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Kissaten: Lovely Retro Coffee Shops

Enjoy good coffee and quirky old-fashioned interiors

Kissaten 喫茶店 is one of the words that appear in the early chapters of Japanese text books. Kissaten are coffee shops, but not of the chain variety. Most of these coffee shops are delightfully retro, unique, and atmospheric. A kissaten is the perfect place for taking a break from everyday busy time or to escape to on a rainy day.

You can find these small hideaways near train stations, in shotengai shopping streets, and sometimes out in quiet residential areas. Watch out for 喫茶 (kissa) or 喫茶店 (kissaten) signs and showcases like the one in the picture above. Many of these shops have dark wooden windows or doors and old-fashioned lamps. Kissaten names are often words and places that sound exotic by Japanese standards. In Tokyo Asakusa I see quite a lot of these small cafes, for example the Amour, Joy, Danke, Sao Paulo, and Brazil.

On the inside kissaten are often a curious mix of stylized old Japan and old Europe. Depending on the interests of the owner, the decoration might include antique clocks, old phones, or black and white photos. Sometimes these are collections. I have seen vinyl Jazz collections, Japanese festival matsuri posters, and wrestling memorabilia. You might also find shelves full of books and magazines that you can read. And at least one kissaten in Asakusa has live piano music where you can sing along like karaoke.

A kissaten is a slow place for time spent chatting or reading. Coffee is usually around ¥500 and some coffee shops make it very carefully, even roasting the coffee beans. Along with the coffee or tea you can enjoy sweets or snacks, ranging from ice cream, cinnamon toast, and coffee jelly with cream to curry rice, butter toast, and sandwiches.

Have fun exploring the slow world of the kissaten in Japan.

by David

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