Tokyo cafe entrepreneurs bring more to the table

September 18th, 2010 by Sandra Barron

Sunday Issue

It’s a book corner, a lounge, a gallery: It’s the recently opened Sunday Issue

Would you like cinnamon, cocoa or a dusting of nail jewelry with your cappuccino? From innovative fitness classes to crossover art spaces, new Tokyo cafes are expanding the idea of what goes well with a cup of coffee.

Coffee shops with character have long been an institution in Japan, but  true cafe culture only started to take off about 10 years ago. While coffee chains are now as common as convenience stores and the  designer cafe boom  is still going strong, it appears that some café entrepreneurs are looking beyond java, jazz and scones and serving up some personality with a hobby or two on the side. And we’re not talking maid cafes and cat cafes.

Blurring the line between cafe and fitness center and between outdoors and in, “Wired Cafe <> FIT” opened this summer near Yoyogi Park. The gym part is an indoor/outdoor fitness center. Classes include jogging or Nordic walking in the park alone or in combination with stationary pursuits like yoga or tai-chi inside the studio. Online, their Twitter account and blog post updates (e.g. “Today’s running session is canceled due to bad weather” – bummer). They also have a streaming feed of the park to show the weather. Too hot? Too cold? Too… tired? Stop into the cafe in the same space instead and, you know, think about running. The cafe there offers dishes targeting those who try to stay healthy (dessert is zucchini bread) and, like all Wired Cafes, has wireless Internet access (despite the name).

For those who prefer to get their pulse rates up with more intellectual pursuits, Sunday Issue is a cafe/lounge/bar split into three spaces that merge into one another: a gallery, a book corner and a lounge bar. Gallery director Meg Ohta explains that the name and overall concept were inspired by the way a Sunday paper encourages readers to take the time to relax and spend time soaking in culture and the arts. The back room is a an eclectically curated collection of vintage books for sale or for browsing at the warmly lit table. The gallery space has rotating exhibits, both group and solo shows. The bar and cafe space at the front of the gallery is meant to encourage discussion through events like art talks and film screenings. And artists and authors who come in for events don’t just give talks, they take turns as guest bartenders. “People can talk to them directly over drinks,” Ohta explains. At an upcoming “Film Study Meeting,” the filmmaker-bartenders will hand out personalized movie recommendation cards free with a beverage. Sunday Issue is perched above fellow newcomer On The Corner, which draws the hungry Shibuya crowd with dishes like jambalaya and falafel and coffee by Bear Pond, a favorite among coffee connoisseurs.

Lavish, near Harajuku Station, is a colorful “self-nail” shop that “takes pride in being girly.” Patrons can decorate their own gel nails (under the watch of a supportive professional) at glass-covered shadow box tables while enjoying coffee and other drinks. Go easy on the joe, though – caffeine jitters do not a happy manicure make.

(Research assistance by Leena Salmela)

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