Walking around Tokyo can sap your energy. Finding a place to rest can also be a challenge. Fortunately, Tokyo is home to many great cafes, kissa, and junkissa where you can kick up your feet, enjoy a beverage, and even sometimes grab a full meal. Here are a few of our favorites, as well as a rundown on which type of shop sells what.
What’s the difference between a cafe, kissa, and junkissa?
First, let’s clear up some confusing terminology. You may hear different places referred to as “cafes”, “kissas”, or “junkissas.” However, it may seem at first blush that they all sell a variation on the same sort of product. So what’s the difference?
Japanese cafe chain Holly’s Cafe gives a decent breakdown. “Cafe” evokes a modern image – i.e., it’s more what you’d think of as a cafe or coffee house in the West.
By contrast, kissa and junkissa both evoke images of an older (Japan Taisho or Showa era) atmosphere. In other words, they’re “retro” cafes.
For the cafes etc. that serve food, you’ll find some that only serve toast, reheated pastries, desserts, and other light snacks. Drink-wise, coffee and tea are a staple of every store. Many junkissa, on top of serving coffee and tea, will also offer dessert-like drinks such as melon cream soda.
Stores that do full food service mostly serve some form of yoshoku (洋食), or Japanese take on Western food, such as Doria and Naporitan. Dessert-wise, many shops offer different sorts of Western-style cakes, such as chocolate ganache, cheesecake, apple pie, and the ubiquitous French import mont blanc (vermicelli-styled swirls of chestnut puree).
Kissa vs. junkissa
So how do kissa differ from junkissa? Well, there’s some interesting history there.
Kissa first took off in popularity in the Taisho era, when coffee took off in popularity. Some kissa, which were mostly staffed by women, ended up serving alcohol at night, as well as…well, um, other services. The appellation junkissa (純喫茶, with jun meaning “pure” or “simple”) arose to distinguish actual coffee shops from these more adventurous establishments.
It gets even more confusing…
Technically, there are differences in what these businesses are permitted to do vis a vis their business licenses. A cafe can serve coffee and tea but can also run full food service. Technically, kissa and junkissa are only licensed to serve food that’s been lightly heated (toast, reheated past.
I say technically because the reality is a lot more complicated.
A store can look like or brand itself a “cafe” or a “junkissa” but, in truth, operate under a different license. For example, Starbucks Japan certainly looks like a modern “cafe.” However, because it only offers drinks and lightly warmed food, it technically operates as a junkissa.
By contrast, a store can call itself a junkissa but possess a license for serving prepared food (飲食店営業許可; inshokuten eigyou kyoka). So you may see a store that calls itself a junkissa that’s serving hot food and even alcohol.
In other words, what a store calls itself today is more about the style it wishes to present than about the actual services it offers.
Cafes, kissas, and junkissas around Tokyo
There’s no lack of great cafes, kissa, and junkissa to enjoy in Japan’s major cities. Here are a few of the most well-known ones as well as some of the ones my wife and I have been to that we greatly enjoy.
Note: Getting into a cafe can be a struggle, particularly on the weekends and for well-known locations. Prepare yourself for a wait. If you know Japanese, look up the shop’s Web site and see if it accepts reservations (some do, though by no means all).
For those who seek out their own experiences not on this list, another warning. While fewer and fewer cafes in Tokyo allow smoking, some still do. Smaller shops that are essentially family-run businesses and seat a small number of people may still elect to support smoking in open areas. (Only one of the shops below does and I’ve called it out.)
Coffee Seibu (珈琲西武)
One of Tokyo’s most well-known junkissa chains, Coffee Seibu evokes a hard Showa retro feel with its classic interior. The stores sport a full cafe menu that includes sandwiches, soda, and various desserts.
Seibu is one of the few Showa-style chains that actually started in the Showa era. Running since 1964, Seibu operated a store near Shinjuku Station for decades. Due to deteriorating building conditions, the company has moved its flagship store to a new building in Harajuku. It also operates a slightly smaller venue in Nishishinjuku, not too far from Shinjuku Station.
