All Things Texan in Tokyo

It’s not hard to find home, even in cities like Tokyo.

Story and photos By Rachel Phua
Web Exclusive

Along the narrow, neon-lighted streets of an upmarket suburb in Tokyo, an unusual folksy tune drifts out from a basement bar. It sounds more Southern United States than the expected J-pop fare. Little Texas, a bar in Meguro, Tokyo, plays host to country musicians, many of them Japanese. The bar, unlike any other in town, looks like an old-school saloon decked out in Longhorn memorabilia and Texan road signs. Its owners are Grace Natsuko and Takeshi Yoshino. Rick Perry named them both honorary Texans in 2011.  

The couple have brought an authentic Texan experience to Tokyo, with double the hospitality. They are both warm and ever smiling, chitchatting with guests–also decked out in cowboy gear–like old friends. Sometimes, the crowd spontaneously breaks into dance. Texans living in Tokyo welcome Little Texas too. In fact, Yoshino says 90 percent of foreigners who visit are Texans.

Unlike other Japanese establishments, food here is Texas-sized, filled with chili and cheese goodness. Some of the dishes are even formed in an iconic mini-Texas shape. Call it a gimmick, but there's no compromise in the food's quality. 

In other parts of Tokyo, Texan food spots are becoming more common. Junkadelic, a Tex-Mex restaurant in nearby Nakameguro, is now popular among locals and foreigners for grabbing a taco or filling up on a burrito.

"Our most popular dish is chimichangas," says Arima Hideaki, the 46-year-old owner of Junkadelic who was previously a bass player in a hardcore metal band before starting the restaurant 10 years ago.

He adds that while he was anxious Tex-Mex cuisine would be too foreign for Tokyoites, many foreigners started coming when he first opened. The Japanese swiftly followed. Arima didn't even have to change the taste to fit the local palate, he says.  

"Texans who visit say that the taste is authentic, and they note the feeling of nostalgia they get eating here," he says. 

Natsuko, the owner of Little Texas, is also a purveyor of Texan traditions. She teaches line dancing to students "8 to 80 years old" through her group Danciní Texas in Tokyo. Natsuko also performs at country-music events, where crowds in cowboy hats join her on the floor. The veteran dancer fell in love with the all things Texas after horseback riding in the Lone Star State, and she picked up line dancing after seeing a performance. 

Yoshino, Natsuko's husband, has enjoyed listening to country music since he was a teenager. They visit the state at least once a year, and Yoshino drives a red pickup truck.

"When we visit Texas, weíll go to the honky-tonk, watch a live country-music performance and go dancing," Natsuko says.

So, while the Japanese have embraced the Lone Star culture, Texans living in Tokyo have warmly accepted the Japanese way of life.

Five years ago, 29-year-old Chris Mazzu, who is originally from Groves, Texas, was based at the Yokota Air Base as part of the Navy. The big city charmed him. After leaving military service in 2013, he quickly went back to Tokyo and now works at the Central Texas College Pacific Far East campus as a student service officer. He is also a guest writer for Tokyo Cheapo, a website that highlights affordable, lesser-known attractions in the city. 

"I like Tokyo because it's safe, convenient, has wonderful customer service... I can't pick my favorite thing about living here," Mazzu says, noting that when he first introduced himself as a Texan in Japan, the reaction he got would be, "Oh, cowboy!" "So, at first, I was like, 'No, no, no, that's a stereotype. We're not really all cowboys.' But then I just went with it, like, 'I ride a horse. I actually don't ride the train. I actually rode a horse here [and] it's parked outside.' I don't have the accent, but sometimes I would yell, 'Yeehaw!' and every once in a while, I'll slip up and get a 'y'all.' "

Grace Mineta, a freelance writer from Austin who is based in Japan, adds that when she describes Texas to the Japanese, she says, "steaks, Western movies and Yu Darvish." Darvish, the starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers, has made the state famous among Japanese baseball fans. 

Meanwhile, Tokyo has a growing foreign-cuisine scene that could satisfy any occasional Texan craving. Taco Bell returned to the Japanese public after more than 20 years when it opened its Shibuya branch in April 2015. People reportedly lined up for several hours to get their hands on the Tex-Mex fast food. The chain was only available at U.S. military bases in Japan prior to the recent opening. 

For more house-made goodies, there's Baird Beer's Bashamichi Taproom in nearby Yokohama.  

ìItís never cheap, that's for sure, but...they have Texan barbecue. They have pecan pie. Obviously, Japanese portions, youíre not going to get a rack of ribs...but it's still good," Mazzu says. 

He also notes White Smoke, a barbecue-meat caterer owned by Houston native Craig White. 

So while Texas is more than just tacos, cowboys and country music, what is known as quintessential Texan has helped build the state quite a distinct reputation, even in the Far East. Don't be surprised while visiting Japan if you get "Howdy" as a greeting when you proudly exclaim where you are from. 

 

Little Texas: Meguro building B1F, 1-5-19 Meguro-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81.3.3492.6677, littletexas.jp

Junkadelic: 4-10-4 Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan, +81.3.5725.5020, junkadelic.jp

Taco Bell Shibuya: 2-25-14 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan, tacobell.co.jp

Bashamichi Taproom: 5-63-1 Sumiyoshi-cho, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa, Japan, +81.45.264.4961, bairdbeer.com/en/tap/bashamichi

White Smoke – A Texas Smokehouse: +81.3.5604.9530, thebettetable.com


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