Cafe

Japan: Tokyo/ Omotesando/ Gluten-Free (Natural Cream Kitchen)

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If you have food allergies like I do, you know how daunting traveling may be, particularly when it comes to overseas travel.  But, a great man once uttered, “Nothing is impossible,” and indeed with growing food allergy awareness, traveling with food allergies is becoming much easier than it used to be.  The only caveat is that you must do your homework ahead of time, which many of us who have allergies are accustomed to doing anyway.

In this new blog post, my purpose is to introduce you to a wonderful little café located in Omotesando, which offers all natural, gluten-free items on their menu.

Natural Cream Kitchen opened in spring of 2015 and bills itself as an “additive free sweets café.” However, sweets are not the only things offered on their menu. Here you will find delicious items such as chicken and roast beef entrees, meatloaf, pasta, sandwiches, quiche and salads.  Their drinks menu includes soft drinks, herbal teas, beer and wine! They even have a brunch menu featuring oatmeal and omelets among other items!  Everything is prepared using natural ingredients, no sugar and no additives.  Their tarts, breads and cakes are created with rice flour and sweetened with amazake  (a traditional sweet, low- or non-alcohol Japanese drink made from fermented rice) and sugar beets. Their signature roll cakes come plain and in chocolate cake flavors and are available in sizes up to 50cm (19.6 in). For Christmas you can order the Christmas cake version. Oh, and did I mention their sweets sampler tower?

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You can choose to dine in the cozy café decked out in a bright and soothing décor or take your food out. There are large vases filled with white flowers, white washed tables and chairs, exposed white brick walls and a giant chandelier comprised of eating utensils.

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The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, able to answer any questions you may have regarding the menu (provided you speak Japanese.)  Even if you can’t speak Japanese, the menu has pictures of the items available so you can just point to what you would like to order.

Whether you have food allergies, are health conscious or just want to try delicious tasting foods, Natural Cream Kitchen should be on your list of places to visit when in Tokyo! The café is open Mon-Sat from 10AM-8PM, Sun & Holidays 9AM-8PM. It is easily accessible via the Meiji-Jingumae Station (Chiyoda, Fukutoshin Lines) or the Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda Lines).

 

Web page:                        https://naturalcreamkitchen.com/

Location:                           GYRE B1F 5-10-1 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001

JAPAN: Manga Cafes (Manga Kissa / マンガ喫茶 )

The term manga refers to a comic book/ cartooning style which was developed in Japan in the late 19th century.  It is an art form that is easily recognized around the world today where it has enjoyed an increasing trend in popularity. As a matter of fact, many young people outside of Japan have been introduced to Japan and Japanese culture through manga.

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Even with its increased popularity around the globe, nowhere is manga more popular than in the country where it originated. As a matter of fact, Japanese people of all ages read manga as the subject matter includes a broad assortment of genres ranging from action-adventure to sports and games. Today, manga represents a major part of the Japanese publishing industry with sales over $5.5 billion!  Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise that manga has contributed to another growing Japanese trend, the manga café.

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The manga café or manga kissaten (referred to as manga kissa by locals) is a type of café offering an extensive manga library.  Some cafes provide internet access, video games, TV, and snack and beverage vending machines as well. Patrons are typically charged by the amount of time they stay at the café.  Most cafés have pricing plans starting at ¥100 – ¥400 for the first 30 minutes with additional time charged in increments of ¥1 for each 10-15 minutes spent thereafter.

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The cafés offer two types of seating, private booths and open seating areas. The majority of these private booths are rather narrow with only enough space for a desk, chair/ reclining chair/ flatbed. There are some cafés which offer larger booths, big enough to accommodate two people.  Naturally, these tend to be more expensive to rent.

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Certain manga kissatens allow their patrons to stay overnight and have become a popular low budget accommodation option for many.   These cafes are open 24-hours and offer such amenities as showers, blankets, slippers, and free drinks for as little as ¥1,500 per night. Some even offer women-only sections.

