The Toyohashi Scene
My recent article touting the surprisingly vibrant nightlife of Mie prefecture and its capital city, Tsu, incited one reader to demand equal treatment for his own oft-overlooked burg. My boss has never come across a problem or potential revenue stream he can’t fix by throwing some cheap help at, and before I knew it, I was spending my day-off speeding on the Shinkansen towards the not-so-sleepy city of Toyohashi, 20 minutes east of Nagoya.
As I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, I was forced to Google "Toyohashi" on my iPhone. One Wikipedia article later and all I was still no expert but I did at least know that Toyohashi is famous for chikuwa, those almost-but-not-quite-fish tubes. Luckily for me, waiting for me at the station was Mr. Peter Lyons, the man who was so eager to shine a light on what was happening in his hometown of the past nine years. Peter had kindly planned a whole night to paint a much clearer picture of what Toyohashi is all about.
We started out at the new Lacle, a quiet tapas bar with friendly staff and delicious food. As we downed the first of many drinks that night, Peter was nice enough to help fill in the blanks left by my impromptu research. It seems that Toyohashi is not as small as I had previously thought, and is, in fact, the third-largest city in Aichi-ken. As in most other big cities in Japan, its automotive industry leads the way and accounts for a majority of the 5% gaijin population. The English-speaking community is quite close. As Peter is fond of saying, "Toyohashi is a place where everybody knows your name, and where you were last night."
From Lacle we headed on to the brand-new Tap, which looks like most other British-style pubs in Japan. From its mostly wood veneer to a food menu filled with obvious choices like fish & chips and pizza [Not technically British, but… – Ed], there’s not a lot new here. However, seeing as it has yet to attract much of a crowd, it is a conveniently easy place to get a pint.
In the mood for some live music, we headed into the shopping arcade and passed Sky Juice, a reggae sound bar with a laid-back vibe. The door charge was a little more than I was willing to pay, so instead we continued on to the House of Crazy, Toyohashi’s most popular live house. Therein I met the very amiable owner, humorously nicknamed Kuri-chan by the locals. It was still early and the open mic crowd were yet to arrive, so we spent the time talking more about the live music scene in Toyohashi.
It seems Peter had been holding out on me. Not only an avid promoter of his adopted home, he is also a member of local gaijin band molotov u.s.k, whose single "She’s The One" has found some popularity on Radio-i. He went on to tell me about the area’s burgeoning folk scene, including songwriters like Andrew Scott and Takuro, and surprised me with the news that Budo Grape, one of my favorite pop bands, are also from the these parts.
We next headed to 34, a posh standing bar with surprisingly affordable drinks and a variety of dishes served on the second floor. Inquiring about club life in Toyohasi, I learned about a few discos that have a diverse range of sounds. The largest club in the area is a place called Parada, but its location out near Toyohashi port meant a trip there was not part of our schedule.
Once we were good and liquored up, we headed to the newly opened Atlantika, which – get this – is owned by Peter himself! (Starting to see a pattern here?) I was quite happy to learn that it’s Toyohashi’s ichiban destination for Mexican food, and indeed the chimichangas are possibly the best in Japan. As the first bar in town to be owned by a native English speaker, Atlantika has become THE late-night hangout for the international community, full of friendly locals who are more than willing to tell you why Toyohashi is a good choice for a weekend getaway.
In fact, they had so much to tell me that I missed my last train, much to the chagrin of my patient wife (Sorry darlin’, it was Peter’s fault!). However, this wasn’t a total loss as it meant we were able to finish the night off with a stop at Club Birth, a mid-sized venue that pushes rock, hip-hop and various electronic styles of music. All told, the Toyohashi scene is alive, vibrant and well worth a look next time you want to escape from Nag.
House of Crazy
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