LET’S GET LOST IN DEEP JAPAN
When in Kyoto’s Gion district, step off the main tourist-filled path and you’ll find yourself in an alley dotted with restaurants behind noren, or shop curtains, that are plainly adorned only with the name of the shop. The restaurants’ interiors are not visible from the outside. These are bars, also known as Ozashiki Bars, which are uniquely Kyoto-esque with their Japanese-style tatami-mat rooms fitted with counters. In most of these Ozashiki Bars, a beautiful Japanese woman serves the customers by herself.
Here, the customers get to enjoy some sake while steeping themselves in the traditional Japanese way of life by admiring the shoji, or paper screen, candles or the splendid flower arrangements. There is another Kyoto tradition practiced here called the Ichigensan Okotowari System, which filters out first-time visitors. That means those who want to visit the restaurant for the first time must do so either accompanied by a regular or have the regular customer place reservations for them. Let us say you were lucky enough to be able to go to one of these establishments by yourself; you don’t even have to pay. On a later date, you will receive by mail, a neatly hand-drawn bill on traditional washi paper. If you don’t pay, the bill goes to the person who introduced you to the restaurant. Furthermore, if you are deemed unfit for the establishment, the person who introduced you will receive a phone call from that restaurant stating that you are not welcome at the place.
You can be a celebrity or a holder of the American Express Centurion card. If you don’t have an introduction from a regular, you can’t enter.
At most, the restaurants can accommodate five or six customers. They offer the ultimate in hospitality so that you can fully relax and enjoy your time there.