Describe your childhood. “My parents are ceramic artists. They don’t just make plates but also wall art. I grew up on a mountainside in Nara, Japan, where they have a studio. They didn’t expect me to go into ceramics; they said I should do what I like. But the environment I grew up in forced me to think about art, creativity. I like drawing and thought about going to art school. I applied, but didn’t pass the exam. These days, when I think about new drinks, I like to draw them.

“At 18, I decided to go to culinary school because I like cooking. I went to the only culinary school in Nara. Then I went to work in a restaurant but quit soon after because it was much harder work than I expected; cooking for myself was not the same as cooking in a restaurant, and there is a hierarchy in the kitchen I found hard to accept. After that I did construction work for two years.”

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How did you get into bartending? “A former schoolmate had a bar and every day after work I worked there part time. That’s where I fell in love with cocktails – both drinking and making them. Then I heard about a famous bartender in Nara and I went to take a look. The bar is classic looking, the staff dress well, wearing neckties, and their hair is nicely styled. The cocktails were so good that I quit my construction job, bought nice clothes, dyed my hair – it was blond – back to black and politely approached the boss with a bow and asked if I could get a job at the bar.”

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Where do you get inspiration for your cocktails? “I never learned from cocktail books – I get ideas from cookbooks and art books. I try to be curious about different things. Every day I think about making the liquid version of a dish. I imagine what it would taste like and what the drink would look like, how to turn something solid into liquid. One of my creations was an egg-shaped cocktail, which refers to how human life originated from Africa, imagining footsteps on the desert. When I think about creating drinks, it’s like cooking, where I think about the flavour, texture, taste, balance.”

Tell us about winning the World Class Bartender of the Year in 2015. “Before the competition, I practised three hours before work and three hours after, and on my day off for 12 hours. I feel as an Asian I should practise a lot! I wasn’t there to win. My objective was to do everything 100 per cent and that was satisfying. My mind was blank when they announced I won. I was more concerned about having to speak English than winning! In Japanese cocktail competitions, you have to be so quiet – not even make a sound when you put down a glass on the counter, or spoon in a glass. But with the World Class competi­tion, you have to be very creative, and have to explain what you are doing and the idea behind your cocktail. I wanted to conquer my weakness of talking.”

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What’s the story behind your Lamp Bar, in Nara? “At first I thought of doing a whisky bar, and using the word ‘whisky’ in it. But then I also like antiques and lamps. And then I found some really nice lamps and decided to name the bar after those. I opened it five years ago and then moved locations two years ago. The first one had 12 seats, the second 30 seats. It’s classic-looking, but I put art on the walls to have stories. When I create cocktails, they each have a story, reflecting the bar interior. Inside there are lots of suitcases and trunks that cover one whole wall. If you pull one of them, it opens into a secret room that’s like a speakeasy. Inside is a counter covered in Italian leather that ages, like liquor does.”

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What’s the difference between bartending in Japan and internationally? “People outside of Japan expect Japanese things to be mini­malist. There are advantages and disadvan­tages to this. When you continue doing things in a minimalist way, like typical Japanese, you don’t evolve or change.”

What do you like to drink? “Gin and tonic, margaritas … everything!”