Barely did Jan hesitate before adding, “And I’ll have the jellyfish I think,” in his thick German accent, topping off our large order of food and drinks. Britnee and I had just met Jan the day before when checking into our hostel in Kyoto and while we’d all gone out for dinner at a safe choice that evening–beef bowl fast food–tonight we were experimenting.

Having started our search for ramen, that soon changed after we ducked out of the rain into a tiny corner restaurant crammed full of locals. We were seated on short stools at the corner of a short bar and struggled to make sense of the English menu which seemed to insist that if we didn’t keep drinking and eating we would be kicked out.

Following our orders of drinks came small plates of fried tuna, fried beef, grilled mushroom, (expensive but oh so salty and delicious), grilled chicken, rice and Jan’s jellyfish. We all dug in and each tried everything, devoured it all and followed it with overflowing glasses of sake.

Our hunger satisfied, we paid our bill we headed back into the rain, across the river, into an alley and up some narrow stairs to Bar Stardust Club. This hole-in-the-wall, (barely big enough to fit the bar, six stools and a table with chairs), we found and fell in love with the night before. Owned an operated by a Mr. Miyagi-like master, Tetsuya Fujimori, it was more the man himself than the bar and drinks we returned to see.

Behind tinted glasses he peered through the dim light, selecting from a large stack of blues, jazz and funk CDs, keeping good music playing through the night. When Jan and I ordered beers we only had one choice, bottled Yebisu lager from which Fujimori-san popped the tops and handed to us with glasses. But when Britnee ordered a mojito, that’s when the real work began and what a production it was.

Slow and steady, almost as if he were guessing on each step, Fujimori-san began building the drink. Chipping ice in hand, cutting fresh mint, squeezing limes, pouring shots and then topping it off with soda water from tiny glass bottles. The whole process took long enough for Britnee to leave to the bathroom and return in time to see the completion of her drink.

It was a masterpiece, though, that Fujimori-san finally handed to her, which Britnee thoroughly enjoyed. He then sniffed the mint to check it was still good, sat back down behind the bar to continue chain smoking cigarettes and tapped his fingers to the soulful music filling the room. We could never tell if he’d been sampling the goods too much himself or was just slow and tired after decades of serving the night life, but what a character and I’m glad we found him.

Leaving Fujimori-san alone with his music, we left the Stardust and looked for the next stop. Following Jan’s lead we explored the next level in the same building and found several more mystery doors, behind one of which came a good deal of chatter and laughter. We decided to investigate and after passing through the door and Japanese noren we immediately bumped into a seated customer, finding an even smaller bar. A tiny, smoke-filled room seated only eight or nine people at a bar decorated elaborately in a samurai/Japanimation theme with televisions playing a number of different cartoons.

We were greeted warmly, given seats, served drinks and handed microphones for karaoke. Jan kicked things off with 99 Luftballons, Britnee followed with Girlfriend by Avril Lavigne and I sent people packing by attempting All These Things That I’ve Done, after which Britnee said, “Brandon Flowers makes it sound so easy.” I think we would have impressed our hosts more if we’d stuck to the cartoon theme songs playing on the televisions, but they applauded none the less and we were glad for the experience.

The next day we said so long to Jan as he moved on from Kyoto, continuing his travels. In parting he said, “stay safe, stay curious,” which is probably the best advice one traveler could give another. While Britnee and I were already planning on stepping outside our comfort zones and trying new things on this journey, it didn’t hurt to have someone like Jan move things along a little quicker… by ordering the jellyfish.

Next stop: praying with the monks of Koyasan!

About The Author

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Mark is currently traveling for a year with his wife Britnee. Besides that stuff, (traveling and his wife), Mark's other likes include: mountain bikes he can’t afford, eerie movies starring Paul Dano, morning coffee--preferably brewed by someone else, and at least one song by Iggy Azalea.

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