If there is one type of utmost-Japanese drinking place, it must be the tachinomi. Often mistaken for an izakaya, a tachinomi is a standing-only bar, a place where (like other types of bars here) Japanese workers and salarymen go with colleagues or alone to indulge in a few drinks and light dishes at the end of the afternoon. That's their way to let the steam off after a long day of routine work, and this is also the grey time zone between work and home, the one probably many spouses hate because that's when their husbands get glued to these smoke-filled venues which prevent them from arriving early at home (so to say with the long commuting distances in metro and train).
Tachonomi are the true heirs of the shitamachi life, the old-neighborhood and ancient-Japan way of life. Tachinomi is a Japanese word (立ち飲み) made of two words, drinking and standing, it sums up pretty well what it is a bout : a standing bar. After WWII, with the attraction for western ways, the Japanese have turned toward what they somehow thought as more civilized venues including seating and private tables, places that were also more women friendly. Up to this day you virtually see no women in a tachinomi, it's a man's thing where you drink and chat with male colleagues.
We showed up at 6:30 pm if I remember; B. went somewhere else that day, she wasn't too much attracted by the tachinomi thing, knowing too well that it was virtually a men-only venue and that she would have all the eyes on her in there.
Just as we walked in, other patrons were beginning to slide the door open and fill the place. As you can see on the picture, it's a men-only magnet, and groups of colleagues as well as lone individuals rapidly gather toward the end of the afternoon. The typical tachinomi isn't open that late anyway, it may open toward 5pm and closes at 10pm (Japanese are serious people, tomorrow is a working day...).
I like this story with this Yoshiike store because it reminds me of the close-knit community feel of the Auvergnats and Aveyronnais who came to Paris a century ago and made their way upward through the café and bar business : the initial founders of the Yoshiike store came similarly from the Niigata Prefecture and as the Ueno station was the terminal for Niigata immigrants settling in the big city, they opened their shop right here, beginning with a small retail shop and adding other ones until they built this multi-story depaato and expanded their group in other branches. Now, not only their sake section is largely Niigata-centered because of grassroots solidarity, but from what Mamada heard, they also managed to open this tachinomi standing bar, as a gesture of solidarity with all the Niigata natives who live in the area. There, you get a good choice of very affordable Niigata sakes by the cup, at affordable price, and for the Niigata domestic expats, it offers a genuine home feel.
This again shows the intertwined relation between modern business practices and grassroot traditions in Japan, this country is indeed very pragmatic and there's room for old-class feelings even if business seems to prime at first glance.
Before going to the tachinomi, we had a look to the sake section where Mamada bought a bottle. There's a very large selection of regular 1,8-liter bottles, hard to decipher for someone unfamiliar with Kanji like me, but you just want to pick randomly one of these bottles (given the price tag is in your acceptable cost range) and try it at home.
The ordering counter is at the bottom left of the tachinomi. There, two women pour the sake of your choice and you find also the small dishes to go with. Japan is a country where you drink with food, with these small okazu dishes, like the tapas in Spain and the zakuskis in Russia.
I would still advise not to go there in groups so that you'll not disturb the atmosphere, and two or three seems the maximum, especially that many of these tachinomis are cramped places with little room to move along the counter. Be cautious also with the pictures, I took myself a few of them but I have my ways and I don't use a flash.
Yoshiike depaato (near the tashinomi) satellite pic
Yoshiike depaato street map