Award winning Bar Manager Boris Ivan explores how the Japanese bar tending scene is shaping the global industry.
Western bartending has been for decades a blend of European and US styles and has developed in many ways. Bartenders have shared their skills and knowledge through different publications, books, magazines and competitions or simply by word of mouth. We have read about eras of prohibition, post-war or modern and their effect in cocktail making and skills development.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting bars of differing character around the world, standing behind the bar counter and experiencing their various styles of the drinks.
Since I first stepped behind a bar I have watched how fashions have changed and have sought to understand new trends so I can can give my guests the best experiences.
For the last few years one of the biggest inlfuences has been Japanese bartending. An amazing attention to detail, sophisticated bar tools and shaking techniques are what we usually associate with the Japanese art of serving drinks.
The first person to introduce me to Japanese style bartending was Stan Vadrna who travelled to Japan and back to learn all he could from this amazing culture. I have also learned from the philosophy of bartending by master Kauzo Ueda.
I was immediately impressed – and began researching the Japanese approach. Now after almost 10 years I can see the influence of Japanese culture almost everywhere in western bartending but I don’t believe everyone understands what lies behind their craft.
Having studied all I could on Japanese bartending for years, I finally set off on my dream trip to explore Japanese culture and bartending from inside.
I spent three weeks of travelling through Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka and their surroundings but before I went I tried to research as much as possible about the history and influence of art, samurai culture, way of tea, cuisine, literature and all the little things that help you understand a national culture.
And I would recommend to anyone who is interested in Japanese bartending or cuisine to learn a bit more about Japanese culture, art, literature and tradition of hospitality.
There is a clear link between bartending/bartenders and national style or culture of their country. Japanese bartenders, like other profesionals, reflect their national soul in every step they take.
“Wa” stands for harmony. As there is harmony in nature, masters of tea and indeed bartenders try to bring this quality into the tea room or the bar. All bar tools, glassware, bottles or other utensils used in the bar are in the harmony with each other and their position has its purpose in making the art of preparing a cocktail as perfect as possible.
“Kei” stands for respect. The bartender is first and foremost the host who has respect for his guests and all aspects of their bar. The same respect is expected from their guests to create the needed atmosphere. For this reason you won’t find big bars where there is no interaction between bartender and guest. Each host/bartender needs to see each guest to make their drink perfect.
It is very important here to mention respect between master and student. Every bartender/student has a master. As in the tea ceremony, the student is expected to follow the master for years. It takes that time to learn harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity and to be able to show those qualities to your guests.
As in Japanese culture, everyone behind the bar has a role, everything has a purpose and every action is detailed to make final result perfect.
This, I believe, is the major difference between western and Japanese bartending: Westerners focus too much on the final result without considering in detail the way to achieve it. The Japanese think of every single step in a very precise way and believe that this will bring the final result closest to perfection.
Wa, Kei, Sei, Jaku - “harmony, respect, purity, tranquility.”
Philosophy of Chado or way of tea or tea ceremony. Every single aspect of the tea ceremony reflects Japanese culture and its aim of perfect hospitality and sharing.
“Sei” stand for purity. When one enters a bar, one should leave behind all thoughts and worries of daily life. The bar is a different world where people lose their labels and where everyone enjoys the presence of friends and can slow down.
“Jaku” stands for tranquillity. Only after learning the first three steps can you realise how Japanese hospitality is truly peaceful in in thought.
For all these reasons, Japanese bartenders spend years practising their techniques, their moves and ways of hosting to achieve perfection and make their guests’ experiences unique. When they have mastered all the small details, they are then ready to experiment and create their own signature drinks.
So are you ready to shake it? Just find the right master to follow and listen your heart.
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