Japan’s Northernmost Irish Pub

This article originally featured in the May 2020 issue of Connect.

Luke McCartney (Hokkaido)

It can take anywhere from 15 to 25 hours to fly from Dublin International Airport to Tokyo Narita Airport. On top of that, you need to take an additional 1.5-hour flight from Tokyo Narita Airport to Kushiro Airport and then a final 30-minute bus ride in order to reach Kushiro City centre. This is an idealised route of course, and not the one I would be destined to take. My travel plans involved a quick stop at Sapporo, which is found on the complete opposite side of Hokkaido to Kushiro. Instead of a 30-minute bus ride, I enjoyed a five-hour train ride through Hokkaido’s rugged terrain. The realisation of how far home or anything familiar was, began to set in. I was nervous.

I come from Ireland. A uniquely simple country which is quickly overlooked on the world stage. Our island is not a particularly big place—we’re actually only a little larger than Hokkaido. Our population isn’t anything to shout about, currently sitting at around six million and steadily increasing. Ireland does not try to take centre front on the world stage, nor does Ireland export large amounts of TV, music or movies. Many people in Japan do not know a great deal about my country or people. Yet for unusual reasons, Irish people and Irish communities can be found everywhere.

Irish people have a very long history of migrating to other countries—it is something we have done for centuries. On occasion, it’s not been a choice but rather a forced solution to desperate circumstances. Because of this, you can find aspects of Irish culture all over the world—even in some of the least expected places. I’m proud to be part of this long tradition of ours, to join the many Irish around the world who are living and working in other cultures.

I, of course, knew I was going to Kushiro long before boarding my flight. As any modern person would do, I immediately turned to Google, Facebook and YouTube to learn as much as I could about my new home before arriving. In my down time at my job in Ireland, I would walk the streets of Kushiro through Google Street View. I quickly discovered where the restaurants were, which bars looked like fun and various other places I would like to visit. Looking back, it was only a matter of time until I randomly stumbled upon a pub, but not just any pub, an Irish Pub. It was unmistakable, it was in the very name, IRISH PUB COY.

The pub itself makes no bones about its lack of conformity with Japanese style. The building emanates a western influence with clearly placed Irish symbols all over the display windows. If you can’t read the English name, then these symbols might help clarify this unusual place.

Kazumi-san of Irish Pub Coy

Upon entering, you won’t find an izakaya or anything resembling a typical Japanese drinking spot. Instead, this pub has been carefully designed and decorated to resemble a western pub style. Tables and chairs in a jumble around the room, a low hanging ceiling with strong wooden beams running across the top and walls covered in Irish memorabilia. With the lights dimmed low, you might be forgiven for walking into a chair or two. But fear not, the bright shining light of the bar will guide your way and behind it is the unmistakable symbol every Irish person knows—the golden harp on the black beer tap. They say home is where the Guinness is, and upon entering this pub, I find it hard to disagree.

Behind the bar you won’t find an Irish person, but a Japanese national. Don’t let that fool you, however, as each one has a strong connection to the island of Ireland. For example, Kazumi is a fisherman by trade, but winter is a harsh season so he compensates by working in the pub. Fishermen and pubs have a strong connection, whether in Ireland or Japan it seems. Furthermore, he has actually been! With great enthusiasm, he has told me of his trips to Ireland, his love of Guinness, and has even shared with me some Irish humour.

Over friendly conversation, it becomes too easy to start ordering drinks and food. If beer isn’t to your taste, then perhaps the numerous Irish whiskies that this bar offers may be of some help. The bar staff have all shown a personal knowledge of each whiskey and are more than happy to offer recommendations should it come to it.

Western style food can be difficult to come by in Japan. Often it comes with the catch of being inspired by the West but edited to fit a Japanese palate. Irish Pub Coy is not immune to this process and its food shows a clear Japanese orientation. It can be hard to see this as a negative, however, as under this roof, Japanese residents and foreigners like yours truly both enjoy the same tastes. A little bit of Ireland and a little bit of Japan mixed into each dish. A humbling reminder of how far away Ireland is.

Between sips of beer and enjoying western style food you can listen to some Irish-inspired music. I have been told by staff that the band playing are a Japanese group who felt so inspired by Irish music they dedicated their time recreating it. This pub seems to act as a middle ground in many respects. For Japanese customers, it can be seen as an attempt to experience the unusual but for us foreigners, it acts potentially as a way to experience the little of the familiar.

Kazumi-san of Hot Sauce

With friendly staff and familiar drinks and food, I’m glad that Irish Pub Coy is in Kushiro City.

It can take anywhere from 15 to 25 hours to fly from Dublin International Airport to Tokyo Narita Airport. On top of that, you need to take an additional 1.5-hour flight from Tokyo Narita Airport to Kushiro Airport and then a final 30-minute bus ride in order to reach Kushiro City centre. This is an idealised route of course, and not the one I would be destined to take. My travel plans involved a quick stop at Sapporo, which is found on the complete opposite side of Hokkaido to Kushiro. Instead of a 30-minute bus ride, I enjoyed a five-hour train ride through Hokkaido’s rugged terrain. The realisation of how far home or anything familiar was, began to set in. I was nervous.

