Release Date: Sep 11, 2015

My wife used to work in an architectural firm right by Kiyosumi Shirakawa station. Every couple of months over many years, she would write me saying – “oh, by the way, did you hear another coffee shop has opened near by?” And I’d be like – “another one!?”

Fast-forward to today, Kiyosumi Shirakawa is now the town spoken of as “coffee town” – and it tells the story about the most exciting cluster of independent coffee shops in Japan. Some say it’s because the land is a little more affordable, others say that the high factory buildings which used to be wood storage factories are a perfect new home for roasters, others say it’s the number of museums and galleries that give Kiyosumi Shirakawa a certain “slow life” feel to it.

We don’t know why or how, but coffee is in the air here. Here are five places to start off the coffee tour with – no doubt you’ll walk past many more along the way!




Monz is very modern and stands out in this traditional temple district surrounded by shops selling tea and sweets. We’re not surprised to hear that the owner of the café is an architect and also designed the stunning All Press roaster/café nearby.

Folks from Oceania will feel right at home here with flat whites and long blacks on the menu. You can count the number of places that do a proper flat white in Japan on one hand.

The café is also comfortable enough to spend a few hours in – take along that book you’ve been meaning to finish off, catch up on some emails, or write a love letter here!

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We all have a need to stick to something – and for Yamaoka-san, it’s coffee and sword collecting. He has been in the coffee industry for some 45 years and has beans from over 45 countries available to purchase in his shop. He is also a serious coffee cup collector – we are all admiring the green dragon cup from England valued at almost half a million yen.

According to Yamaoka-san, there is no such coffee that can be labeled “delicious coffee” – rather only coffee that matches the individual. He is happy to introduce you to a world of coffee you have probably never heard of/tasted before, and he will help find those beans that match you.

While he waits for his next customer, he is sharpening and cleaning his swords, especially during Tokyo’s muggy summer. The team concludes that if you try and rob the place, he’ll have no trouble chopping off your head.

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Blue Bottle Coffee
Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Roastery & Cafe

While you’re walking around from café to gallery to café, you will lose count of the number of people carrying Blue Bottle coffee cups and paper bags.

It’s probably the most exciting set up Japan has seen. Big glass doors and high ceilings are features of this two-story industrial like setup, and even though there isn’t a huge space for customers to have their coffee we can see and feel that a lot is going on here – roasting and logistics at the back there, and we hear there is space dedicated to training and cupping as well as an office area on the second floor.

Some say that Blue Bottle has changed the game. It’s big business that’s for sure- but at the same time, most of the staff are super laid back and happy to chat during the quieter times.

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“I want this to be my house”, “I wish I lived here”, “Where did they get all this stuff?” My friends and I are all totally caught up with Portmans.

It’s like you’re having your coffee in a vintage museum – with an uncountable number of American baseball, pilot and fire fighter paraphernalia surrounding you. We also love the John Lennon statue and Juke Box.

We are here for coffee, but we stay for lunch. And we’re all impressed. Three young ladies behind the counter cooking and brewing coffee remind me of that very warm feeling you’d have at Kamome Shokudo. It’s a different sort of café, but that same sort of feeling.

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The last three times I have been to Arise, I have bumped into Blue Bottle baristas having coffee there. It’s that type of place.

Owner Taiju Hayashi is a young but experienced micro-roaster who is very connected and respected in the area. He spent many years roasting for The Cream of the Crop Coffee before opening up his own corner roaster/café. The coffee here is top-notch.

Arise, since opening, has always been like a hub in the Kiyosumi Shirakawa area. It’s the perfect first stop. Despite being 50 meters down the road from Blue Bottle, it’s always busy here. Perhaps it’s due to Taiju’s friendly and welcoming character; he is excited to tell you about what’s going on around town (not only coffee-related!) – and will introduce you to whoever else happens to be in the café when you visit. Unpretentious in every way – this is how a café should be!

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** Monz Café and Fukagawa are actually closer to Monzennakacho station, but only about a 15-minute walk from Kiyosumi Shirakawa station.



-by Vaughan

Photography by Nik van der Giesen


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