The Japanese people just love food. In a country full of restaurants, traditional recipes passed down for generations, and fresh ingredients courtesy of the land and sea, it is no wonder that Japan is more than just culture, it is a foodie’s paradise. Every traveler or local in Japan seems to have a favorite food or favorite restaurant from their travels. For me, it was cuisine from Akita prefecture. Now I live in Miyagi prefecture and for a few months I really missed the food teasing me just one prefecture away. Thankfully, Sendai is the largest city of the Tohoku (northern part of the main island) region. It comes with excitement, nature, just about everything—including a restaurant specializing in Akita cuisine!
Akita Dining: Namahage is located right in the heart of downtown, but you probably won’t see it just a few steps down a side street and an elevator ride away from the busy shopping arcades. As the name implies, it is an Akita themed restaurant. Akita favorites like kiritanpo fire-cooked rice served in a nabe stew and grilled hata hata fish can be enjoyed right alongside a wide assortment of sake. Akita sake is famous throughout Japan because the rice in Akita used to make the alcohol is also some of the best in the country. Sweet, strong, mild, hot, cold, and seasonal sake is served along with your standard fare of beer, plum wine, whiskey, and more. A full bar in the restaurant means some people skip food entirely (I don’t recommend this at all!) to enjoy a specialty drink or two. The quality of the food and drinks is superb, but it will cost you. This is definitely a restaurant for a bit of a special occasion. And no worries that you will forget your visit anytime soon because this dinner comes with a show.
Say hello to the Namahage. Starting each night around 7:30 the lights dim and an eerie tribal music softly echoes through the tatami mat seating areas. A sudden scream and then some laughs come somewhere from across the restaurant. Then another, this time closer. And finally a man with a demon mask and grass shirt and skirt enters with a roar. The namahage are a famous Akita icon, wrapped in mystery and folklore and celebrated for hundreds of years. They carry a knife to cut your skin and a bucket to carry it in. Traditionally they entered houses on New Year’s Eve to make sure children and wives were behaving. The husband would offer the demons alcohol and promises of obedience to have the demons leave. At the restaurant, they are great fun to talk with and a free photo memento makes a great parting gift. It is particularly entertaining to watch people that have drank too much sake communicate in demon grunts in reply to the namahage’s demands.
Akita Dining: Namahage is a taste or rural Akita in the big city of Sendai (There is also a location in Tokyo). It is a five minute walk from Hirosedori subway station on the first side street of the shopping arcades. From exit 5 walk straight, right at the Disney store, first right then to the sixth floor on the building on the left. Look for the sign with a demon face on the outside! It is popular especially Friday and Saturday nights, so I recommend making a recommendation and don’t forget your camera!