The Dogo area of Matsuyama is known for many things: it’s 3000 year old history thermal water (onsen), famous glass, literary and art museums, Dogo Onsen honkan, Yuzuki castle ruins (Dogo Park) along with it’s oh-so-expensive onsen hotels. What Dogo has not been famous for are it’s bars, up until now. With the opening of Wani to sai, Dogo can now correctly boast that it has one of the most interesting and unique bars in Matsuyama.
Located in the (now defunct) old red-light district of Dogo, at the base of the steep stone-staircase leading to the important Isaniwa shrine, Wani to sai couldn’t have opened at a more opportune time. The area itself is littered with crumbling, beautiful old wooden merchant buildings and brothels evoking a murky past; massive stone toris demarcating the many shrines and temples in the area. This neighborhood oozes with both times past, present and a prospect for the future that is easily felt.
Opened by Takahiro in mid-2012, this self-styled “circus bar” is an intimate and warm dive bar that features interesting cocktails, European beer, high-end wine and low-end shochu- literally something for everyone. Wani to sai also serves very good ramen and yaki-niku domburi. The night that my wife, some of our guests from Sen Guesthouse, and I went there, we had both dishes and they did not fail to deliver- everything was extremely good!! Also, everyone that orders a drink, is given a tsukidashi, a complementary “starter dish” served at most izakayas, which was also excellent.
Takahiro-san has had a very interesting life, and it plainly shows in both his character and the decor/ambience of the bar. After graduating high school, he left for Italy to study visual arts. After meeting a street performer from Colombia who specials in marionettes, puppets controlled from above using strings, he decided that’s where his passion lay and quickly started learning how to both make marionette puppets and how to “bring them to life”. He stayed in Europe for a total of 8 years, both in Italy and other countries, as a street marionette performer, before moving back to Japan a couple of years ago.
His interests and experiences clearly make themselves apparent in Wani to sai. The walls are decorated with circus themed, low-brow, abstract art and various “oddities” that he has collected from all over. He also has a couple of his marionette puppets on display and if the night is slow, and the music is good (which it always is) you just might be able to convince him to bring one of his friends to life.
With the addition of Wani to sai to Dogo’s (dare I say it) burgeoning art scene, both locals and tourists alike finally have an authentic place to hang their hats, have a proper drink and bit to eat, and, more importantly, meet some interesting folk (both foreign and Japanese alike).