It's perhaps hard to imagine, but there's a bar in Tokyo that is operated by Buddhist monks! The place feels like a cross between a temple and a quaint Japanese bar. They serve original cocktails and drinks and side dishes that come from zen cuisine. A must-go!
In the heart of Tokyo, there is a secluded bar run by Buddhist monks. The place is intriguing, to say the least, even for Japanese people who usually can't imagine associating nightlife and bar culture with the ascetic practices of Buddhism. We went to try it out to show you what's inside this unique place! The location is near the Marunouchi Subway Yotsuya Sanchome station.
Warm And Inviting Oasis In The Urban Jungle Of Tokyo
Although you might be hesitant to walk into the bar at first, especially if you're not too familiar with Buddhism, it's quite obvious by the manner of the person who received us, Buddhist priest and bartender, Mr. Yoshinobu Fujioka, that the establishment welcomes everyone, regardless of one's religion and nationality.
They even have an illustrated menu in English and the staff can understand and speak basic English too so you shouldn't have any problem ordering even if you don't speak Japanese.
You can sit at a table and a there are a few counter seats from which you can see the monk staff mixing the drinks and have brief conversations with them when they're not too busy. Perhaps the most striking element among the many Buddhist ornaments in the bar is the beautiful alter in the back of the room.
Original Cocktails And Drinks
The bar has a list of recommended cocktails from which we tried the Gokuraku-Jodo (literally translates to "Nirvana In The Pure Land") pictured above. It's a colourful drink made of cranberry juice, mango juice and a French liqueur called Hpnotiq (made of French vodka, fruits, and cognac). Very refreshing and fruity, the cocktail is apparently the most popular at the bar. The blue Hpnotiq liqueur is at the bottom of the drink. You may mix it well before drinking it for uniform taste, or keep it as it to no spoil the neat colour gradation.
They serve a good selection of other kinds of alcoholic beverages as well, from Japanese sake and shochu (Japanese spirit) to medical liquor based on oriental folk medicine. You'll have fun browsing through the menu!
Shojin Ryori: Japanese Buddhist Dishes
Do not miss the food here too! They have a surprising selection of what is called "shojin ryori", which are light side dishes based on zen cuisine. We tried the Nama-fu pictured above which was very savoury and went really well with the sweet cocktail. It's somewhat similar in texture to a mochi (Japanese rice cake) but instead of rice, it's made of wheat gluten. The outer part is slightly crispy because it is fried in sesame oil and the inner part is really soft and chewy like a mochi. The savoury taste comes from soy sauce and nori seaweed added to it.
Sutra Chanting (Okyo)
Another thing that makes this bar outstanding is that you are invited to chant what Japanese people call "okyo", which are sutras. After distributing sheets with the okyo written in kanji and their pronunciation in the Roman alphabet, the monks light candles at the altar and invite everyone to do the chants with them. The ritual lasts about 10 minutes and explanations in Japanese and English are given.
Vowz bar is a truly amazing bar in Tokyo that you should definitely go to if you're interested in Zen Buddhism or just want to enjoy some nice drinks and shojin ryori in a peaceful atmosphere. Relaxing classical music was played when we were there, which fits perfectly with the mood of the place. Apparently, the monks running the bar are music aficionados. They even have their own band and throw concerts every once in a while!