Mama-san’s History｜Establishment 2: Mieko Negoro, Yuimaru Chura in Miyoshi City, Tokushima Prefecture, vol. 2
As the town grows darker, the snack bar signs start lighting up. If snack bars are counted by their ratio to the population, then the town of Ikeda is one of Japan’s most prominent snack bar towns. The landscape of lined-up snack bars reminds me of the prosperity of the town, which used to be filled with drunken patrons and was originally home to a JT (Japan Tobacco Inc.) factory.
Each of the plentiful snack bars in Ikeda are unique, and each have their own charming mama-san, or proprietress. For the next articles, I would like to write down the histories of the mama-san, focusing on stories heard with a highball in one hand.
Almost an hour has passed since I started drinking at Yuimaru Chura, and I’m feeling just the right amount of tipsiness from the highballs. The patrons next to me have started singing karaoke, and I’m enjoying listening along. As for Mieko Negoro’s story, what she did prior to becoming a mama-san follows below…
Negoro reminisces. “At the beginning, I ran a boutique here in Ikeda. No matter the era, even women in the countryside want to look stylish, right? After that I also started a networking business, and from around the age of thirty, I spent about 15 to 16 years crisscrossing across Japan by car.”
After that, Negoro thought about jobs she could do that didn’t require driving, and it was after the age of fifty that she started a snack bar. Sadly, it seems she couldn’t partake in drinking alcohol in those days.
“Even though I couldn’t drink, I got along okay. For two years after opening, I didn’t take a break. It was an early night if the shop closed at two to three in the morning; a late finish could be at four or five. It was really tough,” Negoro admitted. “But thankfully, in those two years I had customers coming in every single night. Isn’t that great?”
Aside from Snack Yui, the first snack bar she opened, Negoro is also currently operating two other bars, including Snack Umi (umi is Japanese for ‘sea’).
“In the past, we had all sorts of customers. There were some that visited every day, and others that left without paying their tab. However, …” Negoro pauses.
“The customer should be made to feel good while they drink and happy when they are sent home. That’s all.”
“That’s precisely why I have to have pride in my work. I think the prices are good, too. I don’t want people to think, ‘jeez, I got scammed at an Ikeda snack bar,’” she adds.
Negoro also has a good handle on golf, which is a required subject for snack bar mama-san, and she has held up to 30 competitions. Incidentally, the golf competition after parties are held at Yuimaru Chura, and Negoro prepares lots of gifts for the patrons. However, these gifts are handed out based on a lottery and are unrelated to the golf scores. Moreover, Negoro goes out of her way to consider her customers and their families after they get home, trying to select items that will please the golfers’ wives as much as possible. She recognizes that at weekends, the husbands head to golf, leaving their wives alone at home.
It seems that Negoro is also currently involved in the supplements business, and this is also because she wants to make many people happy. Thinking back, all Negoro’s jobs—from the boutique, to networking business and snack bars—are for making anyone and everyone feel good. That feeling must be strong within Mieko Negoro’s core.
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to drag on forever, and there are probably a lot of times where it makes you feel down. If so, I recommend you come and enjoy the cheer that is found at Yuimaru Chura.
(Interview and article: Tatsuya Ogake)