In Short: Okagesan Yakitori Bar izakaya in the onsen town of Hongūchō Wataze Japan is a hidden gem of local charm for anyone looking for a genuine Japanese bar experience with a friendly smile.
Sometimes magic happens when you combine friends, food, and travel, with a dash of luck and end up with one of those special moments that stays with you for years. It’s not a recipe you can replicate at will, but when it happens, you know it. We knew it when we drew back the noren on Okagesan Izakaya in the onsen town of Hongūchō Wataze Japan, and were warmly welcomed into its cosy, local charm by its owner, Mr. Shirai.
As local yakitori bars go, you couldn’t get more local than Okagesan Izakaya. With only two tables and a few bar seats, the simple, wood-worked interior, with Mr. Shirai at centre stage, it blends all the inviting elements of a quaint neighbourhood pub with the centuries long izakaya tradition. Not to mention that it’s just about the only restaurant in a village of less than a few hundred people, from the looks of it!
Sake is a given for the true izakaya experience. So Mr. Shirai obliges with a warming tokurri filled with a light, dry sake that has a similar flavour profile to a dry chardonnay. Cutting the chill of the night air with an aromatic sip of this easy-drinking drop really puts us in the mood to explore the simple, yet befitting, menu.
Showing how simple can be so right, we cleanse and freshen our palates with a light diakon salad. Diced daikon (or Japanese radish) dressed in a zesty sauce and topped with bonito flakes, creates a combination that is the perfect primer for the yakitori treats to come.
Fried tofu, or Atsuage, is next and this variation is served warm in a light broth. With a few sakes under the bridge, Mr. Shirai soon becomes Manabu to us. At his insistence, the fried tofu is dipped in a Japanese mustard sauce that really brings each bite to life.
Without knowing it, Okage-san Izakaya is right on trend with the very western fashion of preparing the same ingredient a number of ways. The difference here is that it’s always been done this way, and the ingredient is specialty tofu, handcrafted by a local artisan Mr. Furokubo. This time it’s cold tofu or Hiyayakko. A firm, but silken style tofu, it’s once again served simply with an accompanying sauce that never conceals the true quality of Mr. Furokubo’s efforts.
Being a yakitori bar, Okage-san Izakaya is prone to serve up a skewer or two. We watch as Manabu creates a glistening stack of carefully crafted chicken and green onion yakatori that fills the small space with aromas of caramel, soy, bbq, and chargrilled chicken. If there was ever a food that was designed for a pint of cold beer and a yarn with friends, it’s skewers like these. The chicken is lightly charred, and the onions are moist and caramelised. There’s a slight sweetness to the glaze that coats the ingredients and pulls all the flavours together so perfectly.
Sometimes you just need that satisfying feeling that a bowl of rice can only deliver, and that’s where the Gohanmon Toridon comes in. Slightly sticky steamed rice is the bed for the magic chicken and onion combination from the yakitori skewers resulting in a warming bowl that leaves us perfectly topped up to face the night chill.
Okagesan Izakaya in the onsen destination town of Hongūchō Wataze epitomises relaxed, friendly, and local flavours that add an authentic flare to travel adventures like this one. It’s all about simple, honest ingredients done well that makes these secret spots so memorable and the most important ingredient of all is definitely our new friend, Manabu-san.
A big thanks to Mr. Keigo Yasui for his amazing translation skills and knowledge of the local area. Thanks Keigo!