Going out in Tokyo at dirt-cheap prices
Here is an izakaya chain which has only a string of venues in Tokyo. We stumbled upon it in Kita Senju, like usual to get a more comfortable dinner after a few visits in the area. We'll short-name the place as an izakaya but the red Kanji characters above the name (on right), Taishuu Sakaba, mean in Japanese something like, literally, "people's sake bar", or "popular sake venue", the term being an alternative to the generic izakaya word used for most of these casual bars.
The Kaburaya chain looks at the same time very efficient in terms of room service and very good value in terms of cost. Going there was a good learn on how the Japanese can keep traditional and adapt to the most efficient fast-food techniques.
There are a few interpretations about where the shitamachi old town can be found in Tokyo, Ueno is among the names that come to mind, as well as Yanaka or Minowa among others, but Kita Senju is also named as a surviving shadow of the age-old lower-class neighborhood, and shitamachi entertainment districts, like the ones of Okachimachi ans Ueno, are always lots of fun and painless for your wallet. Remember again that shitamachi is an immaterial concept in the sense that except for the fact that the buildings are lower than in other parts of town, all the buildings are new or relatively new, everything being rebuilt sooner or later in this country, including old-looking temples. But the spirit of the lower town (shitamachi) seems to remain very vivid in the minds and habits.
The street window of Kaburaya was appealing, neat like the rest, but good lighting and setting things straight from the start, that is telling a few prices of the orders. 80 Y (sign on the right) is for sure a price you can't beat [61 Euro-cents or 80 USD-cents], except of course if you go to a place like this yakitori joint in Uguisudani with its yakitori at 70 Y apîece. So, considering the good outlook of the venue and its displayed rates, there's a good chance that the wandering salarymen looking for good time and no money worries will slide the door open.
According to Kaburaya's website, there are already 33 such franchises, most in Tokyo area plus two in Shizuoka, which is possibly the originator venue of the whole venture. You can see on this map where the restaurants are located in Tokyo, and you have the precise addresses with phone numbers on the bottom of the page.
There were a few women in this izakaya, this isn't rare; from what I understand, the tachinomis are the type of venues (call them primitive and macho) where women are a rare exception, but other bars with seats have usually a varying number of couples.
The menu is like usual displayed on vertical signs on the wall. There are a dozen items at 80 Y [61 Euro-cents or 80 USD-cents] plus more at 100 Y.
What you can get at 80 Y is both kushiyaki and oden. A kushiyaki is some sort of yakitori, just that yakitori is made with chicken meat and kushiyaki with various types of meat. Oden is a bowl with different things including vegetables. You learn from the website that the speciality of the chain is kuro oden or black soup, a type of soup typical of Shizuoka (a city beyween Nagoya and Tokyo), which seems to imply that the whole company was sort-of born in Shizuoka, especially that the only two other such restaurants outside Tokyo are there. Shizuoka tea is very famous, but kuro oden is quite unusual in Tokyo. The website doesn't tell anything about Shizuoka when telling the black-oden speciality, but it obviously comes from there.
The kushiyaki (let's call them yakitori if you prefer) are made either with pork head, pork diaphragm, tongue, liver, heart, stomach etc... all at 80 Y apiece.
The oden plates cost between 80 Y and 100 Y, with a few above, like 130 Y. This is konbu algae, crushed/cooked fish, white radish, eggs, potatoe, the 130-Y one being beef tendon.
Else whee on the website, you learn that they have two specialities in this izakaya, the first one is black oden and the other one the tripes, which are proposed as kushiyaki or stew (nikomi). They say that the tripes are very fresh at Kaburaya.
Sorry, I didn't take pictures of what we got.
I shot this picture of passing salarymen while I was sitting in this restaurant, through the window. The guy in the middle seemed to have been through a nice flight of drinks and was gently guided by his mates along the narrow street in the direction of the train station and ultimately hopefully, of his his home... I hope his wife will be forgiving and that he doesn't comes back this way every other day...
If he felt he couldn't make it, he certainly had the option of crashing into a capsule hotel like the one detailed on the left (this is not a laundromat, don't throw your laundry in there), a capsule hotel which happens to be located in Kita Senju near the station (see website for more info), proof that this neighborhood has a profitable pool of salarymen in dire need of accomodation late at night....
I've been across memorable drunk salarymen in Tokyo during my different journeys, particularly on the train platforms or in the subway, but never dared to shoot a picture, by respect for them too. Here is a page with a few nice shots of collapsed salarymen (including a video showing a drunk government minister), and on this page you have a few other ones too.
Kita Senju has other pleasures in store, and I saw several girls standing together not far from the station where the pedestrian street begins, approaching strolling salarymen to make them an unknown offer (the ones I saw apparently refused)...
From our quick look, the drink list was short : beer (380 Y for a big glass), shochu (300 Y) and sake, the latter not being listed on their website but we got some, and I think it was 300 Y. My advice is that they put more details on their menu webpage, it's quite limited. You see more pictures of food on their About us page.
If you want to open a Kaburaya in your area, just read the pages on this website, and you can see on this page a list of happy franchisers who jumpstarted their business on the Kaburaya format...Among them, try to Google-translate the profile/interview of the man behind this Kita-Senju restaurant which opened in may 2012 (I shot inadvertedly a picture of this manager, see on right).
No sponsoring here, but I think that this is very interesting, you learn the surface (12,3 tsubo -- 40 sq-meters or 438 sq ft), the number of seats (36), the workforce (12) and the monthly sales (5 000 000 Y -- 38 000 € or 50 262 USD).