Japan shisha inspiration: Interview with Takuten from Baan shisha lounge Asakusa

Hi Taku, my traditional question – when, how and why did you start your hookah business? Please tell your story

I first started smoking hookah during my university days, around 7 or 8 years ago. At that time, hookah was not yet widely popular in Japan, but I was invited by a university senior to try it.

・I found the experience enjoyable and I soon began exploring how to prepare it myself.

・At that time, hookah equipment was not yet widely available in Japan, so I was creating my own through trial and error. Realizing the limitations of experimenting on my own, I sought guidance from an individual who had been involved with hookah in Japan for many years and started learning about it.

・In fact, the cafe where I work is not my own, but is owned by the person I apprenticed myself to. I am merely a part-time worker, but I aspire to have my own shop someday.

I remember in 2022 how I’ve been surprised to know that we have a Japan team for the Mix and Story show, and your first video have impressed me a lot. How did you know about the hookah battle?

・I’ve known about the hookah battle for a long time through Instagram. Compared to the hookah culture in Japan at that time, the overseas hookah culture seemed much more advanced, and I dreamed of participating someday while browsing Instagram.

・However, as a university student at the time, I felt it was a significant challenge to travel to Europe, America, Russia, or Brazil.

・Currently, I’ve graduated from university and am continuing my studies in a doctoral program. Even now, as a graduate student, I don’t have the time to travel abroad, nor do I have the money for airfare.

・However, when I found out on Instagram that the hookah battle was being held online, I realized that I could participate without needing to travel abroad.

Please tell about your hookah lounge? When have you opened it? Where is it located? What can you tell about it? 

・The lounge where I work is called Baan Shisha. It’s located in Asakusa, a historic district in Tokyo.

・It was opened about 6 years ago. At the time of its opening, there weren’t many hookah lounges in Asakusa, but now the number has significantly increased.

・One of the defining features of Baan Shisha is the high level of skill possessed by the hookah staff working there. We create hookah experiences tailored to each customer. This involves not only finding the customer’s preferred flavors and creating superb mixes, but also adjusting the strength and volume of the smoke to suit the customer’s smoking style. I believe it’s a lounge where you can feel the meticulous attention to detail typical of the Japanese approach to hookah.

・On a personal note, I’ve published an e-book on how to prepare hookah with the aim of improving the hookah skill level in Japan. One day, I hope to publish it in English and share the Japanese dedication to hookah with people all over the world.

Which hookah models do you have in your lounge? Which tobacco brands do you have in menu? What is your bestsellers regarding the tobacco brands?

We have so many hookah models.

Khalil Maamoon

Yahia

Shisha bucks

Oduman

Old nights

Farida

Hoob hookah

Mig hookah

Fekolin hookah

Karma hookah

VZ hookah

Japona hookah

Police hookah

Starbuzz

Unknown wooden hookah from Iran

Which hookah models do you have in your lounge? Which tobacco brands do you have in menu? What is your bestsellers regarding the tobacco brands?

AL FAKHER

AL FAKHAMAH

Afzal

AL amasi

Azure

Starbuzz

Trifecta

Social smoke

Dojaz

Debaj

Nakhla

Bestsellers are I think al fakher

What is the price to smoke a hookah in your lounge?

One hookah is 2500 yen (about 17 dollars)

One person has to order one drink and drink price is about 500 yen

Share charge fee is 1000 yen

I think it’s normal price in Japan

I think you know that there are always 2 types of guests in hookah lounge:

A) Guest professional who know at least 2-3 tobacco name brands, and know what to smoke, and ask some specific brand to smoke

B) Guest not-professional, who do not know brands and ask just a flavor (like „Make me melon and mint mix“)

How many % of professional guests and % non-professional guest do you have? Does it change from year to year?

I don’t know the exact data, but from my experience of working in the shisha lounge for about six years, I would say it is about A: B = 3:7. Every year, there are more and more B’s who don’t know shisha, but I don’t think the ratio itself has changed because those who were B’s are becoming A’s as they go to the shisha lounge.

Do your guest mostly like to smoke solo-flavor shisha, or they like to smoke a mix from a shisha master?

In Japan, the overwhelming majority of customers smoke a mix. Also, lounges are actively trying to create blends. I do not have a clear answer to this trend, but it relates to Japan’s price of shisha flavors. Shisha flavors are more expensive in Japan than other countries, so if solo flavors are consumed more frequently, the flavors need to be replenished more often. Therefore, Japanese shisha lounges tend to make mixes to consume a full range of flavors and reduce the number of flavor replenishments. I believe the Japanese are very skilled at making mixes.

Do you use any Japan made hookah brands in your lounge? (like bowls / shishas e.t.c.) And if yes, can you show some pictures?

Unfortunately, there is not that much shisha equipment made in Japan, and all of the shisha pipes used in our lounge are imported from overseas. However, we do have one shisha bowl that was born in Japan.

(Shigaraki ware bowl) This bowl is based on Shigaraki ware, a traditional Japanese craft. I wish more products like this would be created in Japan.

Do you have any specific shisha- ceremonies in your lounge? Like when guest order a shisha, they will have some additional performance which gives aesthetic appearance

We do not have any particular plans to do so. However, we always want to create shisha that gives a special feeling. For example, when a customer from far away brought us tea as a souvenir, we made shisha by putting the tea in the shisha base. On hot summer days, we sometimes add ice. Such unique shisha is made on a whim, depending on the day.

I remember your speech which been made for the Darkside Inspiration contest during the Mix and Story HookahBattle Show 2023, where you should give an answer to the question „What is your inspiration to work in the hookah industry?“

I’ve been not a Jury member, but I believe that was the best inspiration story Ive ever heard. Can you please send me this text of your Darkside Inspiration?

Freedom – that’s the inspiration I get from smoking hookah. Hookah represents freedom to me, as I can mix any flavor I want in the bowl and use any juice in the bottle. I can even turn a hose into an ice hose. This freedom inspires my creativity.

The reason why I thought of the word FREEDOM when writing my speech comes from my experience working at a shisha lounge. At the shisha lounge, regardless of nationality or occupation, you can get along with people just because you like shisha. And the creativity that is stimulated when making shisha. I wrote this speech while thinking back on these experiences.

How do you make online marketing in Japan to attract more new guests to the lounge? I heard twitter is popular in Japan?

Yes, the popular SNSs are Twitter (X) and Instagram (inst page of Baan Shisha Lounge). Especially in Japan, Twitter is attracting more and more customers. This is because Japanese people like to use Twitter, and it is easy to exchange various information on Twitter.

Let me ask you some final question: in which future online or offline hookahbattle events do you plan to participate?

events.hookahbattle.com

In the current environment I can only participate in your conventions online. However, I am very much looking forward to participating offline one day, and I am very much looking forward to meeting you all there again.

P.S. Dont forget to visit HookahBattle profile of Taku and press + to his karma

P.S. Our interview  process with Taku took several months, during that period some updates happened: Taky resigned from BAANSHISHA and work as freelancer for various Shisha Lounges in Tokyo.

#afzal
#al fakhamah
#al fakher
#azure
#Darkside
#debaj
#Dozaj
#Farida
#Interview
#Japona hookah
#karma
#Khalil Maamoon
#lounge
#mig
#mix and story
#Nakhla
#oduman
#Shisha bucks
#Social Smoke
#Starbuzz
#trifecta
#vz
#Yahia

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