“Renoir” Ginza, The Most Luxurious Coffee Shop in Japan
All Coffee Lovers Treat Yourself to the Best Coffee in Japan
I remember walking into my first “Ginza Renoir” coffee shop (Kissaten in Japanese) in 1988 and wondering what the heck was going on!
First of all, I must admit I am a huge fan of “oshare” which is usually translated as “dressing up” or “dandy-ness”. I have a different view of the word “Oshare”, however, based on how it is used in real Japanese conversation. It seems to me to describe the very aesthetic of mature “cool” you feel while sipping a cool drink pool-side at the Halekulani Hotel in Hawaii or during afternoon tea at the Copley Plaza in Boston.
You know, that feeling of, “Wow, this is really, really swag!”.
Yeah, “Swag!” is the best way to describe the feeling I had when I walked into my first “Renoir” Kissaten.
From the low velvet cushion chairs, the impeccably clean marble-white table tops, sleek silver shine from the metallic ash trays (yes they were all smoker-friendly back in the day) to the professional look and manner of the wait staff…
Renoir reeked of bubble economy luxury and afforded me a taste of wealth as I sidled alongside well-dressed businessmen and high-heeled office ladies (OL) who puffed nonchalantly on cigarettes, nibbled on rich ice cocoa or mayonnaise laden egg sandwiches. I imagined their conversations about business success, management challenges, office love affairs and adventurous trips overseas.
Yes, this was a time when growth was dizzying and the layperson in Japan was experiencing wealth for the first time. Opulence was a fresh breath of air and a toasted, sandwich that cost 800 yen (approx. 8 USD) was within reach.
A symbol of Bubble times as well as Successful Evolution
Renoir was a symbol of having made the transition into “developed” and entering economically onto the same playing field as the West. Wow! What an interesting period in our fantastic, complicated, rich and inspiring Japanese modern history.
Renoir cafes still exist and still thrive. I wish I knew who ran the business because I would like to congratulate them on their ability to flexibly respond to a changing Japan where extended economic deflation since the early 90s, the international financial crisis of 2008 and the triple catastrophe of March 11, 2011 almost dampened business resolve and the motivation required to step into an upscale café.
My favorite Renoir across from the Minami (south) exit of Kannai station in Yokohama (on the Keihin Tohoku line, two stops from Yokohama station) mirrors other Renoirs in that it is on the second floor and occupies more space than you expect from the storefront.
To spot a Renoir, keep your eyes on the second floor area in buildings around a central (yet relatively small) train station. I have seen Renoir outside Akasaka Mitsuke station too. I wish I had a better map for you….but there are 34 Reniors in Shinjuku alone. Just keep your eyes open around the second floor of a busy station area.
Keeping with the changing requirements of their business clientele, Renoir staff wont stop you if you plug in your laptop using one of the outlets that happen to be around the floor. Most other locations I’ve found tend to hide or cover up their outlets to keep us electricity hounds from plugging in and juicing up, but Renoir seems to take it in stride and actually encourage extended seat-use whether it is to tap on your keyboard, read a paper or talkity talk talk. They even have newspapers available for your reading pleasure and my Renoir in Kannai has a copy machine to beat!
Above and beyond, the food is just as opulent and special as I remember it 27 years ago.
Voila, the special natural berry seasonal juice, the mayonnaise drenched egg sandwich, the thick and cheesy pizza toast, the perfectly smooth ice coffee in a high glass with the straw and sweet syrup, the hot Yuzu tea drink served in a lovely tall glass with silver glass holder….on and on, everything you try will be just enough to fill your tummy just perfectly. Yes, smaller portions, but high quality ingredients.
They have also separated smoking and non-smoking areas, so people who need that puff with their morning ice coffee in Summer have many comrades and will feel right at home. Since the cafes occupy the second floor and have been there for so long, they seem to have achieved locations with just a little bit more view than usual too.
So, yes, Renoir Ginza may have adjusted a bit to grow with the new needs of clientele, but, you can still enjoy a time-slip back to bubble times when you step through the door. Try to silently take in the feel of the place and enjoy an “oshare” moment echoing to a time just back around a corner of experience in the Japanese mind.
For other opinions about coffee shops in Japan, you might want to read the discussion at the Business in Japan group on linked in here http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Uniquely-Japanese-cafes-54168%2ES%2E5885062987194081282?view=&gid=54168&type=member&item=5885062987194081282
Former Deep Japan Writer