Sunday 10 September 2017

Showa-style Alleys, Cheap Eats, and Hoppy

A good night out with some new friends - five of us standing in Hamonica Alley
Una buena noche con nuevos amigos
Friday saw a night out in Kichijoji, consistently voted the place most people want to live (sunde-mitai machi =住んでみたい街)in Tokyo. One of the biggest draws is the lovely Inokashira Park, but another top attraction is the Harmonica Alley (Yokochō) =ハモニカ横丁, a narrow, lantern-lined Showa era-style downtown back-street full of cheap sit-down and stand-up bars and food joints (pictured right). A similar area exists in Shinjuku to the west of the JR Station - known as Memory (Omoide) -Yokochō (思い出横丁) - but the Kichijoji street has far fewer tourists and is much more "local." Both areas have increased in popularity in recent years amid a nostalgia boom for the "old Tokyo."

Pictures of two kinds of Hoppy beer-flavoured drink lined up in a local supermarket
White and black Hoppy on sale: only ¥115 a bottle
Click to preview
Despite having been in Japan - on and off - for some twenty-five years, I discovered a new drink I had not encountered before known as Hoppy (ホッピー), something of an institution in the Kanto region apparently. It was created in 1948 - as the picture left shows, 2013 was the drink's 65th birthday - at a time when beer was a luxury drink out of the reach of most ordinary people. Thus, Hoppy is a tax-exempt beer-flavoured drink of only 0.8% alcohol that when mixed with shōchū (a Japanese distilled spirit made from rice or potatoes) creates a "blue-collar beer" that is remarkably similar to but much cheaper (and less carbonated) than regular beer. Aside from price, it also has the advantage of low calories and sugar and contains no gout-causing purines (a growing problem for older Japanese men). The pouring of Hoppy seems to be something of an art form: when you order you get a bottle of Hoppy (white or black), a glass of shōchū, and an empty beer glass (all chilled). You then add a shot of shōchū to the beer glass and quickly pour in five parts Hoppy to mix it and give it a foamy head (see here for more details). The taste verdict? Not terrible, but not a patch on regular draft beer (nama-bīru =生ビール).