This Setagaya-ku izakaya just wants to be your living room


Originally published on on November 2009

Photos by Yoshitaka Dazai

Photos by Yoshitaka Dazai

We entered Imagine to the strains of “Norwegian Wood”—a fitting introduction to an izakaya dedicated to the joys of good food, drink and John Lennon. While the pub contains numerous reminders of the most famous Beatle, the result isn’t heavy-handed, and you’re just as likely to hear Santana on the stereo as any of the Fab Four.

We passed the bar and plopped ourselves down at one of the hori-kotatsu floor seats at the back. Surrounded by wood paneling and white washi wallpapering, we seemed to have found a nice quiet spot for the evening.

The first round of Suntory Premium Malts (¥680) tasted fresh—you can tell that they keep the fixtures on the keg and tap clean here. It came with an otoshi of bean sprouts and beef tataki, which started up the craving engine nicely.

The food menu offers a balance of fresh vegetables, yakitori and fried foods. We began with the peeled tomato and basil salad (¥500), tori-cheese (¥265) and tebasaki (¥190), all of which were excellent. The tsukune (¥300) came served on a plate in small hamburger-like patties, elevating it above the realm of humdrum yakitori.

For our next drink, we tried the Onibi roasted sweet potato shochu (¥550), whose strong flavor left us in little doubt about what we were drinking. It went well with the roasted ginkgo nuts (¥550), gobo karaage (¥450) and mizuna and daikon salad (¥550). Our friend ordered the yuzu-sour (¥480), which she said was refreshing, and though it wasn’t to our taste, we could see it going down nicely on a hot afternoon.


Imagine’s proprietor, Horishi Ogawa, is always easy to spot, his ebullient face crowned by a hat, usually a fedora. During our visit, he came out from behind the bar and headed to our table to practice his English and reminisce about 1969, the year he took an extended trip across America by Greyhound bus. It was a fantastic time to be in the country, he said. He worked odd jobs and studied English, eventually making his way to New Orleans, where he fell in love with the atmosphere and the way so many cultures came together to make the city’s great cuisine. This experience is reflected in Imagine’s menu, which includes eclectic offerings such as chili con carne alongside more familiar izakaya staples.

Ogawa said that his goal is to make customers feel relaxed and at home, like they were in their own living room. This explains the way Imagine’s name is rendered in Japanese: ima-jin (居間人)—literally a person in a living room.

As if on cue, the song “Imagine” came wafting through the shop. It was getting late, but we were now enjoying the Torres Sangre de Toro red wine (¥650) with the wonderfully named ika shita-ashi puri-puri karaage (fried squid legs, ¥520). We weren’t in any hurry. We were already home.