One of my biggest concerns with moving to rural Japan was the utter lack of cafes. Coming from café-rich Portland, Oregon, I was spoilt with options. If I didn’t want Starbucks (and I never did), I could grab a cup from any of the famous shops of locals roasters like Stumptown, Sterling, Coava, and Courier, all within walking distance to my house. And if I wanted to bring my laptop and sit at any of these cafes for hours writing, no problem.
Cafes are totally different in Japan. Remarkably few of them roast their own beans. Many don’t serve espresso, so black coffee (with cream and sugar) is about the only thing you can hope for. In most cafes in Japan you are seated by the staff, waited on by a waiter, and expected to order food then leave. The scarcity of quiet places offering refuge to digital nomads was such that I began a nation-wide café quest.
In the least densely-populated prefecture in Japan, it should come as no surprise that cafes are even more rare. My expectations were low, but surprisingly, within one year I managed to find several laid-back places that actually served pretty damn good lattes.
Torimichi, 通り道 Ibara, Onan, Ochi District, Shimane 696-0101
Closest to my house is Torimichi, a family run cafe and bar. A typical Shimane-style place with rice paddy parking and easy-to-miss signage. The cafes serves delicious Italian food, which mostly consists of pizza and pasta. The owner, Kasaoka San, is a man in his late 30s who ahs traveled and lived all over the world. I recommend sitting at the bar so as to make conversation with him.
Order a vanilla or hazelnutte latte, one size, which is huge. For the adventurous, try the Crème Brule Latte, with burnt sugar on top.
I found Café Doma after the English teacher in Misato posted a picture of it on Facebook. That was my second month in the country and I wasted no time checking it out. Locating on the foothills of a rice paddy, Doma is part Café part gallery, and operated inside a large crumbling Japanese house. The first floor is entirely devoted to the café, and upstairs one will find a rotating collection of locally produced art, crafts, and vintage clothing. One could easily spend an entire day relaxing on one of the velvet couches reading a managing in natural light.
Their food menu is limited ad varies based on the season. Their bagel sandwiches are always available, but order the curry plate if it’s on the menu. I also get the café mélange, which pairs nicely with the food.
Imagine Café, イマジン.珈琲店 503-1 Isemiyacho, Matsue, Shimane
I found Imagine Café while wandering around outside my hotel room in Matsue during a training meeting. Matsue is the biggest city in Shimane and has a lot fo offer the coffee-lover, but unlike many other cafes, Imagine is open until 11:00pm or midnight most nights. This makes it a late-night favorite among locals. Imagine also roasts its own beans, and has a local hipster vibe. The ground floor is small and offers limited seating at the counter, where you will be served by Imagine’s friendly young owner. Upstairs the tatami room si reserved for large parties.
Try the standard Café au lait, iced or hot. Both versions are simple yet amazing.
KuriKuru Café, 栗栗珈琲, 8-6 Akebono Nishimachi Masuda, Shimane 698-0025
The owner, Mr. Kuri, is one of the only roasters in Shimane prefecture. When I spoke to him, he knew everything about my adopted home-town of Portland, and it’s famous coffee. Mr. Kuri wants to bring the coffee culture of places like Portland into rural Shimane. KuriKuri offered a fantastic selection of drinks, inspired by each season, but always delicious and original.
Try one of their unique offerings, such as a Red Bean Mocha, or Honey Ginger Latte. Seasonal desserts and cakes are also a delicious compliment to the coffee.
Café Michele, カフェ・ミシェル 1411-5 Aioicho, Hamada, Shimane 697-0034
Friends in Hamada pointed me to this local establishment. The owner, Michele, once lived and worked in France, and returned to Shimane to open a café. This is set up much like a restaurant, with intimate seating along the edges of a large dining area. It is technically a French restaurant, but Michele wouldn’t mind if you just sat back and ordered a cup of coffee. I haven’t brought my laptop there, as the atmosphere is much more conducive to socializing, but I have had many an interesting conversation in Café Michele.
Order vanilla or hazelnut latte, guaranteed to be served to you with impressive latte art. If you are hungry, try a croquet monsieur, or a seasonal salad.