When I first arrived in Japan, as excited as I was to be in a new country, I quite quickly found myself missing the same things that everyone misses when they relocate to this otherwise wonderful country: the home cuisine, music I can understand, and TV shows that were about things other than food, food or food! But most of all, above anything else, I missed British pub culture.
From what I could gather, the Japanese bar scene was pretty thin on the ground. Of course there are the gaijin bars, which are a lot of fun, but I found that if you’re not going out with the intention of getting laid, conversation was pretty limited. Other than that there are the izakayas where, with their nomi-tabehoudais, you can eat and drink to your heart’s content with your friends, which again is good for a giggle. But that didn’t scratch my itch either.
No, what I wanted was to find a bar or café at which I could just rock up, enjoy a drink and meet and chat with interesting, fun folks. I wanted to meet people, practice my burgeoning Japanese, but most of all I wanted to make friends. Unfortunately, at that time, I couldn’t find anything. But now, now there’s Glocal Café.
Glocal Café, less than a ten minute walk from both Nagoya Station’s west (Shinkansen) exit, and the Freebell Apartments, is a café bar that prides itself on, above all else, its ability to connect people from all over the world.
Now, your first thoughts are probably “Glocal? That’s not a word!” But let Glocal’s owner Masayuki Ichino, or Icchan to his friends, of which there are many, now including you, explain.
“The name Glocal comes from a combination of ‘global’ and ‘local’. Because, the way I see it, in this modern world, both global and local mean the same thing. It doesn’t matter where you are from, no matter which country you call your home, as soon as you step through the doors, you are locals. You are one of us. And you are friends.”
Having known Icchan for around four years now, I can attest that this is very much a mantra of his. His raison d’être, whether it be in his capacity of English school owner (Glocal English, formerly known as English School of Travellers), or in the social and cultural events he organises, is finding people from all around the world and getting them together, something he says it is often difficult to do in Nagoya.
“There are many places for people from overseas to meet Japanese such as gaijin bars and the cultural exchange parties, but I’m not so sure they work,” he says. “The former seem to be about hooking up with little respect shown for the other party, and the latter tend to feel a little bit unnatural, because the party organisers are just about making money, and they don’t really care about the people and whether friendships develop. We very much do care.”
And whenever I have been there, this is very evident. The staff- Meme (pronounced Maymay) Kanako and Matsui-san – always introduce you to the others who happen to be sitting at the bar. On any particular night this could include tourists staying at the connected hostel, the cheerful Japanese locals and often students at the Glocal English school. Everyone seems to be geared up towards making friends and sharing their culture with others.
But Glocal is of course not just about meeting people, practising your Japanese and making friendships, it is also a bar. And a very nice one at that.
The building itself is of an open plan, urban design, with bare concrete walls and stripped wooden tables. But in spite of this industrial aesthetic, it’s very warm, welcoming, and as some of the chairs are lifted straight from high school, making it feel comforting, natsukashi, recollecting a time when we all started to make new friends.
“The theme of the bar is the Japanese idea of ‘tadaima’, ‘oakeiri’: ‘I’m home’ and ‘welcome back’,” Icchan explains. “No matter who you are or where you come from, we want you to feel instantly as if you have arrived home into the bosom of your family.” And I have to attest, it works.
Whenever I’m there I tend to sit at the bar and chat with whoever is in, enjoying one of their more than 100 beer bottles from around the world, something that does a very good job of symbolising the diversity of the clientele. Usually I like to get stuck into their lasagne or a meat pie, as not having an oven in my Japanese apartment, there are perhaps very few foods that make me think of my mother’s cooking more.
Other popular dishes include the butter chicken curry, and there is barely a night that goes past when someone I’m chatting to doesn’t order the Thai gapao rice. It comes highly recommended.
But as delicious as the food is, and as extensive as the beer collection may be, it’s not for the dining experience that I so often come. It’s not even the fact that it is one of the few places at which I get to practice my (admittedly poor) Japanese without having to go through the usual rigmarole of being told how ‘jouzu’ I am because I said ‘arigatou’ correctly.
No, the main reason I like Glocal is that I have met so many great people there, and on pretty much any night of the week I can just turn up, have a bite, something good to drink, and chat to the really interesting people from both Japan and abroad on an even standing.
As Icchan says: “It’s not a gaijin bar to which Japanese people come, and it’s not a foreigner-friendly Japanese bar. It’s just a bar for everyone. It’s a bar for friends.”