A place where Rimi Natsukawa knows your name.

When people in Japan think of a famous song that represents Ishigaki Island, a remote island in Okinawa Prefecture, many will think of “Nada Soso“, sung by Rimi Natsukawa. Although it’s been over 20 years since its release, the moving song is still heard on TV and radio, and is often sung at karaoke bars around Japan.

▼ Judging by the views and comments on this “Nada Soso” video clip, Natsukawa has plenty of admirers from overseas as well.

Our reporter Kouhey is a fan of the 50-year-old singer, and the island of Ishigaki where she was born, travelling there regularly during the summer holidays. On his first visit to the island around eight years ago, he stumbled upon a snack bar that happened to be run by close members of the singer’s family, and to this day he fondly remembers the great time he had there, drinking and chatting with the locals and the friendly owners.

▼ Kouhey (face blurred to hide his red cheeks and tipsy state) with Rie, one of Rimi’s sisters who works at the bar.

When he returned to the island this year, Kouhey felt a sudden urge to enjoy that time again, so he headed back to the bar and was delighted to find it hadn’t changed in all the time he’d been away.

The snack bar is called “Snack Hana Akari” (スナック花あかり) and is run by Rimi’s mother (ママ), and the eldest daughter (長女) and fourth daughter (四女) in the family.

▼ This leaflet for the bar shows the family links to Rimi, with a photo of her to help promote it.

“Snack bar” is the Japanese term for a small bar where light snacks are served. These bars are often run by a friendly female proprietress and are usually open late into the night, with the sounds of karaoke emanating from behind the front door, which often resembles the door to a family home.

▼ They’re often abbreviated to “Snack” (or “Sunakku” to use the Japanese pronunciation), so this establishment goes by the name “Hana Akari Snack”

Kouhey stepped into the bar just past 8 p.m., shortly after it opened, and like he’d remembered, there was plenty of Rimi-related memorabilia on display. One large poster even commemorated her participation in Kohaku Uta Gassen, Japan’s nationally televised New Year’s Eve song show, for five consecutive years, which is a testament to her nationwide popularity.

Unlike a lot of other snack bars, which can feel dark and cramped, the interior of Hana Akari is warm, inviting and surprisingly spacious, making for a comfortable place to spend the evening.

The walls are filled with panels and posters of Rimi, showing how much she’s adored by the family.

While most snack bars are usually frequented by locals, this one is listed as a site of interest by the Ishigaki City Tourism Exchange Association and major travel information sites, so tourists are welcome to stop by. Customers can sit at the booths or at the counter, where Kouhey took up a seat in front of a cabinet filled with expensive-looking glassware.

It wasn’t long before the friendly family welcomed him with happy smiles and small talk. Rimi is the third of five sisters, the oldest of which, Mayumi, was the first to greet him.

Rie, the second youngest, who’s said to look most like Rimi and whom Kouhey was photographed with eight years ago, also said hello.

Rimi’s mother, Kazue, was also pleased to welcome Kouhey to the snack bar. She runs an old folk house cafe on Iriomote Island, so she’s not always here but if you’re lucky, she’ll be at the bar to say hello.

Kouhey was amazed that the women all looked pretty much the same as they did eight years ago, and for old times’ sake, he ordered a highball, just as he did on his first visit. When his drink arrived, it was served on a hibiscus coaster, a typical sight on Ishigaki Island, along with some snacks.

What’s great about most snack bars on Ishigaki Island is that as long as you keep ordering alcohol, you’ll be given an endless supply of snacks for free. That’s certainly the case here, and sometimes, depending on the season, the snacks contain local ingredients like island bananas.

Another fun snack bar fact — the staff are often happy to raise a glass with you, and Kouhey was able to say “kanpai” (“cheers”) with not one but three members of Rimi’s family.


As time passed, the bar soon became lively, with one customer performing Yaeyama folk songs to a group of customers, with a sanshin, an Okinawan stringed instrument, in hand.

This spontaneity is all part of the fun of visiting a snack bar, where you never know who you might meet as the night unfolds. If you’re lucky, you might even get to meet Rimi herself, because according to Rie, her famous sister returns to visit her parents once every three months or so, and during the few days she’s in town, she likes to stop by the bar to serve customers.

It’s said that Rimi sometimes even sings her famous hit, “Nada Soso”, while she’s at the bar. The fact that such a famous singer, who usually enthrals large audiences, would sing in such an intimate setting blew Kouhey’s mind and he now wishes he lived locally so he could experience such a special evening.

Alas, Kouhey lives in Tokyo, so after having as much fun at the bar as he did eight years ago, he bid farewell to the kind family, and Rie even came to the door to see him off with a wave.

It was a fitting end to a night of warm hospitality, and Kouhey highly recommends the bar to anyone visiting the area. If you want to keep the party going, you can always visit this enka pub on the island, where you can enjoy performances by an equally entertaining singer.

Bar Information

Snack Hana Akari / スナック 花あかり
Address: Okinawa-ken, Ishigaki-shi, Misakicho 12-15
Open: 8:00 p.m.- midnight
Closed Mondays
Website (Instagram)

Images © SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]