Like a lot of Shinto shrines in Japan, Tokyo’s Kanda Shrine (also known as Kanda Myojin) has a street leading to its entrance lined with shops and restaurants waiting to serve pious pilgrims and secular sightseers alike. The most eye-catching is a quaint cafe on a corner right next to the shrine’s torii gate called Amanoya.
Amanoya specializes in amazake, a sweet, non-alcoholic version of sake that’s popular with kids and adults alike. The beverage is also purported to have various health benefits, but the irony is that Amanoya, which has been in business for 175 years, wasn’t founded out of a thirst for amazake, but a thirst for blood.
▼ Amanoya today
Amanoya means “Amano’s store,” and sure enough, the tale begins with a man named Shinsuke Amano. Shinsuke was a samurai who lived in Miyazu Province, present-day northern Kyoto Prefecture, during the mid-1800s, the latter part of the Edo period.
Shinsuke had a younger brother who was also a swordsman, and who moved to Edo (as Tokyo was called in those days) to enroll in a dojo and improve his skills with the blade. Unfortunately, those dreams of martial arts mastery were cut short when he was cut down by an assassin.
When word of the murder reached Shinsuke, he reacted as any loving older brother (who’s also a feudal-era warrior) would: by swearing vengeance. So it was off to Edo he went, to find his brother’s killer and give him a taste of steel.
But then things hit a snag. This was happening in 1846, so it wasn’t like Shinsuke had a photo of the killer to work off of, and it’s not even clear if he had any solid clue as to who the assassin was. What he did know, though, was that since Kanda Shrine was the biggest, most important shrine in Edo (it would be more than 70 years until Meiji Shrine was built), the street that lead to Kanda Shrine must be one of the busiest in the city.
Shinsuke decided to stake out a spot on the street and wait, figuring that if he waited long enough, his brother’s killer would pass by. This, though, again presented a problem. While Shinsuke had come to Edo to collect on a debt that would have to be paid in blood, he needed more conventional currency to cover his own economic needs, like food and lodging, during his quest for vengeance. So Shinsuke set up a shop and started selling amazake to passersby.
▼ A glass of Amanoya amazake (the shop also sells miso and natto)
With plenty of people on their way to or from Kanda Shrine, Shinsuke didn’t hurt for customers. He spent the days multitasking, scanning the crowds for his target while serving refreshments to customers, but then the days turned into weeks…then the weeks into months…and, finally, the months into years.
In time, Shinsuke became the owner of one of the most popular cafes in the city, even though originally it was just supposed to be a side hustle to cover the costs of his revenge. He never did find his brother’s killer, but he eventually found a wife and started a family, and ended up staying in Edo, running the cafe, for the rest of his life.
Amanoya is still called Amanoya today, and not just out of tradition either. The Amano family still owns it, with current owner Hiromitsu Amano running the place with his mother Sumiko and aunt Fumiko, while grooming his son Tasuke to one day take over as the seventh-generation owner.
In the end, Shinsuke’s brother’s death has gone unavenged. However, his tragic fate set in motion a chain of events that’s led to a beloved local landmark that’s been providing smiles and happy memories to travelers and families for almost two centuries, and hopefully that’s enough to help him rest in peace.
Amanoya / 天野屋
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Sotokanda 2-18-15
Related: Amanoya online store
Sources: Lifull Home’s Press via Twitter/@cheese_in_Nao via Hachima Kiko, Amanoya
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