To use the manga café you will need a photo ID or passport.  Most cafés require a membership, which you can readily obtain on the spot. You will be asked to choose your type of seating and time plan for your intended stay and given a receipt with your seating number printed on it. When it is time to leave, present your receipt at the check-in counter. You will be charged for your seating type, time spent at the café and any extra charges you may have incurred.

Manga kissatens can be found in most major cities all over Japan.  Many are located in multi-level buildings situated along the side streets near train stations. So the next time you travel to Japan, why not check into a manga kissaten and drift off into a world created by one of the popular Japanese manga artists like Hideaki Sorachi, Eiichiro Oda, or Akira Toriyama?

Japan: Tokyo/ Setagaya (Lupopo Cafe & Gallery)

The Setagaya ward in Tokyo has a reputation for being an upscale district and is home to the popular shopping district known as Sangenjaya. Here you will find a diverse gathering of affordable eating establishments, small boutiques and thrift stores selling everything from household items to clothing and just about everything in between. The area is easily accessible from Shibuya via the Tokyu Den-en-Toshi line, exit at Sangenjaya Station.

Just a short walk from Sangenjaya Station is a little café and gallery known as Lupopo. The shop is incredibly small but the Japanese are renowned for fully utilizing any space no matter how small.

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Upon entering the café you will notice a wall of wooden boxes containing tastefully displayed arts and crafts for sale. These items include jewelry, candles, stationary and small items created from felt. Certainly a great place to pick up that unique omiyage to bring to the folks at home. Overall the café offers a cozy, cottage-like atmosphere and depending on when you arrive, you could quite possibly have the café to yourself!

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The menu includes wonderful latte drinks, teas, lunch set items, salads, noodle dishes and desserts. You can also order a beer or a glass of wine for only ¥500. The latte drinks are served with a small container of brown sugar cubes and a little wooden spoon.

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On each table there is a small notebook and a container of various colored pens. Patrons to the café leave notes to the owners in these notebooks, messages like, “Thank you, the latte was oishii!”

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Maguro/ tuna salad

Maguro/ tuna salad

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Noodle dish

Noodle dish

So after browsing through the shops at Sangenjaya, won’t you take a moment to stop off at Lupopo Café & Gallery? You can just kick back and enjoy a nice cup of latte and browse the various wooden boxes and discover what they have to offer. The café is open from 11:30 AM until 7:30 PM. They are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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Address:          1 Chome-35-20 Sangenjaya, Setagaya, Tokyo

Web page:       http://lupopo.net/

Japan: Miyazaki (Heiwadai Park)

Located on the southeastern coast of Kyushu, Miyazaki City enjoys one of the warmest climates in Japan. The town is dotted with beaches, resorts and sports facilities and was considered a top honeymoon destination for Japanese couples until the 1980s. However, after the 1980s tourism in Miyazaki declined until a popular comedian named Higashikokubaru Hideo became the governor of Miyazaki Prefecture in 2007 and used his celebrity to draw attention to Miyazaki once again.

Today, one of the main attractions in Miyazaki is Heiwadai Park, situated just 30-minutes on foot from Miyazaki Shrine. Constructed in 1940, the park sits 200 feet above sea level and offers impressive views of the surrounding area. It draws many visitors for its wide lawns, immaculately kept flower beds and cool forest atmosphere. Within the park, standing at 121 feet high, is the park’s Peace Tower, the most recognizable symbol of Miyazaki. Constructed of stones gathered from all over Asia it was originally intended to be a symbol of Japanese imperialism. However, following the events of World War II, the tower became a monument for peace and a united world. On the front of the tower, you will find the phrase “Hakko Ichiu,” which means “United under one roof.”

At the far end of the park, you will find Haniwa Garden. The garden is famous for its collection of 400 replica haniwa (burial statues) depicting animals, warriors, boats and houses, all arranged around a walking path. During the Kofun period, more than 1,500 years ago, clay statues like these were placed on burial mounds as a tribute to the deceased.

