The owner is a stylishly eccentric enka singer who sings along with his guests and promises a great night will be had by all.

There are plenty of things to do and things to eat on Ishigaki Island in the southwestern Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa. In fact, our Japanese-language reporter Kouhey visits the island quite frequently as an escape from Tokyo.

During his recent visit to the island for the first time with his family, there was one particular place that he had caught wind of that he wanted to check out by himself. Enka Sanmai Pub Kiyoshi is located in the Misaki business area of Ishigaki City and has a bit of a unique reputation. For the record, enka is a genre of popular Japanese ballad music usually centered on sentimental themes that was particularly popular in the mid-20th century.

Even the floor guide inside the entrance of the building hints at its unusual nature with an interesting portrait of its owner.

Leaving the elevator on the fifth floor, Kouhey passed girls bars and drag bars to get to his destination. Its entryway gave off retro Showa era (1926-1989) vibes with its gaudy neon sign and decorations–but he supposed that made sense, since enka enjoyed particular popularity in the mid-2oth century.

On this day, he arrived exactly at opening time, 8 p.m. Actually, he had tried visiting the previous day as well, but it was already completely booked–which is why he was there super early this time. Alas, as he stood for a moment outside of the door, a worker called out with some dreaded words:

“We’re really busy right now so you need a reservation to get in. If you’re free, I can put you down for tomorrow.”

He quickly put his name down and was finally able to enter the following night.

Kouhey’s first look around the pub told him everything he needed to know about why this place was dubbed “Ishigaki’s most peculiar pub.”

Interestingly, the walls were decorated with autographs of local musical artists and other celebrities who had come to the island for sightseeing. It sure seemed that word about the pub had spread well in various circles.

There’s only one option for drinks–the “all-you-can-drink” plan. It costs 4,000 yen (US$28) for men and 3,000 yen for women, with a time limit of two hours for all guests. You can also have as many snacks as you want and sing as much karaoke as you want within that timeframe.

Some of the “light snacks” turned out to be pretty filling, too–and they were all delicious!

Finally, after much anticipation, the star of the night appeared–the owner of the bar, Kiyoshi Mizuhara. He certainly radiated an eccentric sense of style, but Kouhey had to admit–he was rocking his heavy makeup and leopard-print top.

At first he took his place behind the counter serving guests while also providing lively shouts of encouragement and backup music to those singing karaoke.

As if asking, “Are you having fun??” he made direct eye contact with Kuohey. BOOM!

Soon, however, he began joining guests at their respective tables and taking part in the fun. He was extremely charismatic and it was clear that many repeat customers were in attendance.

Just one hour after opening, every single seat in the pub was filled.

Soon it was time for the main event–Kiyoshi’s own signature performances.

Donning an elegant jacket, he brought his A game to his turn at the mic right from the start. Soon, all of the guests who had warmed themselves up with some karaoke were also completely living in the moment.

His enthusiasm and dramatic gestures never wavered as he began his next song.

He even sang a lovely duet with a female guest.

This woman, named Yu, happened to be the vocalist of a Japanese band called Moshiwaketeido. She had come to the pub on this night together with her younger sister, and Kouhey occasionally ended up next to her at the counter. He was drinking his beer when she started singing and was promptly lost for words. It was by far the best live karaoke he had ever heard in his life.

▼ Yu’s vocals for another song

The atmosphere around the room changed slightly as different people took their turns at singing different songs. Kiyoshi himself performed “Ore ni Tsuite Koi” (“Follow Me”) as the pub’s standard closing song. Whenever he sang the lyrics “ore ni tsuite koi” in the midst of the song, the guests enthusiastically shouted “Kiyoshi!!” as an unspoken rule. Everyone also shouted the nonsensical phrase “Yafii!” (ヤッフィ~!) as the song came to a close. “Yafii” isn’t even local dialect or anything–it’s just an individual term of endearment used at this pub alone.

▼ A typical rendition of “Ore ni Tsuite Koi” on Kiyoshi’s YouTube channel

All in all, Kouhey was so impressed with the entertainment at the Enka Sanmai Pub Kiyoshi that it might as well just be labeled an official tourist attraction for Ishigaki Island. He recommends anyone who’s looking for an excellent night out to go there. Even if you know nothing about enka and go alone (like Kouhey did), Kiyoshi and the staff will make you feel right at home. Just make sure that you reserve a seat beforehand–at the moment, they’re taking reservations only by phone.

For another local landmark on Ishigaki Island, check out this restaurant where they serve yagijiru goat soup.

Restaurant information
Enka Sanmai Pub Tsuyoshi / 演歌三昧パブ・清
Address: Okinawa-ken, Ishigaki-shi, Misaki-cho 12-1 Kaiho Building, 5th floor
沖縄県石垣市美崎町 12-1 海邦ビル 5階
Open 8 p.m.-1 a.m.
Phone 0980-82-1317

Photos © SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]