Thursday, October 14, 2010
It’s often remarked how clean and organized Japan is, and for the most part, this is true. However there is an interesting, less tidy culture of street scape and architecture still present in Japan’s larger cities. It would be fair to say that in every major Japanese city there are dozens, perhaps even hundreds of “kitanai” restaurants.
The term kitanai literally means dirty or unclean. That’s not to say that the previously mentioned restaurants are dirty and unhygienic, it’s more a comment on their general appearance than anything else. Although in some of these establishments, it may be a good idea to concentrate on the food only completely ignoring the aesthetics. So why mention these seemingly unsavoury eateries? The answer is that they are often delicious, not to mention cheap, quirky and cheerful.
Just recently on Japanese TV a “kitanai restaurant award” was the feature of a popular show. The show’s hosts travelled all around Tokyo visiting and sampling the cuisine of Tokyo’s best kitanai restaurants. The eventual winner was a Thai themed izakaya situated under the train tracks of the JR lines. The decor of all the contest’s finalists was shabby to say the least but all agreed that the food and manner of the hosts was top rate.
Naturally, you’d expect to find such places in the older quarters of town. Tokyo’s shitamachi area, the alleyways surrounding Tokyo station and older parts of Shinjuku are great places to start on searches for such places. Make sure your Japanese skills are ready for a good workout as most of these places obviously don’t see a lot of tourist customers.
So if you’re ready for a culinary and sensory adventure, keep an eye out for interesting little eateries along Japan’s less trodden paths. Search hard enough and you may find veritable diamonds in the rough.