Seeking Delicious Sake, Food on ‘Wandering Taverns’; Rui Yoshida’s Pioneering TV Show Reaches 20 Years

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rui Yoshida, celebrating 20 years of journeying through taverns across the nation

Rui Yoshida, known as the “Tavern Poet” 74, celebrates the 20th anniversary of the BS-TBS program “Rui Yoshida Sakaba Horo-ki” (Wandering Taverns) which airs on Mondays at 9:00 p.m. During an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun about his journey so far and the secrets to enjoying bars, he said, “I realized it’s been 20 years. I’ve been eating delicious food and getting drunk.”

The program began in September 2003 at the Iseya Sohonten yakitori restaurant in Kichijoji, Tokyo, which Yoshida had been visiting since his younger days. At the time, a program where the hosts would genuinely get drunk was unprecedented. However, Yoshida, due to his personality, couldn’t just pretend to drink. He said, “I can’t fake it by drinking water. I have to actually drink and get drunk. If that’s okay with you, I’ll do it.” It turned out that this straightforward approach was one of the reasons for the program’s high popularity. Reflecting on it, he said, “In a sense, it was good that we did it with such honesty.”

During these past 20 years, he has felt a change in the atmosphere of bars. “Compared to the past, wherever you go, women can enjoy themselves just like anyone else. Alcohol is democratic, and I drink for the sake of freedom. I think it’s important that women have been able to enter the world of taverns,” he says. On the other hand, his attitude when he is in the bar remains unchanged. “The drama in the tavern has enriched my life, and I consider it a school of life. I’m always objective. I guess I can still enjoy visiting taverns because I’ve stuck to that attitude.”

In the “sacred grounds” of alcohol, an uncompromising rule is to maintain the “maai,” which means maintaining a sense of distance from others. “Both physically and mentally, this is considered a sophisticated way for adults to drink. Even if you’re having a great time with other customers, it’s better to finish your experience at that establishment rather than moving to the next one.”

Additionally, he says, in places with many regular customers, such as standing bars, it’s essential not to encroach on their territory. “The key is to quietly enter a corner at first and, later, when approaching the main counter, to raise a glass and ask for recommendations from the regulars. That’s the approach I take.”

When asked about the method he used to derive these principles, he replied, “I’m actually a fishing expert. In stream fishing, I trained myself to enter a river without the fish realizing. Taverns are similar. You have to blend in, disappear, and slip in naturally.” It seems like the intoxicated customers are falling for the expert’s approach hook, line and sinker.

Through this program, Yoshida has already visited over 1,100 bars. However, he continues to make new discoveries, saying, “The sense of ‘Is this kind of world also out there?’ just keeps going. Each tavern has a different owner, a different history, and it all shows in the place. I enjoy the individuality and differences. So, even after 20 years, it still feels like there’s more to explore.” His poetic and emotionally rich way of speaking is filled with love and respect for these “sacred grounds.”