By Bryan Harrell
Beer Gardens have been a summer tradition in Tokyo, where large groups of people sit at long tables outdoors, hoisting mugs of yellow suds and picking on green soybeans and fried chicken nuggets.
In recent years, though, beer gardens have declined in popularity for a number of reasons. Rooftops of large buildings have now been largely taken over by all manner of equipment, from huge air conditioning units to scaffolding for large signs. Keeping a roof free and clear just for the operation of a beer garden for a few months in the summer is not economical these days. Also, escalating land prices during the bubble years wiped out a lot of great classic places, most notably the 2005 closing of Hanezawa Garden in Hiroo, a sprawling estate of greenery that once offered Tokyo’s best outdoor beer experience.
Perhaps the most significant reason is that beer gardens are, well, just plain old fashioned these days. Back when air conditioning was a luxury, spending a summer evening atop a building, bathed in breeze, was actually more refreshing than huddling in a stifling six mat room with the fan going full blast. For most Japanese, beer gardens recall the Showa Era, which ended almost 20 years ago.
In another 20 years, beer gardens are likely to become extinct. So while there is still time, pack yourself off to a beer garden some evening for a real retro-Japan experience. From the classic 1930s Kudan Kaikan, to the sleek and modern TY Harbor Brewery, you’re bound to find a beer place that fits the bill.
Here are a few suggestions…