Spring in Japan is marked by the cherry blossom, when pink clouds of the blooming flower paint on a canvas of clear blue sky. It's a time to celebrate the beautiful transience of life, which the locals often do at picnics in the park—known as hanami—under a gentle rain of falling petals. It's a time of smiles, banter, laughter, and drinks.
There's no shortage of places to enjoy the cherry blossoms in Tokyo, but my personal favorite is Inokashira Park. Just a short walk from Kichijoji Station, it's a good spot for watching families gathered on picnic blankets, couples paddling boats on the lake, street performers honing their craft, and artists quietly recording the moment in paint.
So with spring upon us, now marks a good chance to survey the Kichijoji area's coffee scene, where young, up-and-coming shops coexist with quieter, long-standing classics as well as artistic-leaning endeavors. There's creativity in this community—coffee is just another window through which to view it.
Light Up Coffee
Though you'll find a few coffee shops dotting the road along the Nakamichi shopping arcade (Coffee Sanpo is worth a peek for the roasting by the window), Light Up Coffee is where the good stuff is.
Owned by two young men who just want to make good coffee a regular part of everyday life, Light Up Coffee offers a quality selection of single-origin coffees, and regular events like cupping, brewing seminars, and roasting workshops. The experience here is one centered on fun, discovery, and education.
But you can read more about their goals and hopes right here.
Originally opened by a group of puppeteers in 1979, Kugutsusou is located down a steep set of stairs near the Sun Road shopping arcade. The dimly lit, cavelike interior is filled with old wooden tables and chairs, with a pocket of light and greenery standing out in the corner. Here you'll find a moment of respite, for young and old alike, and the atmosphere is a mix of jazz, quiet conversation, and the rhythmic scratch of pages turning.
The coffee, too, is unique—made from beans aged and dried over two years, given the French-roast treatment, and brewed by nel drip. The resulting cup is a far cry from the Third Wave sweeping the city—this is coffee in the deepest, darkest sense of the word.
At Kugutsusou, in a sense, you pay for time—time to think, work, relax, brew ideas, and discuss—and are rewarded with a very particular sense of timelessness. There’s an odd feeling down there that time slips a little, and that perhaps upon leaving, you’ll find yourself in a place different to the one that brought you there.
Blue Sky Coffee
Located in the heart of Inokashira Park, Blue Sky Coffee is built into a dilapidated old house renovated as a coffee kiosk. It's a simple, well-weathered spot that seems colored by the change in seasons—sleepy in winter, bright in spring, energetic in summer, and lazy in fall.
It exudes a friendly, relaxed vibe, where staff serve hot wine in the winter and coffee all the time. A cute little finger-puppet monkey in the change tray lends an air of eccentricity, highlighted by a “no photos” policy—note the signage saying, “Isn't it better to capture the moment in your heart?”
Beans here are roasted in a little room to the right of the counter space—with a shiny Probat that looks somehow out of place among the vintage wooden planks and the room's windows.
Tomunekogo is a strange, timeless place. Built into the first floor of an unassuming apartment building on the outskirts of Inokashira Park, the shop's narrow entranceway leads visitors into a dimly lit, subdued space of vintage chairs and tables lit by solitary lamps. Haunting piano, smooth jazz, and a bookshelf of Murakami, Joyce, Chandler, and Chekhov titles await those who visit for a respite with a dark cup of nel-drip coffee—the taste of shadowy ideas.
Like Blue Sky Coffee, Tomunekogo puts a ban on photography—and, all things considered, perhaps this is an experience best left to slowly warp in the mind anyway. Besides, photos simply can't capture the hushed sense of reflection that characterizes a visit to Tomunekogo.
Ryumon Coffee Stand
Ryumon Coffee Stand is a one-man coffee kiosk with a simple goal: to introduce the local community to the joy of single-origin coffee, one bean at a time. You see, Ryumon Coffee Stand serves one type of bean each week, cycling its selection on a regular basis so customers can taste something different with each visit.
You'll find Ryumon bridging the gap between city and residential areas, making it perfect for a moment of rest. It's a chance to relax on comfortable sofas with a cup of specialty coffee, and perhaps a slice of cake.
The gentle, cordial barista, Naoki Koizumi, is always happy to help customers understand his coffees better, and can also be relied on for a friendly ear when you feel like a chat.
Cafe Zenon is a well-liked manga/brunch/cafe mash-up, putting a focus on creativity, art, and the combination of the two in their latte drinks. A latte here might mean a cup with Totoro, Kiki's cat Jiji (from Kiki's Delivery Service), or perhaps a giraffe or bird, and sometimes the classic heart. It’s a fun, novel complement to the artwork that decorates the walls—sometimes local artists, sometimes popular manga art, all of it refreshing.
Lines can stretch down the street on weekends for brunch, so weekdays or late afternoons are recommended, when the crowds begin to fade and there's more time to soak everything in—from the chandeliers made of comic books to the silhouetted pillars and the towering statue of Hokuto No Ken.