Tokyobling's Blog

The Oldest Cafe in Japan – Cafe Paulista

Posted in Places, Shops by tokyobling on March 4, 2015

Cafe culture started in Japan in 1911, when a few cafes opened up in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district. Of these the oldest still in operation is the Cafe Paulista (Paulista coming from Sao Paulo in Brazil), which opened in December 1911 operating under a peculiar 12 year contract of free shipments of coffee beans from the Brazilian government in order to spread coffee drinking in Japan. When the great earthquake of 1923 hit Tokyo and the destroyed the cafe at the same time as the free coffee agreement ended the management withdrew from the cafe business. It reopened in 1969 and moved to its present location on one of the main streets of Ginza in 1970. John Lennon and Yoko Ono both visited the cafe in 1969, according to legend. In 2003 there was a bit of flurry when records were discovered in Osaka City of a cafe having opened there in June 1911, but nothing remains of that cafe so even if Cafe Paulista wasn’t the first they certainly are the oldest.

Today the Cafe Paulista is stuck in a peculiar time warp as the building it is located in is quite new while the cafe seems not to have changed one bit since 1970, all the while they are promoting their 1911 heritage! When I visited I found the coffee to be good and the seats comfortable and I think I was lucky to get a seat at all.

Another interesting fact for fans of older literature is the word (verb) “Ginbura” (銀ブラ), which is a short combination of the two words Ginza and Brazil and came to mean “to go to a cafe”, similar as about 15 years ago the word “Sutabasuru” (スタバする) came to mean to go Starbucks. You will find the word Ginbura in books from the 1910s and 1920s. Or maybe not! See the comment section if you are a fan of etymology.

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