Stranger Than Fiction: Kagaya
When it comes to sight-seeing, the district of Shimbashi in Tokyo is not the number one spot you would think of, however if you know where to look, you can have some pretty big surprises. Since I came to Japan, the place that surprised me the most was this tiny Izakaya (or Japanese restaurant) simply known as Kagaya, a few meters away from the Shimbashi JR Station.
If you have ever been to Tokyo, you know how hard it can be to find a restaurant: with all the signs, and neons, you can easily get confused. Especially in a district like Shimbashi, where many salarymen come for a drink after work, and where there are hundreds and hundreds of restaurants, massage parlors, and pachinkos. The first time I wanted to go to Kagaya, I got completely lost, so I checked out the map on Kagaya’s website:
Just by looking at the map, I knew something was off with that place! The restaurant in itself is very discreet, you barely notice it, in fact you can only spot it thanks to this small sign:
Time to go down the stairs and enter the izakaya. Sticked to the ceiling in the staircase, a poster of a frog saying “Frog is stranger than fiction!”.
A Unique Crazy Experience
The place is very small, but always full. No chairs at Kagaya, you eat Japanese style: on a cushion on the floor. The funny thing when you enter is that the others customers will always look at you, trying to hide a smile, as if they knew something that you didn’t. “He’s in for a treat”.
So what makes this place so unique and crazy? The answer: the owner, Mark Kagaya. This guy runs the whole show from start to finish, assisted by a lady in the kitchen in the back doing all the cooking. He greats you like in any other normal restaurants, “Irasshaimase!” (“Welcome” in Japanese), and shows you to your table. If you don’t know how to speak Japanese, no worries, Mark Kagaya can speak English. We sat down at our table, Kagaya asks us if we’re ready, and that’s when things became..stranger than fiction:
After recovering from the shock of suddenly having the theme-song of Anpanman (a popular Japanese cartoon) being screamed at us, we grab our Oshibori (hot towel) from the head a big Anpanman toy that moves from across the shop to our table. Whilst cleaning our hands, I see Mark Kagaya next to the counter, holding what seems to be a rolled up school kid’s notebook, and using it as a telescope. The whole restaurant suddenly took place in a weird countdown: 3…2…1…aaaand… LIFTOFF!! Pretending the menu was a rocket, Kagaya came up to me and made the rocket land on my..crotch…while screaming through the rolled menu. Scarred for life. He then proceeded in caressing the menu gently and whisper sexy things to it so that it would “spread” its pages for us.
Just joking, the whole thing was really tongue in cheek, and everybody had a big laugh. Everybody chuckled also when Mark Kagaya went from crazy funny to suddenly super serious face:
The drink menu, which looks like its been written by a five year old with crayons, is accompanied by a list of countries. The country you pick will determine the style of the service. You can choose between USA, China, Japan, Brazil, England or France, and sometimes he will give you 2 more extra countries depending on his mood. We won’t spoil too much about what happens because that’s part of the fun at Kagaya. If I could give you an advice, I’d say don’t leave Kagaya without having seen what happens when you choose USA 🙂
Great Entertainment, Great Food!
We picked England for our style of service, and got our drinks served by…a Teddy Bear. A teddy bear who struggled to come all the way to our table carrying all these big glasses!
So what about the food? After all this is a restaurant, right? Well, unlike many of the crazy bars in Tokyo which often have “okay” food, Kagaya actually serves delicious home-style food. It’s very simple, but very delicious. My Japanese friends who were with us all agreed “it’s like what my mom used to make..but better”!
The Funniest Experience
Kagaya is a great fun experience, and for those who think “will Kagaya keep tormenting me during the whole dinner?” don’t worry, you can enjoy the dinner with your friends (or the other customers) and watch Kagaya torment new customers, and laugh with everyone. In terms of prices, it’s a little bit more expensive than your usual izakaya, because you pay for the entertainment. If you are looking for unique experiences on your trip to Japan this is my personal number one recommendation.
The only thing is be sure to make a reservation way beforehand, because the place is crazy busy! Everybody wants to see Kagaya’s crazy show! Keep in mind also that people who get easily offended shouldn’t go there ^^’