Along the road that runs beneath the expressway by Sakurajōsui Station, there sits an eclectic mix of neighborhood shops—there’s the antique shop for ikebana and tea ceremony enthusiasts, the old barber shop in an aging wooden house, the traditional okashiya sweets shop, and an eccentric collection of Americana diner goods. Nobody stops to look at these on their walks along the street—perhaps they’re simply part of the scenery now—and yet everyone takes a moment to regard the little wooden storefront that just opened; the one that goes by the name Megane Coffee.
Inside, Megane Coffee is a long counter and an open kitchen against walls of blue and white. A few tables and chairs fill the open spaces—the types of tables and chairs that fill public schools countrywide. There’s something familiar about them—they give the place a touch of cute nostalgia.
I take a seat at the counter, and look at the small clipboard menu. It’s only two pages—there’s French press coffee, espresso drinks, a ham sandwich, and chocolate mousse. I order a hot coffee and a ham sandwich, and ask how owner-barista Wataru Takehi got himself mixed up in all of this coffee business.
He tells me he’s been in coffee some fifteen years, but didn’t discover specialty coffee until around 2006. He got lost in the variations and complexities of it all, then spent a year studying confectionary in Osaka, and somewhere along the way connected with Masahiro Onishi. The two eventually opened Switch Coffee, which supplies the coffee Takehi serves at Megane Coffee now.
“Coffee is changing with the generations,” he says, “the quality is rising, flavor profiles are expanding, there’s growing variety in brew methods; I find that interesting. I like working with coffee because there’s always something to discover. Sharing that with customers, little by little, is fun.”
The ham sandwich arrives neatly cut in half, on a white plate with a small slice of cucumber on the side. It’s a cute piece of work—simple, soft, and subtle. Takehi bakes the bread each morning, and ages the ham himself. It’s the kind of approach that brings to mind the kissaten, with a modern twist—it’s the comfort and simplicity of the old world, mixed with contemporary design and a fresh approach to coffee.
When I mention it, Takehi says, “I’m not a coffee stand, and I’m not a beans shop either. So a cafe felt like the right concept—light food complimenting good coffee. But the image of the kissaten is still associated with dark roast. In that sense, my shop is about taking the comfort of the kissaten and adding specialty coffee.”
A young woman enters and takes a seat by the window. She orders a cafe latte, and quickly settles into a novel she takes from her bag. When Takehi comes back to the counter, he adds thoughtfully, “The old coffee stores are starting to dwindle in number, but Japanese people like cafes. They like the space and the experience. I think it’s a tradition worth keeping.”
I think about the young girl by the window, lost in the pages of her book, quietly sipping at her latte. I think about the empty plate that held my ham sandwich, and the glass cup of Guatemala El Socorro coffee, and the carefree mix of pop and jazz filling the cafe. For one of us, quiet; for the other, conversation. It’s nice to know there is space here for both.
Takehi says opening his own cafe wasn’t something he’d been planning since the beginning. He thinks about it, mulls it over, and says, “It just kind of happened.”
But given a little more time to think, he says, “I think it was the right time for it. Coffee people, I think, when they get older, they want to share coffee. I’m no different. I opened up here because specialty coffee isn’t very well known. I want to do my part to help spread it.”
There’s a kind of whimsy to the way he talks about it, a nonchalance mixed with enthusiasm and passion. I wonder if it had any influence on the name and logo—”megane” in Japanese means “glasses”—or whether it’s simply a play on the fact that he wears glasses himself. Takehi says he came up with the logo last year, just playing around, and didn’t think he’d use it. But with preparations in full swing and the opening on the horizon, the old design was there, and somehow it felt right.
He laughs about it, and adds, “But also it’s simple, catchy, and cute. I don’t intend to use the name as a brand, and I don’t expect to grow into a chain or anything. The name fits—whether it’s for locals that want a coffee, or cafe-hoppers, or coffee lovers; it’s surprisingly easy to remember.”
And somehow this feels telling—the idea that Takehi just wants to run a simple cafe to share good coffee with the local community. It’s charming, somehow—like the school desks, the lineup of coffee cups at the end of the counter, the metal ice cream cone holders, and the slightly awkward hang of the last “e” of the “coffee” sign that decorates the back wall.
“The menu here will change with the way I feel,” says Takehi. “In winter, you get cravings for hot soup, things like that. I’m not tied to anything or anybody here, so I can change the menu when I want to. By blending my hobbies with my work, it’s something I can picture myself doing until I get old—providing light foods for people as an entry way to the coffee I enjoy.”
And I find myself hoping that the new shop is the start of something exactly like that. Perhaps in the months, years, and decades to come, people might talk about that glasses cafe with the ham sandwich the owner has been making for years, where he bakes his own bread and ages his own ham. I hope that they’ll giggle at the school chairs and the school desks, and meet a friendly smile from the owner behind the counter—perhaps a little aged behind an iconic pair of glasses, but just as warm as the day he first opened the shop.