To people in Tokyo, the beach usually refers to the Shonan area in Kanagawa a few minutes past Yokohama by train. That area has many hotspots for different things, but one spot that has it all is Chigasaki. You’ll find a lot of beach campers, wind surfers and traditional surfers in the area, and you’ll also find i don’t know coffee roaster.
It’s definitely a name that catches interest and invites one to say that despite the name they really know how to roast. During the weekdays they’re only roasting and there’s no option for coffee unless you brought a hand grinder and an aero press. But on the weekends you can try any of the recent, but not too recent, roasts in drip form or get a nice espresso. I’ll leave you to wonder which I chose.
The espresso is a bit dark which I’ve been noticing is a bit of a trend in Kanto’s third wave shops. This means that the espresso has a thick body and is very heavy on the salted caramel flavor. Beneath that, it is a bit dark chocolatey and tart.
Actually there’s quite a few, but the one I went to was a “cafe” in Asakusa.
The term cafe is a bit loose as there really isn’t anywhere to sit around and relax much, unless you want to be in a room where parakeets fly all over you, instead there’s more of a cute lineup of owls and related birds.
Basically, if you’ve ever wanted to pet an owl, or kestrel, or hawk they’ve got you covered.
The name of the cafe is 鳥のいるカフェ which more or less translates to “There’s Birds Here!”
Hiroshima’s a great city but not exactly the one you would think of for coffee, so it was a delightful surprise to find Coffee Obscura, a Hiroshima based roaster, at a coffee festival in Shibuya.
Yes, there are locations in Tokyo as well, but if you’re planning a trip to Hiroshima I’d consider waiting if only for the fact that you know you’ll have a great cafe in the city.
Despite the name and formal style, Obscura is quite experimental and in the heart of Japan’s third wave movement. The fact that their espresso when I went was a single origin Kenya is proof enough. The espresso had a medium body and was quite sweet and fruity. Somewhat surprisingly, there was no tartness and the fruity flavor notes were more in line with something crossed between peach and strawberry.
It’s a bit hard to find but quite centrally located. Being so close to the Atomic Bomb Dome it might give you the energy (and seratonin) needed for a long day at the Atomic Bomb Museum.
Himeji Castle really is the “best,” sure I prefer a place like Kochi Castle, where you can breathe and people who actually did things lived, but for anyone who just wants to see a castle, Himeji has you covered. I’m perfectly aware how ironic it is to brand myself as off the beaten path and sing the praises of the most popular spot, but it really does deserve its popularity.
Instead of the mark of a great historical event or the remnants of a great person, Himeji Castle is a story of perseverance, existing for over 400 years through multiple leaders who could have easily torn it down and surviving World War 2 bombings and the Hanshin Earthquake.
So why wouldn’t I just go the extra mile and metaphorically hold down Himeji Castle for sloppy make outs? Well there’s always a price to popularity and as the most visited castle in Japan, you better believe you’ll be stuck with some tourists.
It’s hard to really feel much of what makes something like Matsuyama Castle great because you’re almost never given any space for yourself. However the sheer size, preservation, and beauty of the castle make up for it. If that doesn’t work, you can always bring two awesome friends from Kansai along with you.
Curio showed us that Kanazawa’s got a bit of a special relationship with coffee. In fact, there are some special gimmicks mostly unique to Kanazawa such as coffee with gold flakes. Possibly more surprising is that there’s a coffee stand in the network of basements connected to the station. Well that’s not the surprising part, the surprising part is that it’s actually good!
It’s called Blue Monday, hence my tortured attempt at making a relevant yet interesting title. They offer what Japan still lacks a bit, good espresso.
The espresso is well balanced with a medium body, which means it’s hard to talk flavors. However it is slightly tart and earthy on top of everything.
Did I mention it’s about 3 minutes from the station?
You may have heard recently that everyone’s going to Kanazawa, especially now that the shinkansen line to the city was finished. Japanese people have been traveling there as an alternative traditional cultural spot for years, and now all you lucky people who qualify for a rail pass can do it too.
So what about Kanazawa gives it this title of being an alternative to Kyoto? It’s a cool place with some artisnal stores and cafes, but so is Kamakura. It has a nice modern art museum, but so does Aomori. It has a nice castle but so does almost every other city I’ve covered. They put gold flakes in coffee and on ice cream but why are you trying to eat gold?! It’s likely because it sports not only a historical tea house district but also a samurai district.
Higashichayagai is the name of the tea house district, where you can walk through alleys and feel like you’ve really went back in time until you hit a main street and run into 20 tourists taking selfies.
