Akihiro Kusumoto is a secret agent, he’s dating Angelina Jolie and he’s a weapons expert.

Actually none of that is true, but the proprietor of Ingochi, a Japanese izakaya located in Higashisonogi, about 40 minutes from Sasebo Naval Base, had me going for a second.

Kusumoto’s jokes, the exquisite Thai-Japanese fusion cuisine and the inclusive laid-back community coupled with a surfside decor have transformed what would have been just another Japanese pub into one of the best within driving distance of the base.

Once you walk into Ingochi, located near the Ryutosen waterfalls, you are instantly treated as family among the regulars — so don’t be surprised if you find yourself arm wrestling Kusumoto on the bar, drinking bourbon with some Japanese customers or as the butt of one of his many jokes.

“I was born having fun,” Kusumoto said this month. “The theme is having a good time.”

August marks Ingochi’s 10-year anniversary. Since 2003, Kusumoto has spent part of each year on a beach in Thailand, something so relaxing he calls it “essential for life.”

He has not only carried that Thai beach lifestyle over to the way he operates his business, but it also has molded and shaped the business, starting with the surfboards hanging from the ceiling and the bright, colorful neon beer lights that appear in every corner and instantly transport you.

If “Training Day” or another American film isn’t on the television above the bar, it’s a good bet that Kusumoto’s own footage of Thailand’s beaches will be. In addition, Kusumoto and his wife operate a store off the main building that sells Thai jewelry, handbags and other accessories.

A little bit of Thailand has even been introduced into his cooking.

Kusumoto makes spicy Thai noodles, yakisoba and three different kinds of spicy Thai curry with naan bread, all of which are out of this world.

It is authentic Thai cuisine, complete with the dull heat that builds and builds, forcing the customer to take refuge in a tall, frosty mug of draft beer.

Ingochi also features a wide variety of typical izakaya fare, from mouthwatering pizza to a refreshing crispy chicken salad to some of the best yakitori (meat on a stick) in the area. Kusumoto’s favorite dish is eggplant baked in a miso sauce.

Everything on the menu is reasonably priced from a couple of dollars to about $5 for the bigger items.

For those who like to walk on the wild side, specialties include whale skin, which is cooked, cooled and drizzled with lemon juice.

After dinner, the fun usually has only just begun at Ingochi. Customers can choose from more than 300 types of alcohol, from draft beer to Japanese strawberry liquor, that tower on shelves on the restaurant’s walls. The local nihonshu is delicious.

If you like good food, good drinks and good friends, Ingochi is the best izakaya around. That is a true story.

INGOCHIWhere: Higashisonogi, Japan

Phone: 0957-46-1623

Reservations: Available. Ingochi has private rooms for larger parties.

Cost: Most dishes are affordably priced from $1 to $6.

Directions: Take the highway from Main Base toward Huis Ten Bosch. Get off at the Huis Ten Bosch exit. Keep to the right after the toll booth. Continue straight for some time past Kawatana. Eventually, turn right onto Route 34 toward Omura. Ingochi will soon appear on your right just before a 7-Eleven. Look for a large lit billboard featuring Angelina Jolie.

Information (map included):

author picture
Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now