Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Japanese coffeehouse

I have encroached on the old folks coffeehouse.

The students have Excelsior and Doutour, the moms have Croco, the trendy crowd has Starbucks, the connoisseurs have Inoda and Ogawa.  But the older generation go to kissaten, independent coffeehouses like the Tea Room in Takatsukishi.  These are the ones I'm drawn to when looking for somewhere to sit with a cup of coffee, to read, to write, to think.  These places were all well ahead of the coffeehouse craze, most having been established in the 1960s and 70s.

They are always completely Western in style even if there is no English spoken.  They tend to be the color of old 35mm film, that sort of California gold.  There is lots of wood paneling and faux brick, recessed canister lighting, large indoor plants and aquatic-themed art.  The furniture is made of  leather gently worn or upholstery in bold prints.  There are large ashtrays and stainless-steel sugar bowls.  The soundtrack is FM radio from decades past, part easy-listening jazz, part European cafe instrumentals.  Unlike their contemporary counterparts, they are always full-service with gatefold menus and a proper oshibori (hot hand towel).

In New York or Los Angeles these coffeehouses would by now be overrun with hipsters ironically relishing the decidedly uncool ambiance.  In Japan no one finds them cool, and no one under 40 would be caught dead drinking coffee in such an establishment.  I like that.

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