Kendo is Beer: A Trip to Zanshin – the Kendo Izakaya

Kendo is Beer
A Trip to “Zanshin” – the Kendo Izakaya
By Michael Ishimatsu-Prime
Additional drinking by John Doherty

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I was recently informed by a kendo friend that near Ikebukuro station in central Tokyo, a kendo-themed izakaya (Japanese style pub) had just recently opened. Not needing much of an excuse to go for a beer, and explaining to my wife that this was for work, not pleasure, I headed to “Zanshin” after the All Japan Kendo Federation godo-geiko at the Nippon Budokan on Wednesday September 24, 2014. Also not needing much of an excuse to have a beer, I was accompanied by John Doherty, Irish National Team member and writer of the excellent kendo blog “Doryoku” (http://sankyuverymuch.blogspot.jp/).

John Doherty (l) and Michael Ishimatsu-Prime (r) about to engage in keiko
John Doherty (l) and Michael Ishimatsu-Prime (r) about to engage in keiko.

As the elevator opened on the third floor of a building packed with other eating and drinking establishments, the entrance to Zanshin was something different, resembling a traditional Edo period building, not unlike the old Noma Dojo building. Straight away there was no mistaking the fact that this is a kendo pub as there was a rack of shinai on the wall outside the entrance. The wooden sign standing by the door read “稽古中”, meaning “keiko in progress” – in other words, “open”. When Zanshin is closed, the sign reads “出稽古中” (doing de-geiko).

As we passed through the dojo doors and entered Zanshin, we were greeted by one of the staff who kindly took our shinai and bogu bags. Going to a pub or restaurant after keiko can be a nightmare with big bags in tow, but not here.

The perfect place to read the new issue of Kendo World!
The perfect place to read the new issue of Kendo World!

The main dining area is full of high tables and stools and on the two big TVs and projector screen there was footage of a junior high school kendo competition, which was followed by last year’s AJKC footage. Actually, if you go to Zanshin after a tournament that you have taken video of, if you ask the staff they will put it on the TV for you. However, as all the clientele are likely to be kendoka, I am not sure if I would want them to be judging my performance…

2013 AJKC on the big screen.
2013 AJKC on the big screen.
One of the TVs showing the 2013 AJKC.
One of the TVs showing the 2013 AJKC.

In most Japanese restaurants, when you wish to make an order, you push a buzzer on the table to attract the attention of a server, and usually the sound of something like a doorbell will be heard. However, Zanshin is not a normal restaurant – here you hear “men-ari” followed by your table number. When the server brought over our drinks, I was far too hasty as I went to pick my beer up. She told me to wait, positioned her hand between our beers, and said “hajime” as she raised her hand. It was time to start drinking.

Coaster and chopsticks cover
Coaster and chopsticks cover.

Every effort has been made to make this a kendo pub. The manager is not known by the usual name of “ten-cho”, but by “kan-cho”, which means “dojo head”. All the staff, both male and female, wear a thin type of keiko-gi and hakama; the different dining rooms have kendo names like “Main Dojo”, “Shihan Room” and “Big Shihan Room”; there are bogu racks in most of the rooms.

The Big Shihan Room
The Big Shihan Room.

After having a few beers, the inevitable trip to the gents was, well, inevitable. Even the toilets have not escaped the kendo makeover. For the men that are reading this that live in Japan or have visited here, you will know that many men in Japan seem to have a problem being on target, judging by the state of the floor in many establishments. There is often a sign imploring patrons to take one more step forward to try to keep things cleaner. Well, in Zanshin there are two such signs, one over the “red” facility, and one over the “white”. The sign reads, “White (or Red), take one more step forward.” The ladies toilet was not visited in the writing of this report.

The men's toliet.
The men’s toliet.
The women's toliet
The women’s toliet.
"White, take one more step forward."
“White, take one more step forward.”

The food was good with a selection of rice, fish, fried food, hot dishes, salads and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), and for those of you that do not read Japanese, the menu is also in English. There is also a wide range of sake and shochu, wine and beers, both Japanese and foreign.

However, food and drink are not the only things on sale at Zanshin – you can also buy shinai, bogu and other kendo goods! Zanshin has a shop by the entrance that is stocked by Eiko Budogu.

The Eiko Budogu shop inside Zanshin
The Eiko Budogu shop inside Zanshin.

Unsurprisingly, the conversation among the other customers was about kendo, as was ours. One of the owners came to introduce himself and showed us a report about Zanshin in the new edition of Kendo Nihon. I thought he looked familiar, and as it turns out I have trained with him before at one of the local sports centres I visit and we know a lot of the same people. A small world indeed. He and the other three owners of Zanshin are all hardcore kendo enthusiasts, graduates of Nittai-dai (Nippon Sport Science University) and compete in the company kendo scene, usually finishing in the medal positions of the Shibuya taikai. I think that they have done a wonderful job in creating a pub themed on kendo, and knowing the relationship between kendo and beer, I am surprised that it has actually taken this long for someone to do it. I am sure that during the World Kendo Championships in May next year, this bar will be full with both overseas and Japanese kendo practitioners and will be a fantastic place to discuss the championships.

The owners of Zanshin have redefined the “second dojo” and taken kendo to its natural conclusion.

For more details about Zanshin, check out their homepage in both English and Japanese. http://www.zanshin.tokyo/in/

2 Comments

  1. Well, many thanks for your “research”. Otsuakaresama.

    I am curious to see though how long this place lasts. Such a niche market, but a welcome one of course for folks like us.

  2. More trip reports, please!

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