Saitoan Soba


A fairly ordinary soba shop.

That’s what my Japanese colleague said to me.

True, it’s got the TV playing daytime variety, the standard menus where you can order curry rice and soba, plus the sports newspapers and weekly tabloids. But to an appreciator of Japanese culture, this is special in a certain way.

I don’t mean special as in really great tasting soba, because if you really want the good stuff you have to go to Nagano and it should be handmade. And even those shops, you go for the product, not the atmosphere. The shop itself is a bit of an afterthought.

This soba shop though, is all about the atmosphere.

What sets this place apart?

It really feels like a relic from another era. Yes, there’s that Showa-era nostalgia again. But it’s subtle, effortless, unaware. The fixtures look like they haven’t been replaced in 30 years (the restaurant itself has approximately 50 years of history). The floor is stone. Not the fancy kind of polished stones, or slate tiles. They’re like huge stone blocks that ancient roads are made out of. No hipster concrete to be seen. The restaurant itself is directly connected to the owner’s residence, you could probably watch all these diners eat from the living room if you wanted. Perhaps this wasn’t originally a restaurant, but a storehouse instead.

There are all sorts of odd knickknacks and faded certificates for who knows what. Everything is weathered and worn, the wood cracked and the veneer missing in places.

Oh yeah the soba tastes alright too.

The customers are mostly Japanese men, labourers more than salarymen. That’s usually what most places that still let you smoke are like. I highly doubt that they pay any attention to the décor. Just get in a solid meal, watch the news, have a drag and leave. Don’t you realize you’re having the most Japanese experience imaginable?

Actually my colleague really liked the shop. But he insisted that there were plenty of other places like this.

There’s no way to be sure about that.

So until I find another one, I’m declaring this one to be special.

Royce Leong