Written by Jasmine O
Vowz Bar - Enjoy Shinjuku Nightlife With Buddhist Monks!
Vowz Bar is the ideal place for a unique night out in Shinjuku. Visit this bar run by monks to enjoy Buddhism-inspired cocktails, traditional vegan temple food, and learning about the most prominent religion in Japan in a welcoming environment.
A Special Evening at Vowz Bar in Tokyo
Shinjuku is well known for its nightlife, with flashy bars and izakaya in Golden Gai. However, those who prefer laidback evening entertainment might be better off going somewhere else.
Vowz Bar, a unique bar run by Buddhist monks, could be your new destination. Located in Yotsuya, just five minutes via train from Shinjuku Station, this quiet establishment welcomes all to spend a special night with drinks, light snacks, and some spiritual learning.
This article introduces the story behind this bar and what makes it ideal for an evening of fun and learning.
A Buddhist Monk-Run Bar Open to All
Vowz Bar opened in 2000, started by a monk with the concept of providing an accessible way for people to learn about Buddhism. It has continued to grow since its establishment, with all types of customers, from office workers stopping by on their way from work to travelers and those not familiar with Buddhism at all. The bar welcomes all visitors and you do not have to be Buddhist to order a drink or enjoy your time here.
In Japanese, the word for a monk is pronounced "bo-zu," which sounds similar to "vows." The bar's name is a stylized version of this.
Vowz is located on the second floor of a small building. When you climb the stairs to get to the front door, you will notice lotus flowers, clouds, and other beautiful designs on the walls. These motifs are common in Buddhism and will let you know you're in the right place.
The inside of the bar resembles a temple with its warm colors and interior. You will notice adorable drawings on the walls and a butsudan altar in the corner. Figurines and decorations related to Buddhism give the space an even further spiritual atmosphere. The bar counter and liqueur bottles lining it blend in surprisingly well with the layout.
Customers can sit at the counter or at one of the tables. Please note there is a 500-yen cover fee for the bar.
Enjoy Original Cocktails and Buddhist Cuisine
Vowz Bar has an extensive menu of original cocktails (non-alcohol versions are available, too), Japanese sake, and all varieties of beverages. Vegan shojin ryori (traditional Buddhist cuisine) is available to order, too. An English menu with pictures is available and some of the monks can speak English.
The original cocktails have names with some connection to temples or Buddhism in Japan. Pictured above is Gokuraku-Jodo (800 yen), a colorful mixed drink referring to the Western Paradise in Pure Land Buddhism. It is fruity, slightly sweet, and delicious.
Shojin ryori is eaten at temples and typically contains no meat, fish, or animal-derived products (please note ingredients vary by location). However, visitors at Vowz Bar can enjoy entirely vegan shojin ryori.
Pictured above is Nama-fu (700 yen), a wheat gluten-based dish. It is lightly fried in sesame oil and topped with a savory sauce and nori seaweed. The red dishes the food is on are similar to the ones used traditionally in temples.
You may feel tempted to try more drinks on the menu due to the variety. Horyuji (800 yen), named after Horyuji Temple in Nara, is a fruity cocktail with persimmon liquer, orange, and amaretto. It is a bold, satisfying drink.
Learn About the World of Buddhism
Vowz Bar provides a unique opportunity for everyone to learn more about Buddhism. Japanese Buddhism does not require that monks do not drink, make drinks, or endeavor in business.
The monks at Vowz Bar work at temples during the day and come to the bar in the evening. They come from different sects of Buddhism, but all share the desire to help the public learn about Buddhist spirituality and religion.
The bar offers different activities and experiences visitors can try, from pulling omikuji (fortune slips) to practicing chants. During our visit, we decided to get a paper fortune (100 yen) and try the chanting.
Everyone at the bar is welcome to join in, and will receive a paper with the pronunciation of the chants on it. It is in Japanese, but follow along with the other customers and you'll be fine.
Before you leave, you may be asked to draw one of the characters on the ceiling. Vowz has its visitors help complete this sutra calligraphy. The sutras are scriptures containing the teachings of Buddha.
How to Get to Vowz Bar
Vowz Bar is in Yotsuya, a neighborhood about a 5-minute ride from Shinjuku Station. From Shinjuku Station, take the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line to Yotsuya Sanchome Station.
The bar is about a 3-minute walk from the station (use exit 4), at the end of a quiet, narrow street with small bars and restaurants. The neighborhood is very peaceful compared to popular nightlife areas in Tokyo.
This area is historically well-known as a spot where you can see traditional performances. While walking back from the bar, we even saw a musician with a shamisen, adding an extra element of surprise and fun to the visit.
An Enlightened Evening at Vowz Bar
Vowz Bar is a one-of-a-kind bar where Buddhist monks mix and serve delicious beverages along with temple food. With a drink in hand, you can socialize with friends and the monk-bar tenders, and learn about Japanese Buddhism in a friendly, welcoming environment. A visit to this unique bar is a must when looking for a quiet respite from Shinjuku!
In cooperation with Tokyo Yotsuya Vowz Bar