The latest volume of the popular manga "Bartender" is all about Japanese whisky and Hokkaido. I found it very evocative, having visited many of the spots and met some of the people featured in the stories as part of my research for "Drinking Japan", my book about Japanese alcohol (for those of you getting impatient waiting, it is expected to be in the shops by the end of the year. Tuttle have all the drafts but editing it and putting all the hundreds of photos and maps together is a lengthy task at their end).
The Susukino crossing in the manga and during my visit last year.
Bartender is a very popular manga by Joh Araki and Nagatomo Kenji (artist) that has been running in Super Jump magazine since 2004. It was made into an animated cartoon in 2006. The main character is Ryu Sasakura, who started the series having just returned to Japan from learning about bartending in France. He is a genius bartender (the main characters in mangas of this sort are always geniuses at something) and spends his time perfecting his skills and changing people`s lives with his (and other bartenders') magical cocktails.
Volume 16, released earlier this month, starts in Tokyo, where a foreigner called Judy is planning to get married to a Japanese lad. His family, and especially his grandfather, is opposed. Basically, the whole volume traces an arc towards her final acceptance by his family. But the clever bit is that the story echoes the relationship between Rita and Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of the Nikka whisky (of which more here). Taketsuru's marriage to Rita, a Scottish woman, was at first not welcomed by his family (or her's) but they lived out their lives together in Japan. The story of Rita and Masataka is introduced near the end of the manga and resonates with the modern couple's experience.
As is the way with Bartender, there are all sorts of cocktails introduced throughout the manga. They seem to pop out of every seam of life in Bartender world. On the train to Yoichi distillery, Sasakura does not make do with a Coca-cola, as I am afraid to say I did, he has a proper Super Nikka Mint Julep made for him by an eccentric old lady (who loves gambling on the horses, incidentally) . So, for those of you who are planning a trip to Yoichi, then, here is the definitive travel drink:
SUPER NIKKA MINT JULEP
(or the ultimate Yoichi train drink)
Ingredients: One tbsp of sugar, 4-5 mint leaves, 20-30 ml of mineral water, bit cup of ice.
Crush the mint well in the glass then put in the Super Nikka (60 ml), then loads of ice and mint for decoration.
As I say, the manga was very evocative for me. A major character is a "Mr Yazaki" who run's a bar called "Bar Yazaki" right behind the Susukino crossing. This is clearly Tatsuro Yamazaki, the lovely old gentleman who runs Bar Yamazaki at Susukino in real life.
Mr Yamazaki features in my book in quite a major way. I felt he helped me understand Japanese alcohol culture much more deeply and I devote several pages to him. He also makes lovely cocktails and has earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most prolific silhouette maker in the world. He cuts one of Sasakura in the manga and he did one of me too when I visited, his 43,299th to be precise!
Silhouettes: Sasakura (left) and me. I fear he came off rather better!