Good Times at the Kamiya Bar

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Naporitan spaghetti may have began its existence as a distant relation to thick and hearty Neapolitan ragus from the Old Country, but in its contemporary Japanese form, the recipe calls for a vulgarity on par with the high crimes of American junk food. Pasta noodles are joined with slices of hot dog and drowned in an ocean of tomato ketchup. (Older recipes may call for catsup in place of the ketchup.) Upon hearing of this monstrous concoction, a good Italian would probably immediately saunter off to absolve himself at confessional; those who dare eat the dish risk a long term in purgatory.

Despite its culinary blasphemy, Naporitan perfectly represents a certain taste culture in Japan. All puns intentional here, because there is a general aesthetic surrounding the standard menu of Showa-era coffee shops. The proprietors of the trendy cafes that began to sprout up in the 1990s purged this pasta style from their menus to make room for the faux authentic sauces that go well with caffe lattes and caramel teas and bossa nova. The Naporitan only lives on at places like Kamiya Bar in Asakusa.

Some may assume the famous Kamiya Bar is nothing more than a tourist trap, but the drab interior quickly quiets any doubts about authenticity. There appears to be no functional windows, and bright lights give the middle finger to all designer theories of dim ambiance. Asakusa locals sit within the unremarkable infrastructure and down round after round of the in-house brandy-esque liquor Denki Bran at ¥260 a pop. Seating is family-style, making Kamiya Bar one of the rare places in Tokyo where you must sit next to strangers and make an effort to befriend them. In a city dominated by cliquish izakaya, clinical cafes, and gimmicky ice bars, Kamiya Bar gives Tokyo a Hofbrauhaus on the Sumida.

Although Kamiya Bar has roots in the late 19th century, the menu and atmosphere have not budged since 1970. This may reflect the fact that Asakusa seems incapable of possessing a young generation. Even if kids exist and tag along to local festivals, the spirit of the neighborhood resides on the side of the grey-haired. Asakusa is completely untouched by the Parco vs. Laforet Wars of Sophistication that changed the face of West Tokyo over the last two decades. meaning essentially that Kamiya Bar does not intentionally “preserve” a Showa aesthetic as much as the patrons seem incognizant of the major changes on the other side of town.

Without falling into the trap of declaring Kamiya Bar more “real” than someplace like Idée Cafe, I will say that Kamiya Bar offers something completely different than Tokyo’s normal mission of providing the world’s largest set of life-sized simulacra. A night at Kamiya Bar is an inimitable experience. You can drink a frothy cappuccino or a Glenlivet on the rocks anywhere in the world, but there is only one spot for chilled glasses of spicy Denki Bran.

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

52 Responses

  1. TJJ Says:

    I had to look up what “ikazaya” were.

    squid pouches.

  2. marxy Says:

    I always misspell that in English…!

  3. Josh Says:

    damn, but I love me some Naporitan. It’s so comfy good.

  4. Adamu Says:

    Judging from my 2 very short trips to the area that included no bar visits, Asakusa has got to have the most character and charm of any area of Tokyo, and it is somehow not diminished much by the large numbers of foreign tourists. The Kaiya bar is now on my list of places to visit.

  5. Chris_B Says:

    Went to the matsuri did we?

  6. marxy Says:

    Actually, no. Every time we decide to go somewhere on the spur of the moment, ends up being the day of a hanabi-taikai or a matsuri. Something Jungian in there.

  7. italian Says:

    I don’t think that food is even remaotely linked to any Italian recipe but sounds yummy.

    “Upon hearing of this monstrous concoction, a good Italian would probably immediately saunter off to to absolve himself at confessional; those who dare eat the dish risk a long term in purgatory”

    I’m sorry to say that this bit sounds so stereotypical to verge on full blown racism – even if for fun purposes. Surprise, surprise only the 25% of Italians go to church on a regular basis and not as a formal act of tradition on Christmas et. al.(eurisko, 2005).

    Try to replace pasta with some BBQ or whatever and running to the church with shooting a bullet in the head of the cook and have a taste of what the renewed phrase sounds like

  8. marxy Says:

    Italians are very Catholic, no? I don’t know if “racism” is the right word: “prejudice on a national scale”? Hacky ethnic humor?

  9. Chris_B Says:

    having grown up in an Italian American neighborhood, “ketsup on egg noodles” pretty much sums up my opinion of most “italian” food here.

