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.