Tokyo in the late 1960s was alive with coffee shops. Not charming little shops with outside tables and umbrellas like in Paris, but places of sanctuary. If you could find a table in one of those spots, it was yours. For the day.
Like jazz? Go to the coffee shop in Shinjuku. Classical music? Shibuya, next to the train station. There were coffee menus. The menu read like a wish list of places I’d like to visit: Colombia, Ethiopia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Sumatra, and Kona.
In the summer you order iced coffee. This was no ordinary coffee served with ice. This coffee was brewed cold, taking 24 hours to drip down many meters of long glass tubing. Served over ice, the coffee called for a bit of sugar syrup and fresh cream.
And then there was Vienna Coffee. Never tasted anything like it. Never since. I first tried Vienna Coffee (ウィーン コーヒー) at a little shop near the Ginza Station. The shop was decorated in wedding cake pink. Ruffles were the fabric of choice. The coffee shop didn’t play special music nor did it offer a long list of coffee beans, but it did have great coffee. Tokyo coffee shops did not have Italian espresso in 1968, but this coffee was from Vienna, Austria. It tasted smooth, not bitter and not burnt.
Odysseus fought the Sirens of the sea whose singing lured his sailors to a watery nirvana. My Siren was a hot cup of coffee served in a porcelain cup and her name was Vienna. You can’t find her in Vienna. Only in Tokyo in 1968.
How about coffee shops in the Nagoya area?
Last week I went to a coffee house hidden in the back hills of Tajimi: Akariya Coffee House. The design of the building looks similar to a traditional Japanese structure. Ten years ago, when an old Japanese farm house was torn down in Gifu, the owner of Akariya bought pieces of the structure: the dark red beams, the flooring and the wooden roof. Old Japan was built into the new building making the construction look a little like a Gassho-style farmhouse. Juxtaposed to the Japanese architecture, the furniture of the shop is Western: antique tables, chairs, side board and bar.
We sat next to a window looking out on the garden of the coffee house. A soft rain fell on the benches and umbrella. I felt ochitsuki (落ち着き). I love this word. It is the feeling of a perfect landing after a gymnast jumps, twirls, twist and then lands off the vault. The sudden peace after the screaming panic of a free fall.
And the iced coffee. Next to the environment, it is the iced coffee that is special.
Akariya Coffeehouse: tel. 0572-25-0515