Sake bar, Ochoko, in Okano area Yokohama
Shhh….There is a secret sake bar in Yokohama. While it may not be a secret, it is indeed a new and not so easy to find sake bar near Okano-cho of Yokohama. Once you discover this standing sake bar that goes by the name of Ochoko, you will feel like you have gained privileged information.
The intersection of Okano-cho may not be the first place that comes to mind when seeking eating and drinking establishments near Yokohama Station. However, this area is quietly adding many new and interesting eateries. Once known primarily for the many excellent ramen shops, the Okano intersection continues to add a mixture of new options for eating and drinking. Perhaps you have seen the infamously long line of people waiting for their seat inside the ramen shop at the Okano intersection.
After walking five minutes from the west exit of Yokohama Station, you will encounter a bustling sidewalk filled with people. There are groups of young adults and teens that are drawn to their hangout spot on the outdoor plaza of Yokohama Vivre. Along the way you pass many shops, izakayas, a Don Quixote, Daiei supermarket, The Hub, and of course many ramen shops . Then just as you pass the wildly popular French restaurant that is part of the Oreno restaurant group, you encounter the expansive Okano-cho intersection.
There is a sense of calm at Okano. It feels like the end of the tightly packed izakayas, noise and crowd that is part of the stroll from the station. When crossing the intersection you feel as if you are leaving all the options for eating and drinking. But, this is where you can find some hidden gems. The Ochoko sake bar is just that. Tucked along a narrow street this standing bar is at full capacity with about 10 people. The owner is a young gentle Japanese woman that obviously has a keen sense for quality sake. She personally will travel to different locations to acquire her sake inventory. There are usually about eight different selections of sake. The selections will change from week to week. The focus is on quality – not quantity.
The décor is also reflective of the owner’s style. While she graciously serves guests donning her colorful kimono behind the narrow workspace of the sake bar, it’s obvious she has designed the interior of the space. The dark stained wood, antique Japanese cabinet, and cobalt blue vessel sink outside the washroom, all clearly reflect the stylish attention to quality of the owner.
In addition to the precious selection of quality nihon shu (日本酒 ), there are options for small plates of homemade Japanese food to compliment the beverage. Tasting sets of three sakes are also available for ¥1,000. During a recent visit some of the many food options were Hotaru Ika (Firefly squid) the miniature and tender squid that is at it’s best during the spring season. It is served marinated in soy, mirin, sake and a hint of ginger. A terrific compliment to bring out the flavors of a clean dry sake. Also, there was delicious sautéed Japanese eggplant dish with miso that paired well with any sake.
There was a particularly interesting sake during my recent visit. A yamahai genshu from Nagano. This was a rare find.
Yamahai is a method of the brewing process of sake. The yeast starter (moto) is a slow, natural and laborious process that typically takes about four weeks, compared to only two weeks for regular sake. Yamahai sakes are not common. Only about 1% of all sake produced is a Yamaha style sake. A pronounced flavor attributed to yamahai style sakes. Unlike a gentle refined sake, yamahai is bold flavored compared to most sake. It will generally contain more acidity and sweetness. The style is often favored as serving warm.
Genshu is another method used when brewing sake. By definition, genshu is undiluted sake. Nearly all sake is diluted with water and/or brewers alcohol. Undiluted sake contains a higher alcohol content generally around 17-19%. Most sake is diluted. It is not common to find many genshus. So, as you can imagine it discovering a yamahai genshu combination is very rare.
Just like the rare yamahai genshu sake, Ochoko sake bar is a rare find in Yokohama. It’s a neighborhood treasure and only those that are lucky enough to know about this hidden spot are able to enjoy it. It is a short six minute walk from Yokohama Station that is certainly worthwhile.