Skip to main content

Coffee, Old Books, and Nationalism

Why, long time no see everyone! It has been a while since I've written. After my mom headed back to the US (just in time to join my brother and dad on the multi-day trip back to college) I returned back to the daily work grind and spent my next few off days taking care of "adult" business like paying bills and grocery shopping and binge watching Outlander online. 

I did write a cool travel article for Time Out Tokyo though which you can read, in a shameless plug, HERE!

However, at some point after returning to "normalcy" I had to have some proper fun again so today I went to Glitch Coffee & Roasters (hinthint expect to hear more about this later) and the surrounding Jinbocho area. 

Glitch Coffee & Roasters was low-key super cool. For [insert surprise reason here] I was able to talk with the shop's founder and current manager, Kiyokazu Suzuki, about his coffee policy and Glitch in general. He also ran a small coffee cupping for us: 

Cupping is basically the coffee equivalent of a wine tasting. Usually when you do a cupping you evaluate upwards of 10 types of coffee at a time, but for this mini-cupping we just did four: an Ethiopia Guji Gigesa, Kenya Karinga AA, Guatemala Las Lomas, and another coffee from the Alaka region of Ethiopia.

The cupping process itself is actually fairly simple:
1. First you sniff the dry grounds in order to get a sense of their aroma.
2. Then you pour hot water over the grounds and let it sit for about four minutes, scraping off the slight foam that develops over the top.
3. Then you take a spoonful of each coffee and slurp it so the coffee spreads over your tongue, hard palate, and soft palate and throughout your mouth, just like you are supposed to "swish and spit" when you taste wine.
4. Finally, you evaluate the coffee based on (traditionally) the Specialty Coffee Association of America's criteria. For those with interest here's a really detailed description from the SCAA's website.

Even for the inexperienced palate like mine it's ridiculous how much difference there is between the varieties of coffee. Suzuki described the Kenya AA coffee as tasting "like tomato juice" versus the Ethiopia Guji Gigesa that had a "strawberry" flavor and when you compare the two it's like night and day. The terroir of the coffee, the roasting process, and even the pour-over itself can all impact the flavor so there truly is infinite variation to be found in the world of coffee. It's just one of the reasons Japanese coffee culture has continued to intrigue me even after I've finished my thesis.

Here's my cup of coffee with a yummy almond croissant:

And here's Glitch's super snazzy, super shiny in-house roaster:

They also have a "share roaster" program where stores that don't have their own coffee roasters can come in to roast beans and experiment to develop their own skills and flavor profile, which I think is an amazing way to encourage up-and-coming stores and to bring coffee back from the coffee giants of Starbucks and Dotour and back into the hands of independent shops.

From Glitch I decided to wander around the Jinbocho area which is known for its hundreds of used bookstores. Some sell true rarities and antiques, some specialize in a certain topic or in foreign books, and some are just your "average" neighborhood bookstore:

As I was walking around Jinbocho, I realized that I was only a fifteen minute walk away from the arguably infamous Yasukuni Shrine. For those of you who don't know, Yasukuni Shrine is where all of Japan's war dead are commemorated and deified including some A-class war criminals from WW2. As such, every time there's an official visit to the shrine by the Prime Minister or the Emperor (or even when there isn't) there's often international outcry about Japan's war crimes and their lack of public, international repentance and apology.

Here's the main tori-i (shinto gate) leading up to the shrine:

Usually I quite like Shinto shrines. I find them peaceful, welcoming, and even a little bit feminine. Yasukuni Shrine was, however, more than a little unsettling. Much of it had to do with this main tori-i, I think. It's truly massive and rather than wood it's made of metal. The colossal size combined with the rust-stains reminded me of old blood. Likely it was my own imagination, but I felt a little weird shiver as I walked through and never really felt at home on the complex. I'm sure I'm just projecting onto the space, but I don't think I'll be returning anytime soon. No one else seemed to have any problems with it; on the contrary I saw lots of families with children going to pray so it must have just been me.

Here's one last look at the main shrine building with another (smaller) tori-i just before it.

Tomorrow I technically have work but it's a night shift (10p-7a) so I'll have to try and sleep during the afternoon before work (and, yes, I have the day after that off so I don't have to work 24 hours in a row, which is certainly illegal in any case). I've slowly been (truly) getting used to my job and can now do a variety of different things. I know it's long overdue but there will be a work-themed explanatory post upcoming, I promise! Until then, have a cup of coffee for me.


  1. I'm so intrigued by the coffee's popularity (and the detail of the interest) in Japan. I did take a look at your article in time out! Also love the "share roaster" idea... support small business! Sending overseas love to you xoxo!

    1. Delete "the" before "coffee" ??? xo


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Final Touring Excursions

Tomorrow is my last day. It felt strange to write that sentence, knowing that I've been gone six weeks, which feels like both no time at all but also forever. Even though this is my fifth time coming to Japan (and the fourth for an protracted trip), the coming-and-going is something I don't get used to. Just as I start getting over my "ugh, I just want to go home" hump and settling in, well, it actually IS time to go home.

What have I done the past few days?

Well, on Sunday my host family and I took a drive to Yamanashi prefecture (re: near Mount Fuji) to visit the Oshino Hakkai, the Eight Sacred Ponds of Oshino. According to the signage, when people used to hike up Mount Fuji for pilgrimages, they would purify themselves in the ponds before starting their journey. And having stuck my hand in an (acceptable) corner of the main pond, Wakuike, it was FREEZING. Some other ponds have specific purposes, however. One was for people who wanted a good marriage, for instance.

Cat Cafe

Today I went with my host brother to a cat cafe for "research". Yes it is a cafe and yes it has (canned) coffee, but also I really really really wanted to go to a cat cafe. By doing a little research, I found one off a convenient train station that not only didn't require a reservation in advance, but had free drinks and was actually significantly less expensive for more time than other cafes. On to Nyankoto!

For cat lovers, this is paradise:

This shop had fifteen cats, each with their own names and personality described in a photo book:

This cat's name is Kinta and he's a mix--though most of the cats there were breeds I was unfamiliar with and had fur of various kinks and degrees of fluffiness. 
They were all very social, active cats as well.

Kinta greeted my host brother by literally jumping on his back. 
The other cats often ran around chasing each other (one was a very energetic kitten, so he was always pouncing on the others) or flopping down to be pet in co…

Shibuya and Ebisu

The past few days I've been in the Shibuya and Ebisu areas (think: south-west side of Tokyo) to check out some of the up-and-coming cafes, as well as wander around the neighborhood. I've decided that wherever I go, I'm going to find something to do in addition to spending 3-5 hours in coffee shops--while the research and the people I meet are incredible I do regret that I don't get to spend as much time exploring the other aspects of Tokyo. 
Yesterday in Shibuya I checked out The Local Coffee Stand, Coffeehouse Nishiya, and The Theater Coffee. The Local is a pretty unassuming space, even though it is on a main street. It's goal is to be the sort of jumping-off point for people just getting in to specialty coffee: they showcase beans from local roaster and run a website called "Good Coffee" in both Japanese and English to help people find "that local spot" in a neighborhood near to them. I'm including a link to the site, HERE. CLICK THIS.