I walk by a pink-bright cherry-blossom tree, cross the street, pass the construction area for the First Hill Streetcar, proceed up the sidewalk, open a stiff glass door, make an immediate left, and enter the small bar at Maneki. There are only 10 stools along the bar, and all of them are taken by the friendliest drinkers in J-town. And though the place is crowded, it's not noisy. Everyone is talking, but not talking loudly. This is the essence of civilized drinking.
The bartender is Fusae Yokoyama, whose gray-and-black hair is neatly done up, whose lips are painted red, and whose nose is pinched by big octagonal glasses. When she sees me, her eyes open wide, because I haven't appeared here in three years—my move from Pioneer Square to Columbia City is entirely responsible for this absence. "You haven't changed at all," she says in her little but punchy voice. I think to myself that she has not changed at all, too—same age, same size, same expression. I order a chilled can of Kikusui Funaguchi's sake, which costs $10 and has 19 percent alcohol. "I'm going to Las Vegas tomorrow for a vacation," Yokoyama says, "so it's good you came in today."
Yes, we warm-blooded animals always feel all warm inside when we see old friends from the past. Can you imagine a lizard being excited about seeing another lizard from its past? All it would do is flick its tongue about, make mean eyes, and scamper into the shade. The reason I love the bar in Maneki is because it always reminds me of the bar in a curious scene in Yasujiro Ozu's 1962 film An Autumn Afternoon. That bar is called Torys. It's in a dense, working-class quarter of Tokyo. It's small. It has yellow bar seats. It is operated by a middle-aged woman who reminds Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu), the film's main character, of his dead wife. Shuhei is taken to Torys by an old and portly friend he met at a cheap noodle restaurant. Shuhei was the portly man's officer during the war. At the bar, they listen to patriotic music and recall military songs as they drink whiskey. In my mind, walking into Maneki is like walking into Torys.