Tamagawa Izakaya Sushi in Shibuya, Japan: There is a spirit in every grain of rice
The specialty here is Anago (eel). Try the variety of raw rice wine (sake) as well.
As we sat on the one-piece blonde wood counter in the 20-something seat sushi restaurant just past the Hyakkendana red arch on Dogenzaka in one of Shibuya’s most Shibuya-like neighborhoods, the Ita-mae Sushi Taisho Mr. Yamaga speaks of eating Sushi in one piece, the intricacies of inter-customer translation, the taste of brisk Nihon Shu raw rice wine from Japan’s northern territory and the many moments of laughter in his accidentally international sushi bar.
I step in through the white “Noren” cutains hanging outside that let me know the shop is open for business and feel immediately welcome by Sushi Chef Yamaga’s smile and bright “Come in!”. “How Many?” he asks and I sheepishly point to just myself…because that is who I am with tonight.
He points gently to a spot at the counter right in front of him so he can guide me with broken, very friendly English and me with my guidebook learned messed-up pronunciation Japanese through my first experience at real Japanese sushi, in Japan. In fact, in Shibuya, famous for its scramble crossing where countless pedestrians simultaneously flood a crisscross walk and navigate out to opposite sides of a four-cornered sidewalk shopping heaven. On a rainy day, the multicolored umbrellas swaying and flowing among hundreds in the limited space and time for a stoplight, as seen from above, is truly unique.
Today, though, for my walk and discovery of Tamagawa Sushi, the autumn sun shone bright on the green trees that line Dogenzaka Street. This street is one of the four that branch out from Scramble crossing. Following up to the left side of infamous 109 and on past Hooters on the right and Toho Cinema on the left. A huge, red, entrance gate displaying “Hyakkendana” in English letters looms overhead and Tamagawa is just through that on the right.
Across the street is a lady’s paradise store with floors and floors stocked in perfume from everywhere possible. Today, the perfume preferred by Princess Grace of Monaco was on display and I felt the strings of my purse getting magnetically pulled open. The perfume will have to wait. Today is Sushi and Tamagawa is the place to be. A laminated English menu tells me there is a special set for me to try a whole bunch of different sushi. They come “Gunkan” style, which literally means “warship” and connotes the shape of those little ships of heavenly sushi taste the Ita-mae so carefully creates.
The specialty here is Anago (eel) and you should definitely try the variety of raw rice wine (sake) as well. Even for someone travelling alone like me, after a few minutes, you might be able to strike up a mish-mash conversation with your neighbor. Mr. Yamaga laughs that his regular customers often ask about the international guests at the counter, “Where are they from?” “Do they like Japan?”, etc. Yamaga-san says the conversation might not always be smooth, but that the smiles, welcoming aura to the place and delicious sushi delight speaks volumes…and communicates perfectly in any tongue.
My friend and fellow Deep Japan Senpai Yoshihide Hagimoto gives his review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dMeaW6CKQk
Former Deep Japan Writer