A Night Out in SakataArea Guide
Compared to bigger cities around Japan, the nightlife in Sakata might seem limited at first and in a way it is. But if you get a chance to explore or get some recommendations from your hotel, you will find a colourful night scene in the Nakamichi area, where a historic sake bar, the oldest bartender in Japan, and other lively bars are ready to provide you with a true local experience.
The first stop you ought to make while on a night tour of Sakata is to Hisamura Sakaya. This is one of the oldest sake bars in the city, and stepping past the neon lights at the front is like stepping back into the livelier past of the Showa era. As is common in Yamagata, you are welcomed with some of the best sake in Japan. With so many good sakes available in the prefecture, you’ll do best letting the friendly ladies running Hizamura offer you their recommendation or “omakase”.
While you are settling down and waiting to be served, take the time to look at the counter you have before your eyes. This vintage piece which is a rarity nowadays actually acts as a fridge, at least in the old days. At Hizamura and to keep the unique theme going, it is still in use and makes for some interesting conversation with the owners.
If you haven’t had anything to eat yet, we recommend you do it here. Just as the sake offering is tasty, the food really hits the spot. Peak through the counter’s glass and point to what you want to order or venture into reading from the menu. Hizamura’s mushroom appetizers, the imoni potage, the fish dishes, and the karage are particularly good. Whatever you order make sure to enjoy while chatting either with the locals sitting next to you or with the owners, as this is what makes the experience here even more unique. But pace yourself, the night is young and more awaits a couple of blocks around the corner.
Next, you need to pay a visit to Iyama-san at Gerun. At 91 years old, Iyama-san could be the oldest bartender in the country and is the creator of the Yukikuni or Snow Country of the bar world. Over 50 years ago, the charming man behind the counter came up with his signature cocktail inspired by the snowy landscape of his region. The sweet cocktail with the green-coloured cherry is refreshing and the perfect treat after the generous meal at Hizamura. If sweet cocktails aren’t your thing, Iyama-san stocks his classic bar with a large and impeccable selection of the best Japanese and foreign whiskies. Iyama-san does not speak English, but if you can hold your own with the Japanese language, we recommend you enquire about the man’s life, he is more than happy to share stories about his career and other curiosities.
Another dining and drinking option also in the Nakamichi District is the Kitamae Yokocho. This is one of the newer establishments in the city and is a modern take on the popular izakaya alleyways (yokocho) found in some of the bigger cities of Japan. Here, a group of young chefs have joined forces to offer a variety of Japanese classics like yakitori, ramen, and other izakaya-style food. They also hold live music events on occasion so you might be in for a livelier atmosphere than at the previous two bars.