Tonari no Okusan, which translates to ‘wife next door,’ is a duplicitous phrase, invoking the wholesomeness of the girl next door amongst other, less innocent, things. It’s interestingly apt that the name of this new shochu bar in Ebisu is so slippery, because whether it’s food and drink, or more amorous pursuits, Tokyo is a city where good categorization counts. This can be seen nowhere more than in Japanese dating sims, those play-through-novel games devoured by women across Japan and increasingly, overseas, where you can ‘date’ prototypical male ideals. Your options include the sensitive guy, the tsundere (tough on the outside but you need to change him), the glasses character, the bad boy and the childhood friend. Who will you choose?
Tonari no Okusan is essentially a shochu bar based on this concept. The drinks on offer are named after various objects of (what I presume to be) heterosexual male fantasy, with taste and packaging to represent their stereotypical characteristics. There are the moto kano (ex-girlfriend) and the ima kano (current girlfriend). Those may seem easy enough to wrap your head around, but the next two shochu raise a few eyebrows. Chuuzaiin is a vague term used to describe an employee assigned to a branch office far from home – or maybe assigned to another country, alluding to expats, perhaps – so I presume the chuuzaiin no okusan is the shochu for the wife left behind. Finally, you have the eponymous tonari no okusan or (wife next door), which has more serving options than the other shochu on offer.
I asked why there wasn’t a moto kare (ex-boyfriend) shochu. They told me that this is because women are very adept at moving on after a relationship. They might cry initially; but once they find their ima kare, he is all that occupies their mind. How admirable.
A priest once said that many mild heresies are forgiven for the sake of a good rhyme in an hymn. Then so too, may venial sexisms be forgiven for the sake of a genuinely interesting theme and some really great shochu… And it is great. Shochu newbies should start safe with the chuuzaiin no okusan, a refreshing shochu, very easy to drink without compromising on taste. Ironically enough, the moto kano makes an excellent second drink with a bit of richness and personality that the chuuzaiin no okusan lacks. Recommended serving: on the rocks (just like your last relationship).
The interior of the bar has a wonderful cool color scheme which will no doubt be refreshing in the summer heat. The (mostly female) staff wear t-shirts with calligraphy designating them as the ima kano or tonari no okusan and so forth for the night. The keyword appears to be freshness all around, even with the food which is standard, meaty izakaya fare.
Gender stereotyping aside, it’s not difficult to recommend Tonari no Okusan for those looking to drink at a mid-level establishment with style, humor and, above all, taste.
Tonari no Okusan, 1F VORT Ebisu II, Hiroo 1-16-2, Shibuya-ku. Nearest station: Ebisu. Tel: 03-6277-3846. Mon – Thurs 16:30 – 23:30, Fri – Sun 16:00 – 23:00. http://tonaoku.jp