Translated by Michiyo Nakashima
Nakano Vow’s Bar: Buddhism Night Refuge in Nakano
Written by Mai Kawabe
In a busy city life, do you have a moment when you feel like talking to someone about your life? If so, there is a place for you in Nakano, where you can talk to monks and enjoy drinks with them at night. It’s called Vow’s (Monk’s) bar.
What’s Vow’s bar?
A real monk runs a bar in Nakano. The pronunciation of Vows means a Buddhist monk in Japanese. These days, there are many bars like this in Kansai and Kanto area. Nakano Vow’s bar is one of the most popular monk’s bars, which people from all over Japan visit this bar.
The bar is located on the second floor of World building inside the Nakano shinnakamise shopping district. The entrance of the bar definitely looks different than other bars. I can hear the sound of a temple bell. Let’s go inside.
When I entered the bar, a monk welcomed me by joining his hands in prayer.
He, Shaku genko-san, who is a master of the bar and a monk of Shinsyu sect Otani branch, is a gentle and good-humored person.
The lanterns inside the bar create an atmosphere.
The bar is a pretty relaxing place with Jazz music played quietly.
There are many books, comics, and objects that are related Buddhism or used in a temple.
There are also Buddha’s images, figures, and a wooden gong displayed at the bar.
At Vow’s bar, many monks from different branches work together. Monks serve as bartenders on weekdays while nuns serve on weekends. Many customers from foreign countries visit the bar on weekends. It was already full of customers after an hour from the opening of the bar.
Order a cocktail from a monk
They have bunch of menu of cocktails, but you should try a monk’s special drinks if you come here. All the names of drinks here come from Buddhism world.
The menu book just looks like the sutras.
While the master of the bar makes me Hannyatou, Buddhist priest jargon of Sake (alchohol), I opened Bi-bouze zukan, a picture book of good-looking monks. From the picture book, I learned that there are many monks that are doing various activities out side of a temple such as writing as an author, and playing music as a member of a band.
That night, I ordered Ero-bouze, and Gokuraku-jyodo. Gokuraku Jyodo means the land of Perfect Bliss in Buddhist world. In Jyodo shinsyu sect, it is believed as the world after death, where there are no sufferings at all.
Ero-bouze is the most popular cocktail for women at the bar. Ero means erotic or Nasty in English. The cocktail was decollated with the nasty looking teruteru bouze. Teruteru bouze is a paper doll that people make when they pray the weather to be nice, and hang them on a window or a space under the eaves.
Ero-bouze ￥1300 (reference price)
With the base of milk, there are flavors of melon and coconut. It is sweet and easy to drink.
Gokuraku Jyodo ￥1000 (reference price)
This cocktail is made with the mix of oolong tea, green tea, and angostura bitters. The three materials represent the Buddhism world of the three realms of existence.
Listen to preaching at a bar
The master, Shaku genko –san, knows a lot of things. He knows thoroughly well about the world history and Japanese history. He also makes everyone smile with his jokes. One of the reasons customers come to this bar is because they want to talk about their matters of lives with the master. Shaku genko-san does counseling service with teaching of Buddhism for customers while serving drinks to them.
Shaku genko-san, the master of the bar, is wearing Vow’s bar’s tenth anniversary T-shirt. But usually he wears Samue, monk’s working clothes at a temple, when he is working at the bar.
The way he shakes the cup of cocktail is just like a professional bartender. Shaku genko-san serves at his temple during the day and work at this bar at night.
I asked why he opened this bar.
“We want to spread the teaching of Buddha to as many people as possible. There are many ways of doing this. Running a bar is just one of these ways. Japan’s Buddhism is often known and practiced only at funerals and Buddhist memorial mass. But I thought I want to deal with people who are present in this world, that’s the reason I chose this job. It’s up to us, monks, how to spread Buddhism to people.”
At home bar makes you want to come back again
Most of the objects in this bar are offerings from customers. All the cartoon doll figures are gifted to the master, who likes to listen to cartoon songs.
The master says that all these offerings should not be only his possession, so they are shared with customers at the bar. Often the master gives away these doll figures to customers. Even if you visit this bar alone, you will soon find yourself laughing and talking with the master and other customers. The master tells the customers that this place is for them to completely relax so they can come back anytime and rest well. Some customers fall asleep at the bar.
In the end
You don’t have to be a Buddhism believer. This bar is open to anyone who wants to talk to the master, or even to those who just wants to experience something new in his usual life. The master’s drink and a relaxing time at the bar may give you an encouragement to the next day.
※Some information about Buddhism in this entry is quoted from the bar's brochure. The teaching of Buddhism varies depends on different sects.
address：World building 2F, 5-55-6 Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo
Access：JR Chuou line, Get off at Nakano station and walk %min from the North exit.
Hours：Monday ~ Saturday 19:00~02:30 / Sunday and Holidays 18:00~23:00
No Business day：Monday of the first week and the third week of a month.
Language：English, French, Japanese
Price：For taking a visit, ￥500
Religion：Any people are welcomed.