I’m a big fan of SMS and the internet. The ability to make connections, quickly find jōhō and verify old memories is invaluable to me. Thank you, world, for inventing such a great tool. I use it daily.
There’s a little resutoran near the Heian Shrine in Kyoto. Let’s call it S Restaurant. It’s an old style eatery that serves a setto breakfast and a wide variety of ippin ryōri during the day. You never know what you might find, be it a dish of Japanese poteto sarada, kitsune soba, hamburger with catsup spaghetti or ebi furai. It’s that type of restaurant that puts dishes out on a table or shelf and you can choose what you want on top of what you order. Nothing “extra” here. Plain old good food, but nothing gourmet, mind you.
S Restaurant does not have a website. It doesn’t have a facebook page or Instagram. It does have a denwa bango, but they don’t take reservations. It’s a neighborhood kind of place despite being near one of the top sightseeing spots.
You can’t pay with a credit card or your phone or any other way other than genkin. There’s no parking lot. Children are welcome, though. But it is what is known as a taishū shokudo. There used to be many of these in Kyoto, very similar to the cheap dives that catered to students—students who are now frequenting cafes and Starbucks.
So, how are you going to find S Restaurant? First off, you won’t find anything written in English about it (I checked). If you don’t speak or read Japanese and you walk by it, trust me, there’s no welcome sign for you. You have to do the work; learn the language.
Thanks to the internet, now anybody can become a Japan tsū. If you can’t read Japanese, presto… use Google translate and years of Japanese study become unnecessary. We live in the era of short cuts, instant gratification and instant expertise.
In 2016 I was astonished to see the multilingual signage in Kyoto. No more wondering about the history of a jinja or a street name’s pronunciation. Easy peasy. A wonderful boon to tourists. But for serious students of Japanese perhaps it might make them lazy since everything is done for them. I hope I’m wrong. Surely they are still huddled under their kotatsu memorizing kanji for hours upon hours. No?
So, I still think it is worth taking the time and making the effort to learn the language if you really want to know Japan. Or as they say, it’s not the destination, but the journey to get there. But hey, I’m just a grumpy old lady! Meanwhile, S Restaurant continues much the way it always has, hopefully never to be found in an article entitled “Top Ten Quaint Eateries of Kyoto.”
- jōhō – 情報 information
- resutoran – レストラン restaurant
- setto – セット set, as in set menu
- ippin ryōri - 一品料理 à la carte items
- poteto sarada – ポテトサラダ potato salad (the Japanese version of the Western version of it)
- kitsune soba – 狐そば a kind of soba dish with seasoned deep-fried tofu. One of the cheapest items on a menu.
- ebi furai – エビフライ fried shrimp
- denwa bango – 電話番号 telephone number. Literally telephone + number
- genkin – 現金 cash
- taishū shokudo - 大衆食堂 literally a “restaurant for the masses.” It describes the type of eatery that is simple, cheap, filling, unpretentious, and with no surprises. They seem to be few and far between these days.
- tsū – 通 an expert or connoisseur. Often used as a suffix to indicate a subject one has expertise in.
- jinja – 神社 Shinto shrine
- kotatsu – 炬燵 a low table combined with a special futon that is used as a heating device