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.
The little bar/cafe on top of the tourist information building in front of the Kaminari temple gate is probably one of Asakusa’s best kept secrets hiding in plain sight. Surprisingly reasonably priced for such an epic location, you can do worse than ending up here if you are one of the millions of foreign tourists visiting Asakusa this year.
2013 saw a record high in the number of foreign tourists, probably helped more by the record low yen (thanks to Abenomics) than any number of “Cool Japan” tourism campaigns. These days of sharing, on social networks and websites (not to mention blogs!) require good Internet access though, and that can be both expensive and difficult to find here in Tokyo. There are plenty of spaces that offer free wireless Internet access but few that also offer the use of computers to actually access the Internet on. So in the service of the tourists that plan to visit Tokyo in 2014 I’d like to present one of my favorite Tokyo cafes that offers all the computers you need, Cafe Salvador right in the middle of Tokyo’s own Wall Street, Nakadori. The place, considering the location, is very reasonably priced and you couldn’t ask for better service. If you are in the area and need to rest your legs or update that blog, this is the place to visit!
It is located on Nakadori between Tokyo and Yurakucho station and apart from coffee, snacks and computers, there are also lot of magazines to chose from.
One of my favorite cafes in Tokyo right now is the Manseibashi Station cafe, called N3331, right on top of the old Manseibashi Station platform, between the present day Chuo Line tracks. The unwieldy name comes from the cafe being run in tandem with the closeby 3331 Art Chiyoda art center project in the converted building that used to house the Rensei Junior High. You can read my blogs about this project here and here.
Understandably, this cafe is popular both with older people revisiting their old station house, as well as young couples into a slightly more cultural cafe experience, as well as train maniacs and kids who get a thrill out of sitting next to the trains rushing past ever couple of minutes on both sides! The coveted table next to panorama window at the end is taken quickly and even though I rushed to be the first one through the doors at opening time I had to settle for a lesser table until the lucky couple who got it first left. Still, it doesn’t really matter because all the seats are good, as is the food, the soups, the coffee. Not the cheapest cafe in the city but not over expensive by any means.
Best part though is role reversal, usually I am in one of those orange trains zooming past looking out the window. At this cafe I can relax and enjoy seeing them from the other side! Just remember to turn of your flash if you take a photo – don’t want to accidentally blind one of the train drivers!