  10. DH Says:

    I never hit Kamiya Bar, but on my all-too-brief visit to Tokyo a few years ago, Asakusa did strike me as an especially great neighborhood that felt quite different from the flashier youth-centered districts, like Shibuya and Harajuku.

    This impression came less from the Sensoji and the other touristy stuff (though that faded amusement park adjacent to the temple is pretty awesome) than from the calm, out-of-the-way semi-residential streets a few blocks away.

    Would this be referred to as “Ura-Asakusa”? My fluency in Japanese is almost nonexistent, but one of the things I picked up from reading Neomarxisme over the years is that the more out of the way streets of Harajuku seem to be called “Ura-Harajuku.” Is “Ura-Asakusa” even correct?

    Anyway, sorry to interrupt the Naporitan-workship…

  11. Brown Says:

    Word, 下町代表!Speaking of Jung (though I know the original refrence was made in jest), I’ve met a couple of Japanese clinical pyschologists with a backround in Jungian analysis. Can anyone give me quick rundown of the relative popularity of various schools of psychoanaylsis in Japan, or point me to a source where I might find such info? よろしくお願いします…

  12. marxy Says:

    Not until Aceface gets back.

  13. Aceface Says:

    I don’t really mind keeping neomarxisme as a post blog of ragtime chatter, instead of exchanging your pedantry.but since you’ve asked…

    Jungian Psychology was introduced to Japan by Kawai Hayao 河合隼雄,who was the director of agency for cultural affairs until ’07 and also then director of International center for Japan studies.http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%B2%B3%E5%90%88%E9%9A%BC%E9%9B%84
    Kawai is from august academic family of Kyoto,and sort of a boss in Kansai intellectual world.Does write various Nihonjinron works.
    (The equivalent in Freudian school is Okonogi Keigo of Keio univ in Tokyo.)Kawai is now in a critical condition by a stroke.

    I can’t give you an accurate history on Japanese psychoanalysis for I’m not the right guy for the task,but Wiki Japan has 日本の精神科医category you might want look into.

    The People I know are.

    Nakai Hisao中井久夫-Worked on Kansai earthquake victim in ’95.Also a translator of modern Greek and tranlated Cavafy.

    Kamiya Mieko神谷美恵子-Worked on mental problem of Hansen’s disease patient,also was the counselor of Empress Michiko when she had depression in the 60’s and life long friend until Kamiya’s death in ’79.

    Noda Masaaki野田正彰-Comparative Psychoanalyst、journalist.Worked on resident in the central highland of Papua New Guinea.Also worked on patient commited war crime in China、

    Kita Morio北杜夫-writer and psychoanalyst.son of a poet and Psychoanalyst Saito Mokichi and brother to Saitou Sigeta,a psychoanalyst and an essayist.Kita himeself is a Manic-depressive.

    and of course Doi Takeo.

    Not much of an introduction, but this as much as I know of Japanese shrinks.
    End of pedantry.

  14. marxy Says:

    Seriously, we love pedantry.

  15. Aceface Says:

    OK,Just few more.
    I don’t think there is such thing called Ura-Asakusa,but From Asakusa to Minowa there is
    a sector of old red light district called Yoshiwara that goes back from the day of Edo.There are undoubtly scent of old Tokyo remains there.The novelist and Asakusa enthusiast
    Nagai Kafu wrote about in a book called “Bokuto Kitan墨東奇譚”You can see lots of mercedes running the neighborhood and that is the soaplands are picking up their customars from nearby station of Minowa and Uguisudani to their establishment directly.Back then it was rickshaw doing the job.
    There used to be a strong guild of rickshaw runner and horse carriage train company lobbying strongly against Yamanote line and other railway running through Asakusa.They undermined the power of railway changing geopolitcs of Tokyo.
    Thus all the shopping areas have shifted to Ginza and to Shinjyuku and to Shibuya while Asakusa was totally left behind.

  16. Italian #2 Says:

    two italians sharing this place? cool, that’s the last thing i could have thought. i’m not going to blame marxy for what he did, in the end it was nothing to get mad at. anyway, marxy, italians are very catholic as much as niggers as a whole are very brown skinned and devoted to some stupid and scary pieces of wood and mud. but i know some oh them who are less dark, more like indian types. although indians are very poor, russians do like to throw bombs on rich people. french are simian-wannabes, gurdjieff told us about girls going with beasts and giving birth to apes, so my assumption is: french are gurdjieff exemplars of men gone wild. german are post-nazis and lousy philosophers, melanesians are filthy ignorant people – so said malinowski. – and without us, italian folks, you couldn’t have a picopop to love. thanks to out hydraulic leadership, nothing more. should i befriend momus to badmouth you and your funny family name? i could not, you’re nice and everytime here at work big-bosses let us do what we want i come here. we even partake the burden of being salary-slaves! i just need to improve my english skills. then we’ll be friends, won’t we?