The name of the samurai district is Bukeyashiki, and is the only “samurai district” I’ve heard of in Japan. While there aren’t many places to go inside compared to Higashichayagai, it is one of the more worthwhile places to wander around in Japan.
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Seattle’s had it tough ever since grunge died haven’t they? Jumpstarting the second wave coffee movement that cemented so many bad business practices and mediocre coffee, the sight of Seattle Style Coffee doesn’t really evoke a good image, does it? However, that’s an image that can be easily shattered by a trip to Curio.
If Curio truly is Seattle style coffee, then sign me up. I found none of the negative things I would associate with such a label and instead found a cafe where the owner knew exactly what he wanted his espresso to taste like and went for it. I told the guy I was surprised, and the reason being is that nowadays having a Mazzer and La Marzocco doesn’t signify that the coffee will be great, it could just mean a cafe has money. So not only was I ready for the worst, but I was also not prepared to be smacked by the hand of deliciousness.
The espresso is essentially a blast of milk chocolate flavors accompanied with a bit of a brown sugar note as well. It’s a medium-heavy body with a nice silky mouthfeel. Sometimes when this part is short, it’s a good thing, this is one of those times.
Kanazawa actually has a pretty thriving coffee scene, but Curio is worth the visit and you have to choose. With Kanzawa being so condensed, and the cafe being so close to the centre of the city, there’s almost no excuse.
One of the most popular sites in Kobe city are the Iijinkan, in Kitano. Iijinkan are buildings that were built by the mostly European foreign residents of the early 1900s. It’s usually passed over by most American or European tourists who feel like it’s a waste to see the same style of building that they’re used to and I admit I didn’t go that deep for such a reason, but it’s hardly boring and gives you a good sense of what the city of Kobe is all about.
There are three main Iijinkan, even though there are quite possibly hundreds. These buildings are the Rhine House, Moegi House, and Weathercock House. The Weathercock house is arguably the largest and most popular. It was built by a trader living in Kobe named G. Thomas and designed by a German architect named G. de Lalande. I guess their mutual hatred for full first names starting with ‘G’ made them a perfect match. Unlike most buildings in Japan it has a brick exterior and gets its name from a rooster statue on top of its spire AND NOTHING ELSE.
The Moegi house is mint green, the same color I wanted for my first car when I was young. It was built by Hunter Sharp in 1903 who was the US General Consul, which I didn’t know we had. After that it became home to the former president of Kobe’s Electric Railway, Hideo Kobayashi in 1944.
Lastly is the Rhine house which was built in 1915 and handed down over generations until being opened to the public in 1976. It was damaged in the Hanshin Quake in 1995, which has also been called the Great Kobe Earthquake in English, but has been restored.
For me, the mixture of cultures proves to be almost more interesting than what’s is traditional and seeing this little europeanized neighborhood in the middle of Japan is quite interesting, but I guess if you’re only going for the full on traditional experience I can understand skipping it. However, if you’ve been in Japan for a while now, you may find just how interesting it is to see these types of places again.
Rhine house: Hours: 9-6. Closed the third thursday of June and February.
Moegi House: ¥650 combination ticket with Weathercock House. ¥350 just Moegi House. Hours: 9-6. Closed third wednesday and thursday in February.
Weathercock House: ¥500 without a combination ticket. Hours: 9-6. Closed The first tuesday and third thursday in June and February.
Ikea, industrial zones, and nature are hardly ever linked together (well the first two usually are) but in the mostly nondescript industrial zone of Tsudzuki-ku in Yokohama, you can see one of the best sakura paths in Japan before you go get your meatballs.
Sadly the season is just about over in the central Kanto area, meaning you can probably catch a few falling petals if you go to Tsudzuki, or it’s time to consider going to Tochigi or even Aizu.
The best part about this location in Tsudzuki is that it’s not nearly as crowded as other parts of Yokohama, which aren’t as crowded as most of Tokyo. Meaning you’ll actually have time to sit with friends and enjoy yourself instead of moving along a human conveyor belt.
Hood by Vargas is a third wave coffee shop located quite close to Umeda station in Osaka. The walk from Umeda station takes a few minutes but has the added benefit of getting you away from one of the cities’ busiest stations and giving you a quick look into Osaka life.
I’m not sure if it’s ironic or not, the owner of Hood by Vargas is a fan of Brooklyn Roasting Company which is largely taking the city’s coffee scene by storm. Perrying if you would.
It is quite likely that the reason for his honesty is that he’s skilled enough to hold his own against such a large brand. Hood by Vargas is, simply put, a great place to get hand drip coffee and as an added bonus is quite easy to reach if you’re just passing through the city.