Denki Bran (電気ブラン)

Electric Brandy. Now isn’t that a thing to think about? We drank some when we were staying in Asakusa in 2010. Denki Bran is served at the Kamiya Bar at 1-1-1 Asakusa, on the corner of Kaminarimon Dori (雷門通り) and Umamichi Dori (馬道通り). This Japan Times article gives a potted history of the bar and its famous drink.

We went to Kamiya Bar on our second night in Asakusa. We had arrived the previous night from Kyoto, trailing my ancient overladen and broken suitcase whose handle had come adrift going down the stairs at Marutomachi subway station in Kyoto. We learned that it is hard work trying to carry a suitcase that is designed to hold a lot and be wheeled along behind you. So we were tired, you understand, when we reached our ryokan.

Our ryokan was Japanese style, with tatami floors, futon beds and buckwheat pillows. Nothing wrong with that, but when you have never slept on a proper Japanese futon with a proper Japanese buckwheat pillow, sleep can be a difficult thing to come by. Even though the futon were luxury ones, and nice and thick, at that point my body was still conditioned to lovely sprung Western mattresses that accommodate your body when you move in your sleep. I had woken at regular intervals in the night, feeling stiff and achy, as though I were sleeping in a tent without a sleeping mat. Everything ached when I got up the following day.

During the day we had taken a trip to Akihabara where we tried to find the branch of Tokyu Hands that seemed to be signposted at the station. We failed in that quest, but succeeded in stumbling upon the then new Gundam Cafe. That was a diversion, and refreshed by tea and custard filled waffles, we headed next to Kanda Jimbocho via Ochanomizu station. We walked for a while in the wrong direction, back towards Akihabara, before realising that the book shops and musical instrument shops were on the other side of the station. We retraced our steps, trying not to think that we might as well have just walked from Akihabara in the first place, and then down to Kanda Jimbocho. We wandered among the bookshops and then caught a subway train to Shibuya to see Hachiko. Shibuya was as hectic as ever. After paying our respects to Hachiko with the other tourists, we headed off to Tokyu Hands for supplies to fix the broken suitcase with. We went wrong again. This is what happens when you are tired and in Tokyo. Despite your best efforts to read a map, you will end up going wrong. We got it right eventually, though, and made a successful purchase, then headed up the hill to find the Vegan Healing Cafe. We went right, but sometime in the past the cafe had gone wrong and was closed.

Back we went to Shibuya station and caught the subway to Omotesando, where we ate at Crayon House and drank delicious Yebisu beer. Then we caught the subway back to Asakusa. The night was still young, and we were slightly beery, so we decided that we would seek out some more alcohol, perhaps at one of the izakaya near the shrine. At this time in his life, my husband was still smoking. He paused to have a cigarette, which then led to him being tapped up for a light by a man who was waiting for his wife to have her palm read. Through many gestures he conveyed to us that his wife might as well have set her money on fire for all the good the palm reading would do her. I saw the palm reader gesture towards him at one point and his wife give a sorrowful nod, so clearly he was the source of some worry and discussion. Oh dear!

All of this is a long preamble to explain why we ended up in Kamiya Bar drinking Denki Bran. After a night of poor sleep, a day of walking that included unnecessary walking, and an encounter with a disgruntled husband, we decided that we had nothing left to lose and should try the local brew.

Denki Bran appears to be much loved by salarymen and office ladies. There were many of each within the walls of Kamiya Bar.

We decided to buy a ticket for one serving of Denki Bran each. The liqueur is 30% proof and sold like a vodka shot. You pay for a ticket and find a seat. If you’re eating in the restaurant, you can also order food. There’s a display of the food where you queue to buy your tickets. Some of the food is smiling.

Once seated in the beer hall, you wait for a waiter to come and separate your ticket deftly with one hand. He takes one half of your ticket away and then returns with the number of Denki Brans you have paid for, plus a glass of water. He then takes away the other half of the ticket, so that you can’t say he hasn’t served you. Then you drink. In some cases, you drink until you fall over. We thought that one glass would be enough. Perhaps it was the two pints of beer we’d already had, but the Denki Bran went straight to our heads. I thought it was delicious, like a smooth whiskey. My husband was influenced by it enough to roll out his Bill Murray/Lost In Translation impersonation. I have video evidence of this, but have promised never to share it publicly. I was all for having another glass until this happened. Instead we agreed that one was definitely enough and we would head back to the ryokan. Outside, I spotted the small counter at the side of the bar where patrons and people passing in the street could buy a bottle of Denki Bran and a souvenir glass. I was tempted, but Mr. Hicks had become afraid of the potency of the brew, and hurried me along before I could get any yen out of my purse. Perhaps it was for the best.

Unsurprisingly, I had a much better night’s sleep that night.


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