What does an alley taste like?

© Grigoris A. Miliaresis

My compatriots’ naiveté often surprises me as much as the Japanese’s does: like the latter, the former assume (although, admittedly, justifiably so because of their seniority and glorious past) that almost everything comes from them, was born in their land and remains its privilege, even in cases –and this is where naiveté kicks in- where the “idea” is so rudimentary that it is impossible for anyone to claim its exclusive authorship. One characteristic such case is meat that is grilled skewered on a piece of wood –what in Greece we call “souvlaki”: how could anyone believe that something that incredibly simple could have been devised by only one people? Still, both Greeks and Japanese do!

I am not a food historian so I won’t try to trace the origin of the particular preparation of meat; I imagine though that our ancestors came up with it a little after they discovered fire, when there weren’t yet neither Japanese nor Greeks. What I do know is that the Japanese’s imagination (or rather, the necessity that sparked it) has created countless variations of kushiyaki (串焼) i.e. “that which is grilled on a spit”, especially as applied to chicken, the omnipresent –particularly near train stations and in narrow alleys- “yakitori” (焼鳥), the most prevalent, cheap and tasty snack for a beer before returning home after twelve hours of work.

There isn’t any part of a chicken –from its breast to its skin or its joints- that isn’t available in the tiny yakitori-ya with the red lantern in the entrance, the grill taking only ten pieces per run and the cook standing next to it and cooking them patiently, rotating them just a few degrees each time. Just salted or flavored with the spice mixture shichimi togarashi (七味唐辛子) or the sweet “tare” (垂れ/) sauce, mixed with leek, mushrooms, green pepper, bacon, tofu,  garlic, onion, tomato or asparagus and accompanied by a beer or a whisky highball with lots of soda and the scent of the next being grilled blending with the cigarette smoke, the sound of sports news from the small TV set in the back of the shop and the laughter of the patrons sitting on its 5-10 stools, yakitori spell “Japanese alley” in the most delicious accent.

Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.


Γρηγόρης Μηλιαρέσης
Γρηγόρης Μηλιαρέσης
Δημοσιογράφος και μεταφραστής. Έχει συνεργαστεί με πλειάδα εφημερίδων, περιοδικών (τόσο του γενικού όσο και του ειδικού τύπου) και εκδοτικών οίκων και με ειδίκευση στο Ίντερνετ, τις πολεμικές τέχνες και την Ιαπωνία όπου και ζει τα τελευταία χρόνια. Από το 2012 μέχρι το 2016 έγραφε την εβδομαδιαία στήλη στο GreeceJapan.com "Γράμματα από έναν αιωρούμενο κόσμο" και το 2020 κυκλοφόρησε το ομότιτλο βιβλίο του. Περισσότερα στη συνέντευξη που είχε δώσει στο GreeceJapan.com.

Η αναδημοσίευση περιεχομένου του GreeceJapan.com (φωτογραφιών, κειμένου, γραφικών) δεν επιτρέπεται χωρίς την εκ των προτέρων έγγραφη άδεια του GreeceJapan.com



Normally, this letter should be written next week since its subject, the unofficial holiday called “shichi-go-san” (七五三) is supposed to be celebrated on November...

It’s not chocolate

One hundred letters about one hundred subjects and I still feel –without the least bit of exaggeration- that I have done a little more...

Fish in the wind

If girls have their special holiday, Hina Matsuri boys couldn’t lag behind. From mid-April, in verandas, rooftops and gardens of homes where little boys...

The hills aren’t alive

Those who know something about Tokyo and about my preference for the eastern wards, the old “shitamachi”, will probably not be surprised to hear...


Recently, Japanese media (and consequently, their international counterparts and the Internet) are once again at the subject of tattoos: because of a tattoo artist...


Symbols work in mysterious ways: a hundred different people might witness the same scene but each one of them will notice a different detail...


Like the manga about which I wrote a while back sake –as is its international name since the word used in Japan is “nihonshu”/日本酒...

A piece of fabric

Paraphrasing the American idiom, how old is a piece of plain weave cotton fabric –sized 3 by 1 feet? Some say it was already...