If adult life is feeling a little bit too much, why not head back to your school days (or someone else’s) for a night of food, drinks and reminiscing?
One of the many themed restaurants in Tokyo, there are no screaming banshees here or Mad Hatter’s tea parties, instead there are wooden chairs, plenty of snacks and even school dinners. Located just opposite the JR East exit of Shinjuku Station and right above The Lockup, is Rokunen Yonkumi. A relatively small izakaya, this place is designed to look just like a 6th-grade elementary school classroom—and you are the new members of Class 4. Now, you may not be familiar with Japanese elementary schools but the school vibe is definitely not lost in translation. The blackboards, tiny chairs and world flags will take you straight back, whether you like it or not.
As soon as you step out of the elevator you’re greeted with rows of randoseru school bags, yellow hats and jacket hooks at hip height, before being greeted by one of the teachers. Luckily, this isn’t really a role-play type of place, they will act a bit like teachers. And you have to line up to be taken to your classroom, but you don’t have to act like a child, even though the sweets might make you. You may be given one of the smaller classrooms, all themed after different subjects like science or home economics or seated in the larger one. Personally, this is the better option as it feels more like a real-life classroom—plus you get to see groups of Japanese friends pointing and yelling “Natsukashiiii!” in very high-pitched voices at various things.
Once seated, you can take a look at the menu which comes in the form of an attendance book and is filled with a combination of regular izakaya fare and school food—some pictures included. While you may pass over some options, like soft noodles and the special lunch bread, there are plenty more with an all-round school feel, like drinks served in science kits and a whiskey coke with popping candy. It’s not as fancy and smart as other themed izakaya, but that kind of adds to the school-days charm of it all.
The menu rule is that each person must order a drink and two food plates, but since prices start at around 300 yen+ for food, it isn’t difficult. Small touches are added to make everything more fun, like dressing served in syringes for salads, or a serve-yourself pot of edamame. For the latter, a big school-dinner pot will be brought to the table with a dish, and one from the group can take on the challenge to take the largest handful possible. Not to brag, but my handful got a genuine “Sugoi!” from the waitress, so the weird claw hand was worth it.
The highlight of the place, however, is the free candy. There’s nothing like sweets to put you straight back in to childhood mode, and even if they aren’t your own childhood favorites, sweets are sweets (and adults are really children with unwanted responsibilities). You will have a small basket on your table and you can fill it up as often as you like, but you must finish everything you take. From cola bottles to chocolate to chips, there’s plenty to try here and all in small enough portions that it doesn’t matter if you’re not a fan.
There’s a real assortment of Umaibo, the round corn snack tube that is weirdly addictive and can be tried in pizza, corn potage and takoyaki, as well as regular onion chips. This is a great chance to get familiar with the sweets of Japan, and if you’re a teacher, it will be useful to get to know what your kids like too. (Although if you are a teacher, you may want to consider what you’re doing with your free time). The best things in life are free, but candy is not one of them, unfortunately. This is covered by the 500-yen seating charge per person, so keep that in mind when you get the bill.
The school vibes go beyond your food and environment, you’ll (possibly) be pleased to hear, with small touches to take you straight back to the good old days. One of these is a random class test you’ll be given, with multiple choice questions and no translation, so you better hope luck is on your side. Able to correctly guess one question and identify a metronome, we were given a respectable 40%—high scorers are given rewards and treats as well as the admiration of the surrounding tables. After dinner you can pose with the school bags and hats in the hall and generally enjoy being a kid, with crayons and games around the room too.
If you want to escape the pressures of the adult world for a night, experience Japanese elementary school or go back your simpler childhood days, then this is the place for you. There isn’t really any English however, so ideally take a Japanese speaking friend/date/stranger if you can (remember stranger danger though!). They have multiple locations across Japan, including Shinjuku, Shibuya, Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka.