Fukuoka, a Kaku-uchi Paradise － A fabulous way to enjoy good food and drinking while socializing!2017.01.04
Kaku-uchi bars have recently regained the spotlight as places where people can casually drop in and enjoy drinking. “Kaku-uchi” refers to liquor stores where a space is made available where customers can stand and drink. Because the price is reasonable, it has long been a popular way for locals to enjoy drinking. One of many different stories concerning the origin of the word “Kaku-uchi” (literally, “boxed serving”) is that its name comes from the square cedar boxes used to serve sake. Areas outside of Fukuoka use other words to describe this style of casual drinking while standing, but in Fukuoka, Kaku-uchi has become part of Fukuoka’s drinking culture along with its famous “Yatai” food stalls. This article will introduce you to the fascinating world of Kaku-uchi, both old styles and new, and show how drinking and socializing come together in this unique drinking culture.
Kaku-uchi at an atmospheric watering hole with a long history
Our first stop is Koba Saketen, near the busy intersection of Yakuin Mutsukado. This liquor store is one of oldest in Fukuoka, having been in business for over 100 years! The Kaku-uchi space is located behind the store, where locals enjoy drinking every night.
Upon entering, visitors will be captivated by the walls and blackboards filled with handwritten menus including snacks, drinks and staff recommendations. This store features an overwhelming number of sake and snacks at reasonable prices, with an easy to understand pay-as-you-go system. The manager Mr. Kenjiro Koba tells us, “The concept of our Kaku-uchi bar is to provide a place where you can casually drop in on your way home and have a good time for about 1,000 yen.”
The Kaku-uchi bar also allows you to purchase a bottle from the store next door to drink there. There is a small charge for this service, such as 300 yen for a bottle of wine, but it is very reasonable, especially if you are drinking in a group.
Although the prices are reasonable, the bar does not compromise on quality and customer service. The bar is non-smoking, which is relatively uncommon for a general Kaku-uchi bar, and they serve sake in wine glasses so that customers can enjoy the fragrance of the sake itself. Even their ice is specially-made for drinking, providing large rock ice for their “shochu” distilled spirits.
Once the bar opens at 5 p.m., it quickly fills with a lively crowd where customers both young and old, men and women come to enjoy drinking. The bar assumes a social atmosphere as customers enjoy chatting not only with their friends, but also with others standing next to them. Mr. Koba says that many couples have met each other at his Kaku-uchi bar. This is the secret to popularity of Kaku-uchi; people are brought together not just by their love of drinking, but by other means as well.
An upscale Kaku-uchi bar where you can find organic wines and sake
Next, we visited a modern-style Kaku-uchi place named “Todoroki Saketen Yakuin-stand!” which opened in March 2016. The original Todoroki Saketen liquor store is located in Sanchiku, Hakata Ward, which is a bit far from downtown. The store carries a wide selection of organic wines and sake that attracts customers from both inside and outside of Fukuoka. They put out a Kaku-uchi stall for special events, such as the “Full-moon wine bar” on nights with a full moon, and now they have opened a store closer to the center of the city.
The store, which has a pure-white, boxy appearance, is situated in a residential area one block from Takamiya-dori street. It has a stylish interior quite unlike that of a Kaku-uchi bar, giving it a sophisticated yet nostalgic atmosphere. Their carefully-selected collection of plates and cups are used to serve food and drink in a way that accentuates their flavors and appearance. It has a comfortable atmosphere that gives customers a glimpse into the types of casual drinking and eating people will be enjoying in the future.
Kaku-uchi drinking at Todoroki Saketen Yakuin-stand! starts at 4 p.m. Their menu includes three kinds of domestic red and white wines, two kinds of sparkling wine, and about 10 varieties of Japanese sake. When Japanese sake is in season, they increase their lineup accordingly. Many customers come here to take part in sake tasting to enjoy different types of sake.
Although the food menu is rather limited, they offer snacks that show they understand the essence of what sake drinkers want to eat along with their drinks, such as pounded fish cakes from one of their affiliated Japanese restaurants.
The manager Ikumasa Ichinoki says, “Neighbors often drop in and enjoy drinking from the early afternoon. We offer popular brands of sake at the main store, as well as new seasonal sake. We are thinking to hold events where customers can meet sake brewers, enjoy drinking their sake, and hear stories behind how each sake is made. We strive to be a liquor store that focuses on the customer’s experience and provide them with an opportunity to find new sake brands.”
The store is equipped with a sake and wine cellar in the back that satisfies the needs of nearby restaurants and local customers who enjoy drinking at home.
These two shops are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kaku-uchi drinking in Fukuoka. Next time you go out for a drink, whether by yourself or with friends, why not try a Kaku-uchi bar?
1-12-18 Yakuin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
Opening Hours: Kaku-uchi: 5 p.m.-11 p.m. (Last order of food at 10:30 p.m.), Saturdays 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. (Last order of food at 9 p.m.), Liquor Store: 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Closed on Sundays
[Todoroki Saketen Yakuin-stand!]
3-7-30 Yakuin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
Opening Hours: Kaku-uchi: 4 p.m.-9 p.m., Liquor Store: 12 a.m.-9 p.m.
Closed on Sundays, public holidays and the last Monday of every month