Just down the street that runs in front of Nakatsugawa station, at the very end of the second floor of a slightly run down 1970s designed building is a beautiful wooden door. It's the entrance to a little izakaya, Japanese pub, aptly named "Kakurega" or the Hidden House. Unlike regular izakaya in rural Japan where the interior is a little dingy and the normal clientele is made up of the same guys who have been visiting every night for years, Kakurega is a smoke-free, modern pub with international flair and Japanese country hospitality.
I went in and was immediately greeted not with a "Why is this guy here?" reaction but with a big "Hello, welcome" in English! At first I couldn't see who said it as the counter and kitchen is divided by a wall of sake and shochu bottles reflecting styles and flavors from across the nation. The master and his wife came out from behind and smiled while his wife showed us to a table.
I expected the same old types of food found in izakaya near stations, quick-simple Japanese regulars, but Kakurega is not the regular. We chose a course menu for ¥3000 and were presented with oven baked pizzas, a salad, roasted chicken, sweet potato fries, a green salad, a seafood salad, spring rolls filled with fresh local vegetables, avocado wrapped in Japanese prosciutto, desserts and a choice of two drinks from a 12-page drink menu.
While I chose a course left in the hands of the master, you can order dishes one by one from the menu. Kakurega offers a nice range of fusion dishes, salads, and traditional favorites so you can find something you really want. But with twenty plus sakes and shochus from around Japan, half a dozen import beers and liqueurs including Guinness (on tap), Corona, and even a unique pineapple beer from the Philippines, choosing what to drink is the real challenge. I spent a good ten minutes before deciding on a fantastically refreshing non-alcoholic pomegranate soda, which can be made alcoholic if you want, and then a fresh ginger soda (great if you have blocked sinuses).
With seating for about 30, on a Friday night Kakurega can fill up quickly. So it's best to make reservations or get there when they open at 6:00pm. After a long day of exploring the Tono region, hiking mount Ena or just stopping in Nakatsugwa for the night on a Nakasendo trek, Kakurega is a great place to relax, talk about the day and enjoy fantastic food and drink. It's good for all ages and all kinds of people.