Community bar “Sunakku”
Katamachi, Fukui City
April 18th, 2017
by Yoshihiro Hosokawa

If you want to enjoy Japanese language and culture through communication with Japanese locals, what is called a Sunakku is really recommended.  Sunakku in Japanese is literally “snack,” which is short for “snack bar”.  (You might want to avoid this kind of place, especially when you are somewhere new.  However, Echiwa wants to challenge some stereotypical views on Japanese snack bars.  To make it easier to express our views on snack bars in Fukui, let us spell them Sunakku, just as the way we say it in Japanese.) 


Sunakku were born in the 1960’s and serve as community bars.  Sunakku are where community is formed, as is the case of pubs in Britain. Katamachi, Fukui City, is full of sushi restaurants, Japanese tapas bars, and Sunakku


The lady who serves at a Sunakku is called “mama” by her customers.  “Mama” serves her customers from behind the counter.  “Mama” welcomes various people and listens to their complaints and love problems.  So, it can be said that the main dish there is conversation with “mama,” besides the regular menu of alcoholic drinks such as whiskey, and shochu (a kind of Japanese vodka), and snacks such as peanuts and crackers.  Repeating customers leave their bottles so that they can drink theirs the next time.  The bottles are displayed on the shelf behind “mama” at the counter.


Here is how you can find and enter Sunakku.  In Katamachi, you can see the signs of Sunakku (スナック), pubs, Japanese tapas bars and many other kinds of entertainment at the entrances of a buildings where these drinking and eating businesses are run.  Usually you need to go upstairs by elevator.  Getting out of the elevator, you often face some doors in a hallway.  At this point, you may need a little more courage to open one of the doors.  So, just go ahead!  Pull the door, step inside, and you will see the world of Sunakku that “mama” creates.  However, it may be quite challenging for foreigners to pick a nice Sunakku.  So it is recommended to ask a local to invite you to his or her favorite Sunakku.


Now, you find yourself in Sunakku “Sara.”  “Sara” is located on the third floor of a building in Katamachi.  Masayo Kobayashi, serving the role of “mama” for 35 years, runs this Sunakku all by herself.  She named her Sunakku “Sara” simply because the previous bar in the same space used the name.  Now, it is about 9 pm.  Today, as usual, people who want to enjoy conversations with “mama” enter “Sara” after having dinner at Japanese tapas bars, Yakitori (grilled chicken) bars, and so on. 


“Mama” prepares a comfortable place for everyone to enjoy talking to her.  She behaves like an orchestra conductor by forming a harmony simultaneously with her customers, which include people such as company employers and employees from young to old. 


Karaoke also adds to the characteristics of Sunakku.  “Mama” inputs the number of songs that her customers request.  Then they sing merrily in front of others.  Alcohol helps them relax, which fosters conversation among them.  Even those who meet for the first time often hold a microphone together while others enjoy watching such scenes.  Eventually, people become friends and show happy smiling faces with “mama” interceding them.  “Mama” says, “Sunakku is not a place to sell alcohol, but is a place to provide fun conversation and good times.”  This love from “mama” recharges her customers for the next day. 


Now, the counter seats of “Sara” are fully occupied by men.  They enjoy talking to everyone as if they had known each other for a long time.  However, surprisingly, all of those men met there for the first time.  This shows Sunakku is where “mama” plays the role of the key person to connect people.   One of the customers said, “You can easily make friends with people here,” and disappeared into the neon street with his new friend. 


A good number of “Hanawa,” which make the views of Katamachi impressive to visitors, give you visible evidence that Sunakku are loved by people in the community.  Hanawa, giant flower garlands, are displayed with messages hung down to celebrate newly opened Sunakku, clubs, and so on.  They are also displayed to celebrate the anniversaries of businesses.  They are gifts from other shops or even from customers.  Every shop displays such Hanawa as if they are competing to see which are the most loved by the community.


Katamachi literally means “one-sided town.”  During the Edo era, there was a waterway of Fukui Castle running along the eastern side of the street, so the buildings lined up only on the western side.  In the Meiji era, the waterway was buried.  Both sides of the street were developed as a commercial and entertainment district that now includes movie theaters, play theaters, and Sunakku.  


People come to Katamachi in search of encounters and empathy.  There are Sunakku here and there welcoming you.  Why don’t you go on an adventure of discovering a Sunakku that will make you feel at home?  Here is the best tip to find a nice Sunakku – get to know the locals first and ask them to invite you to their favorite Sunakku, and you will make your debut in the wonderful world of Japanese community bars.

























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