  17. marxy Says:

    ”russians do like to throw bombs on rich people.”

    I could have sworn this was Serbians.

    For those 12.2% of Italians who are not Catholics, I apologize. You can also be “good Italians” and hate Naporitan spaghetti.

    “You can see lots of mercedes running the neighborhood and that is the soaplands are picking up their customars from nearby station of Minowa and Uguisudani to their establishment directly.”

    Is this a good time to bring up the rumor that some of the bigger talent jimushos pimp out their lesser-known talents to work at high-class brothels?

  18. italian #2 Says:

    “I could have sworn this was Serbians.”

    they’re just copycats. the first anti-storical terrorists were russian: just think about Neciaiev, his fellows and their aestethic ideal. i can’t recall the name of the others, but that’s not the point: you don’t have to apologize, i don’t care about what you write on a prejudgment basis. it’s eventually amusing. you haven’t answered to my “let’s be friend”. that’s the point. you’ve been bad, and it made me sad.

  19. marxy Says:

    Got it. I meant the sentence more out of a sense of esteem towards Italian pride in their fabulous cuisine than a dig at Catholicism, but I apologize nonetheless. (I very much like Italy. After spending a hell three-weeks of homestay near Ulm, Germany, it was amazing to go down to Rome/Gaeta and recover in a sea of Italian hospitality and good food.)

  20. marxy Says:

    And we can always be friends with or without skills in English.

  21. Aceface Says:

    マルクシー、次のネタはスーパーマリオでいこうぜ。
    イタリアからどんなコメントがくるか見てみたい。

  22. marxy Says:

    マリオはイタリア人よりもイタリア系アメリカ人じゃないですか。ルイジは類似です。

  23. Italian Says:

    “For those 12.2% of Italians who are not Catholics, I apologize. You can also be “good Italians” and hate Naporitan spaghetti”

    here’s the point. In fact, being catholicism the mainstream religion in Italy, when prompted an Italian would define himself “formally” a catholic – as well as I believe most Americans would profess this or that religion. This of course doesn’t euqual with running to church at any given occasion. Even if, unfortunately, the Vatican is here and well present in public affairs, we do have abortion, a transgender in the parliament and nobody is trying to introduce intelligent design or whatever you wanna call creationism in schools.
    On this point – I have no available data so it’s just a guessing – I think much more Americans would say they don’t believe in Darwin theories than Europeans (catholic countries included Spain France and Italy).

    Your comment sounded – just a little bit – offensive because more than to catholicism per se it related to a very stereotypical image of Italians (would you have said running to the priest if you were writing about french food?)that pairs with having a lot of kids (also false) and blah balh blah

    that said, of course I was not furious or anything (I can only speak for myself and not the other guy) I find this to be one of the most smart and entertaing blogs on the internet.

  24. marxy Says:

    Well, I am concerned because I did not mean it as a knock against Italians or as if the behavior I described would be actually performed in any circumstances by Italians living in this modern age. I was playing with an idea of the “good Italian” and mixing reverence for cuisine with reverence for Catholic ritual, but yes, this did play on stereotypes.

  25. alin Says:

    oh boy , I really shouldn’t be here but as I remember trolling here quite long ago , for some reason more often than not M. only needs to mention the name of a country and it’s already offensive and/or patronising.

  26. Aceface Says:

    Where’s nate when we need him?

  27. Chuckles Says:

    […anyway, marxy, italians are very catholic as much as niggers as a whole are very brown skinned and devoted to some stupid and scary pieces of wood and mud. but i know some oh them who are less dark, more like indian types…]

    Hey Italian#2:

    Youre a fucking moron. If you think that a stereotype that involves Italians and Catholicism analogizes to the debasement of people of African descent, you need to crawl back into whatever wood and mud college you attended. So tell me: How exactly does being a Catholic – which for much of history has entailed being part of one of the worlds most powerful institutions analogize to being black – which for much of history has meant the exact opposite? Yes, Marxy invoked a stereotype – but this stereotype *does* not analogize to the debasement of persons of African descent, anymore than stereotyping Asians as math geeks analogizes to stereotyping Jews as avaricious, world controlling, christian baby blood drinkers. Tell me, how many Italians have been killed or enslaved enmasse simply because they were Roman Catholic? Or how many Asians shoved in gas chambers simply because they could do math? Gawd! This was supposed to be a hip joint! I cant believe that such a sophomoric error would show up and Marxy would let it slide. Shame on you Marxy.

