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Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005
Water from everywhere, and so many drops to drink
By YOKO HANI
Sure, water is tasty. Water is healthy. And recently, bottled water seems to have been deluging the shelves of Japan's shops, as more people turn away from their taps and toward thirst-quenching labels from home and abroad.
So, perhaps brand water's moment has come, and the idea of a "water bar" isn't as strange as it first seemed.
Just as they might at a wine bar, customers would perch on stools and examine a long and detailed menu, and then, perhaps, consult a bartender before opting for the likes of "Masafi please -- water from the desert."
In fact, Masafi -- which comes from the United Arab Emirates -- has been one of the most popular brands at the Tokyo water bar R gath since it opened two years ago in Yebisu Garden Place near JR Ebisu Station. However, customers' tastes have become more varied recently, says shop manager Yoshihiro Yagishita, who puts that trend down to his bar's ever-expanding range of labels.
Along with Masafi, which R gath prices at 210 yen for a 500ml bottle -- he says that "recently, our most popular labels have also included Filette from Italy (500ml; 270 yen), Ice Age from Canada (593ml; 260 yen), Vals from France (500ml; 270 yen) and Swiss Water (500ml; 290 yen)."
There's lots in a name
Not familiar with the names?
Filette, according to the shop, has been popular in Rome since Julius Caesar presided over an empire at its peak. The source of Ice Age, they say, is a spring beneath a glacier about 4,500 meters up in the mountains of western Canada. As for Vals, one of Europe's oldest mineral water brands, it will aid digestion and liver function due to its high bicarbonate content, they say.
Altogether, R gath offers customers 30 brands and 40 kinds of still and sparkling water from Italy, Spain, England, Scotland, Switzerland, the U.A.E., Germany, Norway, Portugal, France, Canada, the United States, Australia and Japan. And each and every one has its own unique characteristics and history, Yagishita explains.
It's all a bit surprising, in a country like Japan where water is traditionally served free in eateries.
Yagishita says, however, that the idea of a water bar has been embraced by people who are conscious not only of fashion, but also of their health.
"Japanese people have been used to drinking this country's mostly soft water," he explained.
"So, at first, they found it a little strange to taste hard water and water with gas. But gradually, they have got used to the different tastes and learned that some kinds go well with snacks such as cheese and nuts. Also, they have begun to realize how beneficial water can be for health -- for example, to help with a bad hangover."
To launch themselves on the way to becoming a sommelier d'eau -- to knowing different brands' tastes and properties and origins and perhaps finally finding their own favorite "vintage" -- Yagishita recommends his customers start by simply sampling different types at the counter.
But still, some people might be put off by the idea of R gath -- whose name, derives from the "r" of "red," which is featured in the decor, and a short form of "gather" -- by the idea of a bar with no booze. No worries: R gath serves wine and beer as well.
Not only that, but it comes with a pearl of Yagishita wisdom about the relationship between alcohol and water:
"When you drink wine or sake or any alcohol, try and drink water from the same area, too. So, if you are drinking water from France, and you want a glass of wine, try to be sure it's French.
"That will help you to avoid feeling sick from drinking alcohol. It's true."
So, what tipple should you try with your Masafi . . ?
For other stories in our Week 3 package, please click the following links:
Seek the Hemingway within at a concrete-jungle pond By Chris Bamforth