first sip. Gen Yamamoto is truly shokunin in not only his quiet perfection, but the apparent joy and pride in his creations. What more can I say but arigatou gozaimasu.
Anniversary Building 1F
1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku,
/ Written and shot by Anne Berry /