  28. alin Says:

    No mate, Chuckles, I think you’re missing the point the offensive bit is somewhere way behind that (though not far enough to call it ‘original sin’). i doubt you can see it.

    i would guess that Aceface is the man right on the borderline from where it can be both seen and ignored. (correct me if i’m wrong; or rather just take my apologies and admittance to ignorance in advance because i don’t want to drag this on)

  29. Chuckles Says:

    Are you trying to be funny? I am in a hurry here, so I’ll just wait and see if Marxy addresses this: If he doesnt, I’ll be back. Its way to early to be throwing around accusations of ignorance hombre.

  30. Brown Says:

    Whew, it’s getting a little hot in this gin joint…

    Anyway, Aceface, let me thank you for indulging me yet again! I was surprised to meet the Jungians I did, as it had seemed to me that Klein’s object relations school and Erikson are both more influential in Japan (Erikson’s popularity has surprised me, as his stages of psychosocial development have been attacked as being Eurocentric). If I recall correctly, you said before that you majored in archaelology? I guess psychoanalysis has had less infleuence on physical anthropology than sociocultural or psychological anthropology, for obvious reasons. Anyway, thanks again for answering my question! You’ve given me a good start to do more digging into Japanese schools/theories of psychoanalysis…

  31. Brown Says:

    “Is this a good time to bring up the rumor that some of the bigger talent jimushos pimp out their lesser-known talents to work at high-class brothels?”

    Hey, is there ever a bad time to talk about some juicy dirt like that? Yoshiwara retains a good bit of its character, according to a nostalgia-buff friend who frequents the area. Aceface, that’s a fascinating item about the rickshaw drivers guild changing the course of Tokyo history! Today’s taxi drivers don’t have anywhere near that pull, do they?

  32. alin Says:

    >Today’s taxi drivers don’t have anywhere near that pull, do they?

    i’ve been hearing that taxi drivers have something/everything to do with trains stopping at 12. no idea how founded that may be

  33. marxy Says:

    “Shame on you Marxy.”

    I didn’t want to redeem the “nigger” comment with an acknowledgment. I think you, Chuckles, eloquently explained why it was in poor taste better than I may have. (Also, it’s hard to read what’s being used ironically and what’s not.)

  34. marxy Says:

    This has devolved into Bad Times at the Marxy Bar.

  35. Chuckles Says:

    […Also, it’s hard to read what’s being used ironically and what’s not…]

    I thought as much – however, irony many times is a form of ventriloquy – especially when hastily padded with references to scholars and whatnot.

    Now Alin – what are *you* on about?

  36. alin Says:

    > Now Alin – what are *you* on about?

    hehe, just dropped by and saw people calling each other morons and stuff, then dropped an oppinion i genuinely hold.

    now i’m digging through the archive investigating whether Marxy stole the way of signing with lower-case initial from me or me from him.

  37. Don Says:

    This blog would be much better if it reverted to Showa-era values and instilled feelings of pride and allegiance in the hearts of commenters.

  38. marxy Says:

    “i’ve been hearing that taxi drivers have something/everything to do with trains stopping at 12.”

    Yes, sometimes economic power overdrives “culture.”

    Although a part of me thinks that the trains closing early nicely mirrors a Confucian/Statist demand that all the worker drones be home at a proper hour so they may get to work tomorrow on time.

  39. alin Says:

    >home at a proper hour so they may get to work tomorrow on time.

    unless it’s Denny’s and Jonathan’s pulling the strings

  40. Aceface Says:

    ”Asakusa is completely untouched by the Parco vs. Laforet Wars of Sophistication that changed the face of West Tokyo over the last two decades”

    Actually Asakusa had been through battle of Film/entertainment giant Toho VS Shouchiku war in the past.

    Asakusa is no longer a town of movie go-er.Shibuya is.ButAsakusa was the place where the first movie theater in Japan opened.

    Today’s TV is full of comedians from Kansai.But back in the day,Asakusa was the ground zero of all the laughter in Japan Lots of theaters for both standup comedy(sometimes freshman debut in the sideshow of strip show)and traditional rakugo (of which the comedian sit on the zabuton)in the district six,rokku to the Tokyoite.

