A solid stone separates the kitchen from the dining area

Cafe Kokoro in Saijo

Healthy 'Zen' dining near Saijo Station

By Bret de Colebi, Ehime, May 2013
A solid stone separates the kitchen from the dining area A solid stone separates the kitchen from the dining area

Often in Japan it can be hard to find a healthy lunch option, what with the fried chicken, fatty cuts of beef or pork, katsu, mayonnaise, or lard-filled breads that fill up lunch menus. Aside from soba, udon, or other such things, a healthy way to fill your belly is hard to find. Luckily there is Kokoro, a more Zen dining experience.

The first time I tried to go to Kokoro, it was closed for a week long holiday. When I came in on a later date, the owner informed me that she had been in the mountains of Kyoto meditating for a week. This isn't exactly the kind reason one would expect to hear! Suddenly, at that point, the stylings of the restaurant made sense. Small bonsai, miniature Zen gardens, and aesthetically placed rocks abound. The kitchen is separated from the dining area by one gigantic stone, creating a beautifully asymmetrical barrier between them. It's not just the décor that resonates with the Zen spirit, but also the food itself. The food uses as much vegetables as possible, and if meat is included it's often sparse or mixed with tofu. The rice, often not plain white, is also a little light. This, the owner says, also reflects her Zen background. The devout monk would not eat any meat at all, only vegetables, but of course she isn't that strict! The result of this style of cuisine is a meal extremely low in fats, and full of nutritious ingredients.

The drink menu is also quite healthy. About a dozen options of tea are available, including many caffeine free varieties. Yuzu, kelp, wheat, maccha, and more can be found.

The one downside to Cafe Kokoro is that it's quite popular. It has been around for a while and it's a favorite of many. They often sell out of their lunch sets quite early, but there are still plenty of meal options as well. The closing time varies — if customers are around they always stay open late. For visitors, it's very convenient being just down the street from the station, near the library and a public Uchinuki artesian well. The inside has a great 'old Japan' atmosphere that foreigners would likely prefer to cookie-cutter fast food chains.

If you don't feel like sitting down, there's also a take-home window where they sell takoyaki! You'll be happy you took the time to stop by Cafe Kokoro!

Bret de Colebi
Written by Bret de Colebi
Contributor, Ehime
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