Tuesday, November 7, 2017
I first met Shibasaki Tomoka, the Akutagawa Prize-winning writer and our Japanese participant in the 2016 International Writing Program, in Tokyo a few months before she arrived. When we were deciding where in the metropolis to meet, I casually mentioned that I am a fan of retro Japanese coffee shops, and Tomoka replied that she is, too. Coffee culture has a long and proud history in Japan, and if you know where to look, you seldom have to go far to find coffee shops that play jazz or classical music, or that prepare rare, ancient beans using cloth filters or bubbling mad-scientist siphons or other systems not yet dreamed of (or perhaps long since forgotten) in Seattle or anywhere else in these United States. Like many scholars of Japanese culture, I pride myself on being a flâneur of Tokyo and urban Japan in general, with a detailed mental map of the landscape of its major cities, and in Tomoka, I found a kindred spirit. I thought I would propose a place, but Tomoka replied to my message with the name of an old coffee shop in Ueno that she likes. On the second floor of a building not far from the station, right there adjacent to the old black market on a street I have walked down maybe fifty times, is an elegant old coffee shop aglow with brass and steam. How could I have missed it?