I come from Ireland. A uniquely simple country which is quickly overlooked on the world stage. Our island is not a particularly big place—we’re actually only a little larger than Hokkaido. Our population isn’t anything to shout about, currently sitting at around six million and steadily increasing. Ireland does not try to take centre front on the world stage, nor does Ireland export large amounts of TV, music or movies. Many people in Japan do not know a great deal about my country or people. Yet for unusual reasons, Irish people and Irish communities can be found everywhere.

Irish people have a very long history of migrating to other countries—it is something we have done for centuries. On occasion, it’s not been a choice but rather a forced solution to desperate circumstances. Because of this, you can find aspects of Irish culture all over the world—even in some of the least expected places. I’m proud to be part of this long tradition of ours, to join the many Irish around the world who are living and working in other cultures.

I, of course, knew I was going to Kushiro long before boarding my flight. As any modern person would do, I immediately turned to Google, Facebook and YouTube to learn as much as I could about my new home before arriving. In my down time at my job in Ireland, I would walk the streets of Kushiro through Google Street View. I quickly discovered where the restaurants were, which bars looked like fun and various other places I would like to visit. Looking back, it was only a matter of time until I randomly stumbled upon a pub, but not just any pub, an Irish Pub. It was unmistakable, it was in the very name, IRISH PUB COY.

The pub itself makes no bones about its lack of conformity with Japanese style. The building emanates a western influence with clearly placed Irish symbols all over the display windows. If you can’t read the English name, then these symbols might help clarify this unusual place.

Upon entering, you won’t find an izakaya or anything resembling a typical Japanese drinking spot. Instead, this pub has been carefully designed and decorated to resemble a western pub style. Tables and chairs in a jumble around the room, a low hanging ceiling with strong wooden beams running across the top and walls covered in Irish memorabilia. With the lights dimmed low, you might be forgiven for walking into a chair or two. But fear not, the bright shining light of the bar will guide your way and behind it is the unmistakable symbol every Irish person knows—the golden harp on the black beer tap. They say home is where the Guinness is, and upon entering this pub, I find it hard to disagree.

Behind the bar you won’t find an Irish person, but a Japanese national. Don’t let that fool you, however, as each one has a strong connection to the island of Ireland. For example, Kazumi is a fisherman by trade, but winter is a harsh season so he compensates by working in the pub. Fishermen and pubs have a strong connection, whether in Ireland or Japan it seems. Furthermore, he has actually been! With great enthusiasm, he has told me of his trips to Ireland, his love of Guinness, and has even shared with me some Irish humour.

Over friendly conversation, it becomes too easy to start ordering drinks and food. If beer isn’t to your taste, then perhaps the numerous Irish whiskies that this bar offers may be of some help. The bar staff have all shown a personal knowledge of each whiskey and are more than happy to offer recommendations should it come to it.

Western style food can be difficult to come by in Japan. Often it comes with the catch of being inspired by the West but edited to fit a Japanese palate. Irish Pub Coy is not immune to this process and its food shows a clear Japanese orientation. It can be hard to see this as a negative, however, as under this roof, Japanese residents and foreigners like yours truly both enjoy the same tastes. A little bit of Ireland and a little bit of Japan mixed into each dish. A humbling reminder of how far away Ireland is.

Between sips of beer and enjoying western style food you can listen to some Irish-inspired music. I have been told by staff that the band playing are a Japanese group who felt so inspired by Irish music they dedicated their time recreating it. This pub seems to act as a middle ground in many respects. For Japanese customers, it can be seen as an attempt to experience the unusual but for us foreigners, it acts potentially as a way to experience the little of the familiar.

With friendly staff and familiar drinks and food, I’m glad that Irish Pub Coy is in Kushiro City.

Luke’s Kushiro Recommendations

If the Irish Pub Coy isn’t quite to your taste, then why not try another personal favourite of mine, Hot Sauce Jazz Bar? Walking into Hot Sauce reveals a large and expansive restaurant floor. A wonderfully decorated bar running along the kitchen front with a DJ turntable to the left. The small DJ set isn’t just for decoration either, looking past the set you will see a wall stacked thick with music records. The ever-present owner, a different Kazumi-san, is always on hand to indulge a request and will happily talk music.

Do you want to know where the best burgers in Kushiro are? Well, I’ll tell you. Eureka SouthAve Kushiro is hands down the best spot for a good western style burger. The young burger shop owner draws heavy influence from the West with a particular love of America. This is evident in the cosy one-room restaurant—western beer, western posters, and western music but most importantly all the essential western ingredients for a good burger. A simplistic menu promises quality over quantity and this place delivers on that promise every time.

Coming from Ireland but living in Kushiro, Luke spends his time trying to eat all the scary looking food and enjoying all the drinks—the names of which he cannot pronounce. Having lived abroad before, he understands the rules of getting settled. Finding ways to feel like a local is important when moving to a new place and Luke has been endeavouring to do so. Fortunately, an opportunity to share his discoveries has arisen through CONNECT so others can enjoy these things too. Catch up with Luke on Instagram @lukemccart

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