Tonight I discovered a restaurant called sharaku (projecting happiness) in Shinjuku, near the southeast exit, that sells 10 types of Japanese craft beer. Sharaku is the name of a famous ukiyo-e artist from the middle of the Edo era (I didn’t know this till I looked it up in Wikipedia). They also stock a range of imported beers, but my interest was in the local stuff (I can drink Belgian beer anywhere, but the Hideji beer company almost certainly doesn’t have sales outside Japan!) Their selection of local beers changes by the month: this month they had 10 beers from three companies, in Miyazaki, Fukuoka and Miyagi (I think). The beer pictured is a pale ale made with Cascade hops, a nice aromatic number. The chap at the bar gave me a leaflet for Hideji Beer Company that rated each beer in five dimensions and also gave a serving guide – information for the true connoisseur. The beers were good (I also tried taiyo raga, sunshine lager) and the shop’s explanations matched the taste of the beer perfectly. If you’re in Japan, don’t have time to speed on down to the far end of the country, and want to try some regional beers, I recommend this place (the food was really good too). Japanese craft beers can be a bit intense, but there’s a really interesting culture of local beers here – you would never guess from the common picture that the big companies present, but I’d say it’s close to the US in its diversity, and some of them are really cool. Plus, some of them incorprorate really nice Japanese design, and they have a strong seasonal motif (as does everything in Japan). If you’re in Japan, obviously the best thing you can do is try the sake, and if you visit a restaurant like Kujirayama (whale mountain) you can try a wide selection of regional sake, along with amazing food; but it’s also worth seeking out some of Tokyo’s craft beer sellers, and sharaku does a very good job of show-casing the industry. Try it if you can find it!
fn1: I cannot recommend kujirayama highly enough, and in fact I would say that if you come to Japan and you can only spend time in Tokyo, the best decision you can make is to book a hotel in Kichijoji (try the Toyoko inn) and eat in Kichijoji every night: the Thai food here is awesome, Bloomoon has an atmosphere that craps on anything in your country, and Kujirayama has some of the best examples of Japanese food that you can find for a reasonable price. Kichijoji also has a beer bar (holic) with a crazy robot-salvation game, and of course you’re near the studio ghibli museum and on the central line, so you can visit all the boring places (sky tree, museums, whatevah!) quickly and easily. There’s no cat-bus, though.