The train rumbles by, heading toward Nakameguro station. It’s the Toyoko Line. The sound is comforting somehow, and Atsushi Sakao looks out the window for a moment, watching it. Perhaps he’s thinking about where it all started—the first Onibus cafe, which still sits by the train tracks near Okusawa Station.
That was some four years ago, and it’s been a whirlwind for the young coffee-shop owner and his friends at Onibus Coffee. From sleepy Okusawa to the bustling heart of Shibuya, to the caffeinated Ratio & C cycle shop, and now this: Onibus on the sleepy side of Nakameguro.
It’s a little like coming full circle.
Opened on the 21st of January, the new Onibus is something of a culmination of all that came before—with designs by Kazufumi Suzuki, who worked on About Life Coffee Brewers; tiles from Tokoname, who wanted to experiment and expand their work; and ceramics by Yumiko Iihoshi, specially made for the cafe. On the back wall, chalk art depicts the coffee process from bean to cup, as drawn by friend and local artist Chalk Boy.
“It all came together quite naturally,” Sakao says. “I’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of friends since we started.”
These collaborations mark Onibus as very much its own space, but they’re also part of a growing trend in Japanese coffee shops: high-quality coffee served with a pride and love for Japanese craftsmanship. Sakao himself sees it as the natural flow of coffee in Japan.
“The tastes [of coffee] will be the same, and deliciousness will become standard wherever you go. As we share and collaborate and develop, coffee worldwide will converge toward a [similar quality]. So we can define ourselves by how we serve our coffee, and the environment we create for customers to experience it.”
The new shop is a modest space, five minutes walk from Nakameguro Station. There’s a small park to its left, with trees that bloom with cherry blossoms in April, filling with children and families as the weather grows warmer. The benches and greenery outside the cafe make for a comfortable place to sit and watch coffee brewed on a V60, or roasted at the Diedrich inside.
Sakao says the need for another roasting space was the motivation behind the new opening. They’d found a spot in Okusawa they liked, but three days before they were set to commit to it, they found the Nakameguro spot, and simply couldn’t say no.
The charm they found within is why much of the place has remained unchanged. As we sit in the cafe space on the second floor, the window panes shake gently to the rumble of passing trains, and the timber slats across the ceiling lend the space a rustic charm. Green plants in coffee bags hang from the rafters, and coffee packages line the shelves on the wall—it’s subtle and relaxed, and perfect for a little quiet with coffee.
As for the next move, Sakao plans to make a few trips overseas this year, to visit farms and plantations. Increased roasting in Okusawa and Nakameguro means the immediate goal is to maintain high standards, and Onibus will be simply looking to share quality in as pure a way as possible.
“It’s not about creating our own [proprietary] taste,” he says, “but traceability, and sharing the most natural taste that exists in those ingredients—bringing out the best of what is already there.”
And as we sit watching the trains, imagining the cherry blossoms that will one day soon bloom outside, I think about Sakao’s words—about bringing out the best of what’s already there. It’s as necessary to the coffee as the setting in which it’s served: places that don’t force any certain kind of style, but rather find a harmony that matches the neighborhood—whether that be Okusawa, Shibuya, or Nakameguro—and bring out the best of it with the help of some quality coffee.
Photos by Benedict Terrell.