Seibu is by far one of Tokyo’s most popular junkissa, so expect a long wait.
Locations: 〒160-0021 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Kabukicho, 1 Chome−6−12 2nd floor; 〒160-0023 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Nishishinjuku, 7 Chome−9−16 Shinjuku Metro Building
Hours: 11am-10:30pm (10pm on Sundays)
Coffee L’ambre (珈琲らんぶる)
With Seibu now in Harajuku, L’ambre is the one remaining Showa-style cafe left around Shinjuku Station. With a roomy interior and some additional distance (5-7 minutes) from Shinjuku Station, it can be easier to grab a seat here than at Seibu. The full food menu plus Showa interior makes this a great choice for both a nice meal and some great Instagram photos.
Location: 3 Chome-31-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0022
Coffee Road (コーヒーロード)
Most anime and manga fans will find themselves at Nakano Broadway at some point. If you’re one of them, go just a few hundred feet from the station to find this cute, unassuming junkissa. Even on a busy Saturday, we scored seating immediately.
We ordered the hamburg set (a salisbury steak-type ground beef dish made with bread crumbs and served with a demiglasse sauce) as well as the Naporitan. (Some people hate Naporitan but we swear by it!) I also tried their bitter frothy coffee (泡コーヒー), which is dark and rich and served with a nice crema.
Another plus: we went around lunchtime on a Saturday and had no trouble getting seated – a rarity for a cafe on the weekend.
Location: 2 Chome-25-3 Nakano, Nakano City, Tokyo 164-0001
I’m putting Den on the list, not because it’s easy to get into, but because it’s a great experience. This spot has been featured on the popular program The Solitary Gourmet (孤独のグルメ), which has guaranteed it a steady stream of business ever since.
Den is worth at least one visit for its famous grapan (グラパン), a white cream or curry stew served in a hollowed-out chunk of bread. The soaks up the flavors of the stew and is delicious to eat as you get closer to the bottom of your bowl! Den also serves epic desserts, like the huge melon soda and soft-serve ice cream shown above.
Be warned, though: Den is one of the few junkissa left where smoking is permitted. If the smoke is going to irritate you, best to skip it.
If you can’t wait for Den, pull up your map and search for other junkissa! This area has a ton of them.
Location: Taito Ward, Negishi, 3-chome, 3-18
Hours: Every day, 9am to 4pm
Fly has been one of my favorite surprises. We picked it out after hanami (cherry blossom viewing) near Megurobashi in Meguro. It was close and had decent ratings. But their food and drink exceeded our expectations.
We ordered their house pork curry, which they simmer for half a day and comes out rich and tender. My wife got the sakura soda, which contains ice cream with a delicious touch of sakura salt on the top.
We went on a weekday and can’t speak to the weekend crowds. But it’s somewhat removed from Megurobashi and, even in the middle of a busy hanami day, we grabbed a seat immediately.
Location: 〒153-0043 Tokyo, Meguro City, Higashiyama, 1 Chome−3−6 Claire Higashiyama 201 (2nd floor)
Residential neighborhoods in Tokyo contain some of the best little coffee shops and kissa. And most aren’t usually flooded with tourists, as most tourists aren’t even aware they exist. Shirokane is one such neighborhood just a short walk from Ebisu Station.
Anea in Shirokanedai is a dog-friendly cafe with a quiet atmosphere and friendly service. They also sport a large and sophisticated food menu with unique twists on popular junkissa favorites.
Anea is run by the company Nestbowl and has a few other locations in Nakano and Yoyogi.
Location: 〒108-0072 Tokyo, Minato City, Shirokane, 5 Chome−13 ６ANEA BLD1 2F
Tajimaya Coffee Shop (但馬屋珈琲店)
Tajimaya is another small chain. It runs a quiet, easy-to-access location in Nishishinjuku just a 10-minute walk away. (It used to run another one closer to the station but the company closed that in July 2023.) Tajimaya roasts its own coffee on-site and also offers a great range of desserts. Smoking is allowed, so your mileage may vary.
Location: 1 Chome-2-6 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023
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