If you get hungry after walking around or if you just want to relax, there is a rest area in the park with a souvenir/snack shop and an organic restaurant serving dishes prepared with healthy organic ingredients provided by Miyazaki’s local farmers. The snack shop offers light snacks, organic coffee, ice cream and cold drinks.

The ideal outing is to combine a trip to the park with a visit to the Miyazaki Shrine and the Prefectural Museum. Admission to the park is free. There are direct buses each hour departing from Miyazaki Station to Heiwadai Park.

Higashikokubaru Hideo

Higashikokubaru Hideo

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The Peace Tower featured on the back of early Japanese currency

The Peace Tower featured on the back of early Japanese currency

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Sizen

Sizen Organic Cafe

Address: 1-1-1 Tachibana-dōri Nishi, Miyazaki-shi, Miyazaki-ken

JAPAN: Tokyo Dome City – Moomin Bakery & Cafe

If you have children, you may already be familiar with the Moomins, the characters in a series of books and a comic strip by Finnish illustrator and writer, Tove Jansson. For the rest of us, the Moomins are a family of characters who resemble white hippopotamuses and live in a village called Moominvalley. There have been nine books in all released about the Moomins between 1945-1993, and the characters have been the subject of a TV series, films and even a theme park located in Naantali, Finland.

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But their popularity is not limited to Finland. Thanks to the anime TV series broadcast on the Fuji Television Network between 1969-1970, Japan is currently home to three Moomin cafes, 2 in Tokyo and 1 in Fukuoka (Canal City Hakata). One of these popular cafes is located in LaQua, a hot spring resort in Tokyo Dome City. Another café called the Moomin House Café opened up in the Tokyo Skytree on June 17, 2014. All cafes serve food, bakery items and desserts based on the Finnish characters.

The cafes are decorated with images of the Moomins and Moomin dolls are placed throughout. As a matter of fact, if you are dining alone, you can elect to have one of the Moomin plush dolls join you! This seems to be a growing trend in Japan these days as the number of people dining alone seems to be on the rise and restaurants are doing what they can to ease the stigma. If you are dining with a group, do not worry as you too can have a Moomin character seated at your table to share your meal with. There is a gift section which sells original Moomin merchandise as well therefore the cafes literally serve as a restaurant, bakery and gift shop in one.

There are three separate menus at the Moomin Bakery & Café. Patrons can make selections from a Lunch menu (from 11:00 AM – 2:30 PM), a Tea menu (from 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM) and a Dinner menu (from 5:00 PM – closing).

The café is only 3-minutes on foot from the Kourakuen Station on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line. The best time to visit the café is on weekday mornings as weekend tend to be quite busy.

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Tokyo Dome City

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Web page: www.benelic.com/moomin_cafe/tokyo_dome

Moomin House Café: Tokyo Dome City LaQua shop, 1-1-1 Kasuga, Bunkyo, Tokyo

Phone: +81 3 5842 6300

Nuigu

 

Japan: Ginza (Cafe de L’Ambre)

When I first started studying Japanese, one of the first words I was introduced to was “kissaten.” I was taught that a kissaten (きっさてん ) meant a tea/coffee shop and that there was a distinct difference between a café and a kissaten. In recent years, kissatens were deemed old fashioned and less popular as chain coffee shops such as Starbucks came into the picture. Today, Japan represents the second largest market for Starbucks as the kissaten owners struggle to keep their shops open.

But, if you want to take a trip back in time, there is a kissaten in Ginza which is just a few short minutes on foot from the Shinbashi station worth visiting.

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Cafe de L’Ambre is somewhat of a Tokyo legend, having been around since 1948 and still being operated by its 96-year-old owner. The interior has remained unchanged over the years and is rather charming compared to the stark minimalist décor of modern cafes. The large bar seems more suited for serving cocktails rather than coffee and don’t be surprised by the ancient ice box behind it. The sign outside the shop states “Coffee Only” and you will soon come to realize that this place serves coffee in any way imaginable. Whether you want your coffee straight, blended, hot, cold, mixed with liquer, in pudding or jellied, you can get it all here. The menu is in English so it is easy to navigate the many offerings. Although you cannot order a latte or an expresso here (those drinks are usually the signature offerings of the modern coffee shops) you can order a coffee with an egg yolk in it! Seriously!