    Comedy theater part died pretty much by the 60’s and movies by the 70’s.But Asakusa produced one genius comedian in the 80’s.
    Beat Takeshi.

    Everyone in Japan was skeptic when Takeshi starts to make movies in early 90’s under his real name Kitano Takeshi,thinking the whole venture is a waste of money and representing the end of Japanese cinema industry.

    But we all know how it turns out,Right now at Canne,Takeshi is the only Japanese film director asked to participate in joint production of shortfilms by world cinematic auteurs which is being shown at the film festival.

    He chose comedy for the task of 3 minuites,naturally.

  41. Italian #2 Says:

    Clutches, i would agree that my reply sounded blunt; the real fact is, i didn’t want to offend anyone. do i have to talk about polinesian rapists who coerce their babes telling dirty stories about a fish with a big fall and a hero who comes along to deflour this evil spirit and, in the end, to break every single bone of the first frightful fish only to save the entire world of him by planting the head of the fish into the mother’s garden and receiving some fruits as a prize for what he has done – all of this in order to achieve some virginal flesh, the next time? would you, marxy, like to read stuff about another minority? i still wonder why you found that comment a negative, moron-minded one: i didn’t talk about people – i had, as marxy did [ and, sure!, probably a bit roughly. ], been talking about stereotypes. it was a silly, silly joke about class of prejudices and arrogant scholarship. no one should get angry at such talks: they’re games created above false assumptions. they would not be called “prejudgments”, they could someway tend to various degrees of truthness. yet, i’m going to ask for your forgiveness and to say i didn’t intend to hurt you.
    however, isn’t this the game you love to play?

  42. Brown Says:

    Maybe taxi drivers had power before, but haven’t they hit hard times now with the licensing deregulation a few years back and competition from those… uh, whatever you calls those taxis that aren’t taxis? What is it, “hire cars?” I can’t remember… Anyway, that’s what I was referring to.

  43. Chris_B Says:

    Aceface said “But Asakusa produced one genius comedian in the 80’s. Beat Takeshi.”

    At one time I might have agreed with that, but I have not been impressed with Takeshi for about 8 years now. Seems to have become a one trick pony. But thats just my opinion. Not denying that he got his start in Asakusa at all. Thats a fact.

  44. alin Says:

    Chris , you’re just becomming too japanese, or maybe un-european. at a screening of takeshi’s in germany last year while the native audience was thrilled by the movie’s subtlety and so forth the japanese minority part were dissapointed and embarissed by their country’s cultural export.

  45. Ryan Cousineau Says:

    Chris just likes Tekeshi’s earlier, funnier movies.

    As for Italians being Catholic, well, I’d only like to point out that the pope is A-ok with the theory of evolution, so try to only cast stones for the sins actually being committed. Also, I’m offended by…

    Darn, can’t think of anything. Maybe the non-design layout of the site? It’s a crime against humanity, I tells ya.

  46. alin Says:

    anyone remember that Fawlty Towers skit where they’re thinking what would be the most offensive way to insult the belgians and after going through a whole round of fat bastards etc they decide to just call them ‘belgians’.

  47. marxy Says:

    “Maybe the non-design layout of the site?”

    One more reason I want to sink the ship and skip to another one.

  48. Aceface Says:

    Yeah,What’s with all the Belgian jokes anyway.
    I was watching some French comedy movie the other day relating Canne film festivals and Belgium joke was all over the movie.Any Belgian friend here can comment on this?(Or is it offensive?)

  49. marxy Says:

    I offended a Belgian once my suggesting that most Belgians were Francophone. The Flemish man I was talking to was not happy with that.

  50. Aceface Says:

    How about “Your Waffle is too sweet for my taste”

  51. DH Says:

    Also, Belgium is a very, very bad word in the books of Douglas Adams.

    And yet the Belgians invented ‘French’ Fries–isn’t that reason enough to be nice to them?

    Thanks for the “Ura-Asakusa” explanation, Aceface–I didn’t notice your comment earlier because it was lost in the wave of the comments that followed, but it’s really interesting to know some of the factors in Asakusa’s (and Tokyo’s) development. I’d definitely like to read more about that.

  52. Brown Says:

    Another point for the Belgians: They also do pretty good cartoons. I can even forgive them for the Smurfs, considering this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3joQLOk6ZLI