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Lunch at Akarenga Kohikan

The Red Brick Coffee House

Walk up Ropeway Dori a short distance and on the right you’ll find a distinctive little brick house sandwiched between blank concrete walls. This is the Akarenga Kohikan—the Red Brick Coffee House. It’s rather mysterious in that it looks both old and new at the same time. Unlike the other shops and restaurants on Ropeway Dori, it’s set back at angle from the street, with a little paved courtyard in front.

I’m not a big frequenter of coffee shops, but one day, curiosity got the better of me and I opened the door for a peek inside. The door by the way is one of the many that have somehow made their way from England to Japan—a thing of beauty, with stained glass, inviting and yet discreetly opaque.

Inside, the Kohikan is surprisingly spacious for such an apparently small building. It’s full of exquisite antiques, from the chairs and tables, to the phones, clocks and carved wooden advertisements adorning the walls. Apart from some sturdy Western church chairs, most of the antiques are distinctively Japanese.

The Kohikan has a fairly standard coffeeshop menu. I chose the tonkatsu teishoku—the pork cutlet lunch with a little salad, miso soup and a bowl of rice. It arrived promptly and was very good. The pork was banded with fat, but was nevertheless soft and tasty. It was served with lashings of a sauce I’ve never had before and a dab of fierce mustard, which made a very pleasing combination.

I couldn’t resist walking around and looking at each item on the wall, which I noticed has little labels in Japanese with a snippet of information. The mama of the establishment soon came over and began supplementing the notices with much interesting detail. I learned that the building itself was only twelve years old—her husband had made a study of Taisho period architecture, the early years of last century, and had the place built to house their collection of Meiji and Taisho antiques. When I puzzled over an advertisement showing a cat, she told me I must read the copy from right to left which was the norm before WWII—apparently the marvelously efficacious rat poison on offer relieved customers of the need to keep a cat. Also, the Kohikan is popular with foreign visitors to Ropeway Dori, and I was but the latest of many before. The background music was jazz— LPs on what appeared to be a player from the 70s.

My only grumble with the Kohikan is the cigarette smoke. Most of the other customers were producing large plumes of it while they drank their coffee, and when I left, I could smell it on my clothes. If that doesn’t bother you, then the Kohikan is a most agreeable stop on a wonderful street.

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