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Café de L’Ambre specializes in beans of various ages and origin including coffee beans dating back to the 1950’s. There are close to 30 different single-origin varieties on the menu, including Colombian and Cuban beans from the 1970’s. The prices are “takai” (not cheap) as a cup may run anywhere from ¥ 700 to ¥800, but then again, this is no ordinary cup of coffee. The owner roasts the beans himself in small batches to maintain freshness, and each cup is methodically ground and brewed to order. The strength and size of the coffee can be customized, and every cup comes with a glass of water.

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Like many independent coffee shops, Café l’Ambre thrives on repeat customers and wrestler-turned-politician Antonio Inoki is among them. So leave your cell phones and laptops behind, forget about the free Wi-Fi and step into a kissaten with a friend and enjoy a nice, old-fashioned conversation with a friend over a nice cup of coffee. I guarantee that it will be an experience like no other.

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Café de L’Ambre is open from Monday- Saturday from noon to 10 PM and Sunday from noon to 7 PM.

Address: Ginza 8-10-15, Chuo Ward. 03.3571.1551

Japan: Tokyo (AKB48 Cafe and Shop -Akihabara)

Japan has an obsession with the “kawaii” (cute) culture and manufactures “idols” quicker than it does cars, electronics and anything else the country exports around the world! Japanese idols are comprised of pop singers, actors, models, etc. all with a “cute” face who are supposed to have the perfect public image and serve as good examples for young people.

Mention a popular idol group and AKB48 quickly comes to mind. AKB is short for Akihabara, the area where the group originated with its 48 members. The girls range in age from their early teens to their mid-twenties and were the creation of producer, Yasushi Akimoto who wanted to create a girl group that would have their own theater and give performances on a daily basis. Akimoto introduced the concept of “idols you can meet.” As of May 2014, the group consists of 140 members that are able to rotate performances and perform simultaneously in events at various locations.

Members of AKB48

Members of AKB48

AKB48 is one of the highest earning musical acts in Japan with record sales exceeding $226 million! With sales topping 30 million records, AKB48 fever in Japan continues to grow strong. Banking on the group’s popularity, the AKB48 Cafe & Shop opened in Akihabara, just outside the Electric Town exit of the JR Akihabra Station, on September, 2011. The café draws thousands of fans each day to pay homage to the super group.

AKB48 Cafe & Shop at Akihabara

AKB48 Cafe & Shop at Akihabara

The girls who work at the café wear the familiar AKB48 uniforms consisting of a vest and checkered skirt. The menu consists of such items as curry rice, pasta, omelet rice (omurice), and katsu dishes all said to be favorites of AKB48 members and capitalizing on the cuteness appeal. Large flat screen monitors placed strategically throughout the café play AKB videos looped over and over again. In the area of the café set up as the “theater” a 136 inch monitor allows fans to immerse themselves in the world of AKB48. The café also has a takeout window offering café menu items to go.

Cafe floorplan

Cafe floorplan

The cafe

The cafe

The cafe theater

The cafe theater

Menu

Menu

Select dishes

Select dishes

AK48-Cafe

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Meals are served with an AKB48 coaster

Meals are served with an AKB48 coaster

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There is a gift shop selling official AKB goods such key chains, cellphone straps, t-shirts, towels, stationary and the perennial favorite, the AKB48 Happy Pies.

Gift shop

Gift shop

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AKB48 Happy Pies

AKB48 Happy Pies

The café has been so popular that similar cafes were opened in Hakata, Fukuoka and Namba, Osaka.

The original Akihabara café is located at: 1-1 Kanda Hanaokacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. (Phone: 03-5297-4848)

The café hours are:

Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Friday & days before public holidays 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Saturday 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Sunday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Public holidays 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

The shop hours are:

Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Friday & days before public holidays 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Saturday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Sunday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Public holidays 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

 

Official web page: http://akb48cafeshops.com/akihabara/