JUN’KISSA -a pure café with a nostalgic flair

Adictionary will tell you that the term jun’kissa— pure café—is used to describe traditional Japanese cafés that do not serve alcohol. It might add that these cafés saw an increase at the start of the Showa period (1926-1989.) But it probably won’t tell you that today the word more likely describes a café that still carries a vestige of that classic style. Why don’t you visit one of Kyoto’s atmospheric and long-loved jun’kissa to reflect on the history and café culture of Kyoto?


Illustration: Robin Hoshino

As the birthplace of green tea, you may think that everyone in Kyoto is a tea-drinker, but the truth is Kyoto is also a city of coffee lovers. The average coffee consumption is quite high compared to other parts of Japan, and it has a long history with cafés. At the close of the 19th century, Milk Halls offering western drinks were already well established. Then, at the beginning of the Taisho period (1912-1926,) they started offering alcohol and coffee, and having waitresses who serve it to the customers at their table.
After becoming a social gathering point for artists, scholars, and people of culture, before long, some of them began serving coffee and soft drinks without alcohol and became the pure cafés we still see today. In the current café market ruled by third-wave coffee straight from Seattle’s heyday, pure cafés, with their wood grain or red brick décor and full service, still have many a passionate fan and remain a firmly rooted part of Kyoto’s coffee culture.

THE UNIQUE COFFEE CULTURE OF JAPAN

PHOTOS TAKEN AT TOGENKYO (see below)

Dark roast, blend, siphon, creamer… For Robin, a true lover of specialty coffee, the coffee culture of Japan has been one surprise after another since her arrival. Compared to the use of single origin beans, which carefully consider the place of production and purchasing methods, and the light roasting that brings out the flavor of each individual bean that are both the norm in her native Ireland, Japan’s coffee culture is the polar opposite. As no amount of trickery can hide the quality of the beans with light roasting, Robin considered dark roasting unpleasant and casually assumed they must all be using terrible beans. However, after a few outings to some of Kyoto’s finer cafés, she came to realize that dark roasting could produce a uniquely clear and refined flavor with good quality beans. (But she still admits to preferring light roast coffee!)

Nonetheless, Robin still sees the value in visiting jun’kissa cafés today because they offer something more than just a place to drink coffee. She feels the extra factors—the atmosphere, the conversation— make for a unique experience that is increasingly difficult to find in Ireland. “What beans are they using, and what blend? These things are a form expression for the café and barista. And combined with the atmosphere that faithfully recreates the Europe of old, jun’kissa have a certain charm that you just cannot find anywhere else.” In Kyoto, recent years have seen more and more specialty coffee shops spring up, yet time seems to have stopped for jun’kissa. While both types have their own ideas and styles, there is no difference in their passion for pouring a good cup of coffee.

Robin Hoshino (星野ロビン)
http://www.hoshinorobin.com
A designer and illustrator born in Ireland. Living in Kyoto for over 4 years, after visiting to study Aikido. Involved in various events connecting food and culture, such as CRAFT TABLE, which she started at CAFÉ FROSCH NISHIJIN with owner Sumi Sanada to bring together specialty coffee and Kyoto artisans.

  • TOGENKYO
    TEL: 075-354-6866
    ADDRESS: 京都市上京区今出川通大宮上ル観世町127-1 / 127-1 Kanze-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto
    OPEN: 8am-1am (Food last order: 12am, Drink last order: 12:30pm)
    CLOSED: Open every day
    PRICE: from ¥450
    SMOKING: YesEnglish menu available
    Free Wi-Fi available

The information is current as of August 2018.

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