It’s January, and suddenly western Japan is a great deal colder than you thought it would be. You want to go out, but you don’t want to go out. What to do? This month I’ll suggest a few possibilities for three things that are always best indoors: a cup of coffee, a good book, and a great movie.
Like the rest of Japan, Hiroshima has seen the rise of a new cafe culture over the last twenty years, while still holding on to a few of its older classics. Naturally, the chains have descended in full force. There’s even a Starbucks on Miyajima now. They’re easy to find if that’s what you like. But there are other, potentially more exciting options available as well.
One cafe that’s been getting a lot of enthusiastic attention is Obscura Coffee Roasters. The shop started with three very earnest caffeine addicts from Hiroshima who made their mark at their Sangenjaya location in Tokyo before bringing their alchemical expertise back home, first to their Fukuromachi cafe and then, in August 2018, to a second shop one block north of the Hondori shopping arcade.
With beans from Indonesia, Rwanda, Honduras and elsewhere, carefully roasted to perfection on-site and transformed into what many people say is the best coffee they’ve had in Japan, this is the place to go if you’re ready for a serious latte. Obscura is non-smoking, which is good, but the food menu is limited. Think pastries. Obscura is a place for world-class coffee, not lunch. Additionally, some people have arrived with children in tow and been disappointed (or enraged, to judge by some of their reviews) to discover that Obscura doesn’t allow children under ten on the premises. As a father of two, I understand the frustration, but I also support the occasional child-free space.
Visiting Miyajima, there are a number of coffee options these days, each no doubt with its own charms. But for my money, the best on the island at the moment are the spaces operated by the island’s own Itsuki Coffee. They have a few locations, but the most convenient might be their Sarasvati shop, situated at the bottom of one of the stone stairways up to Toyokuni Shrine, also called the Thousand Mat Hall, and not far from the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine itself.
Like Obscura, they roast their beans onsite, which can make the space almost dizzyingly redolent of fresh coffee at times, and their bakery serves up excellent (if small) sandwich and scone sets, as well as pasta and a changing menu of cakes. If you ask, they’ll also give directions to their new Tenshinkaku location. Its hours are limited, and it’s not the most easily found spot on the island, but once you arrive, you’ll be able to enjoy a truly excellent cup of coffee with some of the best views around.
Finally, let’s not forget Japan’s older, and justly celebrated, coffee culture. The ‘kissatens’ of yesteryear were worlds unto their own, and a few specimens linger on in Hiroshima. My favorite is the Chamonix Mont Blanc, located on the Ebisu Dori arcade, just across from the south entrance to Mitsukoshi Department Store. Mont Blanc is a Showa era fixture, open at the same location since the 1950s. Rising four floors (though the 4th is used for storage these days) from its ground floor entrance, everything here from the paintings on the walls to the crystal light fixtures to the expansive and classic cafe menu itself seems to have arrived unchanged via time machine.
A little smoky, a little worn around the edges, what this place delivers is a decidedly non-corporate atmosphere. Score one of the window seats above the arcade and settle in with a coffee and curry rice for a relaxed hour alone or with company, browsing a new book or watching people stream past below, including local business owners pausing to pray at the Ebisu Shrine across the arcade. Both the owner’s English-speaking daughter and her British husband Andy are usually on hand as well, making this an easy stop for anyone with limited Japanese.
Obscura Coffee Roasters, Fukuromachi Shop
Address: 3-28 Fukuromachi, Naka-Ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 730-0036
Access: From Hondori, walk south from Andersen, the first major intersection east of the Rijo-dori streetcars. Turn right at the second corner, past the Yours supermarket, and you’ll find it on your right.
Hours: 9:00 to 20:00 (closed third Wednesday of each month)
Address: 407 Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-0588
Access: Continue past the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine until you see a narrow lane to the left. The coffee shop is located at the bottom of a stone staircase leading down from the Five-Storied Pagoda of Toyokuni Shrine, the enormous wooden hall on the hill above Itsukushima Shrine.
Hours: 8:30 to 19:00
Chamonix Mont Blanc
Address: 3-17 Horikawacho, Naka-Ku, Naka, Hiroshima 730-0033, Hiroshima Prefecture
Access: On the corner across the Ebisu Dori shopping arcade from the rear entrance to Mitsukoshi Department Store. Turn your back to the Ebisu Shrine or Mitsukoshi, and you’ll be looking at it.
Hours: 8:00 to 24:00 every day