Friday, January 30, 2009

Sunakku Mamas

(Image borrowed from littlemore chika website)

From The Daily Yomiuri Online, 1/30/09:

Sunakku, or snack bars, may be an institution peculiar to Japan. The bars, which can be found in any town--large or small--are run in a rather obscure way compared to more fancy hostess clubs, and they are usually presided over by female managers called mama.

Sunakku can be mysterious places, not only for non-Japanese people but also for Japanese non-sunakku frequenters, as the charm of such a bar is not easily visible. The interior is usually hidden behind a closed, windowless door.

But the photographs of 177 sunakku mamas taken by Naoko Yamada at 164 locations around the nation show that the mamas themselves are the main feature of the cozy bars, as they draw customers with their combination of manly and womanly characteristics.

"As I started to work at a snack bar myself about 10 years ago, I noticed the bar revolves around the mama, or the mama is the draw of the place. I found they are real 'career women,' who can handle customers and various matters, including drinking-related troubles, with masculine determination and womanly care," Yamada told The Daily Yomiuri, while leafing through Sunakku, her debut photo book published by Little More Co.

"While working at a snack bar in addition to my work as a photographer, I began to hope to meet mamas around the nation and take their pictures. So I set off to capture them with my camera, traveling throughout the Japanese archipelago," Yamada said.

Yamada said simply visiting a snack bar and asking for cooperation usually wasn't enough to get her request for a photo shoot accepted. She said she was able to take her pictures thanks to the kindness of many mamas and their customers who were helpful in finding her photographic subjects.

(Image borrowed from colette)

"Sunakku: Yamada Naoko Shashin-ten" will run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 18 at Little More Chika in Harajuku, Tokyo. 12 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed on Mondays. Admission: 200 yen. For more information, call (03) 3401-1042 or visit

Read the whole story "Sunakku 'mamas' rule the roost"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am an American businesswoman with 25+ years of experience and now taking a creative writing class, esp. devoted to traveling. This article hit home on my visits to Japan (during the time I lived in Hong Kong for 10 years in the 80's). My Japanese businessmen colleagues didn't know quite what to do with me so they would bring me to sunakkus; often the women were more interested in talking to me than the Japanese men! But I realize they were "working women" and "career women" too. Thanks for the insight & memories!
Nancy - St Paul MN