There was a light drizzle in the air as I made my way to Ampere Cafe. It was 6:45 on a Sunday morning, and a quiet rain fell upon the mostly empty streets of Shibuya. The cafe was down an alleyway, a warm glow of orange light against a backdrop of grey concrete.
I yawned. I couldn’t help wondering what I’d dragged myself out of bed for on an early Sunday morning.
Inside, Eito Ogura and Kazuo Shinbo were preparing coffee and eggs benedict for the sleepy people filtering into Ampere for a weekend breakfast—it's this food and drink pairing that sits at the heart of the once-a-month pop-up event called Asagohan, or translated to English, simply breakfast.
Ogura and Shinbo say they want to bring early morning coffee and breakfast culture to Tokyo, having discovered it on exchange study trips to Canada and Australia, where they first met. Upon returning to Tokyo, the two looked for a way to combine their interests—coffee and food—and realized that in their shared love of breakfast culture was an opportunity.
“For Japanese people,” Ogura says, “especially in Tokyo, most people wake up as late as possible, and head straight to work, often without eating breakfast. But when I worked early shifts at cafes in Australia, I noticed lots of people came in early, before work. It was a part of their lifestyle, and I really liked that.”
“I think both our lives changed by living overseas,” adds Shinbo. “We experienced new ways of life, and met people who were making a living doing what they wanted. I think we realized we wanted to do that, too.”
I chatted with a few other visitors at the event—Asagohan’s fourth, which featured Sangenjaya’s Coffee Wrights along with an eggs benedict of smoked salmon and sukiyaki brisket—who were a mixed group of baristas, shop employees, and cafe-hoppers. As we ate and drank, they told me that the getting up part was hard, but that having a kickstart to their Sunday was worth it.
“What we want to do,” says Ogura, “is help make morning culture a part of people’s lives here. If you wake up to a good breakfast, especially on the weekend, you have the whole rest of the day ahead of you. It’s a good feeling.”
“Yeah. I think sometimes Japanese people have a tendency to tilt the work-life balance too far towards work,” says Shinbo, who adds that he hopes his dishes help people enjoy their mornings a little more.
Ogura says that their first event—a pairing of avocado toast with Kumamoto’s AND Coffee Roasters—went much better than expected, and opened the door to collaborations with Glitch Coffee Roasters and Trunk Coffee for breakfast dishes like French toast and omelettes.
And while not having a dedicated space of their own yet sometimes makes preparations complicated for the pair, the flip side of setting up in brand new locations each month means making it easier for new people to attend, and giving regulars the chance to explore a new part of Tokyo on their days off.
And though Ogura and Shinbo talk of someday taking Asagohan to rural parts of Japan and setting up a dedicated restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for the time being they’re happy simply developing their Tokyo events and building a community of morning people to help spread the word about breakfast culture.
And this community is perhaps the best thing about the event outside of the food and drink itself; the Asagohan event feels unique for the way it brings people together and encourages them to talk. People sit wherever there is space, and because the meal and the coffee are always set, they make for an easy, gentle springboard into conversation with the people at your table.
And so, while I sat sipping at coffee and chatting with a Malaysian and a Taiwanese barista about weekend plans, I felt awake and pleasantly full of food; satisfied and surrounded in a warm buzz of conversation.
I felt like if this was what morning culture meant to Ogura and Shinbo, then I was starting to understand the appeal of getting up a little earlier on the weekends.
Photos courtesy of Kazu_Poon.