Stirring Stories

Carlos Ghosn and the Martini

Carlos Ghosn stopped by to chat with a group of us gathered in Paris last month for a business school reunion. He was charming and erudite. I was so taken by him that I mixed him one of my special martinis. Now I wonder whether that martini was part of his downfall – proof of a louche lifestyle.  

One assumes there is more to the Ghosn story than has been revealed.  The Japanese have a tradition of demanding corporate hari kari, but the Japan I know is a land of delightful people and wonderful traditions. japan ghosn

Teaching negotiating skills to the Japanese. Perhaps I could have helped Ghosn.

I’ve visited Tokyo many times (most memorably during the Fukushima disaster – read my story here). On every visit I come away impressed by the sheer pride everyday people take in their work.  My most enduring memory this time is of the behaviour of the ground crew at the airport.  When my aircraft was ready for departure – the ground crew, all those people with really not very well paying jobs – bowed deeply from the waist as the aircraft pushed off from the gate. They held the pose until the aircraft was under its own power.  

Thankfulness for your custom and respect for your presence is pervasive in most apects of Japanese life. Your hosts lead you to the elevator after a meeting. They bow, from the waist, and hold the pose until the doors of your elevator close. It’s amazing. And really good for the stomach muscles. 

Your taxi driver wears a suit and white gloves. And refuses tips. Your hotel staff come out to wave goodbye when you leave. And they keep waving until you are out of sight. I know, I kept turning around to check – and they were still waving. 

Everyone is so nice –  it’s like Canada without the pot. Unlike Canada, Japan is really quite interesting so you don’t need to be stoned to survive it.

I digress. This is a blog about cocktails and I was looking for one amidst the rats of Ginza. Most specialist cocktail bars in Tokyo tend to be in narrow buildings about a dozen stories high, each floor about a room’s width.  There’s a small lift connecting the floors, each of which contains a different business, restaurant, karaoke bar or massage parlour.  The lift signs are not in English; sometimes you find yourself wandering into a massage parlour.  If you get off on the wrong floor they still bow as you leave, and hold the pose until your elevator door shuts. Even the pimps have respect for their jobs. 

I found Bar High Five in a basement.  The layout is standard for Japanese cocktail bars – a bar running the length of the room with space for about a dozen customers, plus banquette style seating with perhaps four or five small tables.  There are no menus at this bar – they ask after your favourite cocktail (mine’s a bone dry martini) and riff off it.  The friendly staff are happy to chat with you about what goes into your drink, and to show off their wide collection of specialist liqueurs.  My green tea gin based cocktail, made with a dash of Yuzu juice was a standout – the complexity of standard gin flavours enhanced with umami shades of brine and seaweed, with a dash of citrus. 

Bar High Five is a classic dimly lit, friendly cocktail bar.  Our next stop in Ginza was brightly lit and austere.  Kazuo Uyeda’s Tender Bar is famous, not just for its cocktails but for his technique.  The Japanese bring their traditional precision to the art of making cocktails – and Kazuo Uyeda is their master.  The inventor of the Japanese Hard Shake, a rhythmic, almost balletically precise method of shaking a cocktail, was behind the bar tending to a half dozen Japanese regulars.  The dragon lady who acted as bouncer and waitress kept an unsmiling watch on the customers.  We sat at the bar and watched Uyeda’s assistant run around lining up ingredients for each cocktail that were placed precisely in front of each customer.  


Tender is Uyeda’s temple and he takes his work very seriously.  While the staff at High Five were happy to pose for photographs and to take photos of our group, Uyeda curtly asked me to put my camera away. He warmed up after I drank about £200 worth of cocktails and bought his book. We discussed techniques and he showed me how he learned to mix ingredients in a shaker without measurement and still get the resulting cocktail to pour perfectly to the lip of a glass – no waste, no fuss, no muss.  The cocktails he makes are well made standards.  I kept ordering cocktails just to watch him do his special shaky thing.  

The next day I found the tiny store behind Asakusa train station that supplies barware to many of the finest establishments in Tokyo.  I stocked up on Yarai glass stirring jugs and Yukiwa shakers.  While Ghosn does hard time, I shall spend the winter practising my hard shake.

2018-11-20T18:03:44+00:00November 20th, 2018|