Monday, March 12, 2018

Tatami Starbucks of Ninenzaka

I have visited interesting Starbucks locations all over the world, but my visit to the 5-day old Ninezaka store in Kyoto definitely rises to the top of cool.

This one-of-a-kind store stands alone from the others in that it is not in a newly constructed building, but opened in a century-old machiya house in a very traditional neighborhood of Ninenzaka.

The shop is literally occupying one house in a row of private, residential homes. When I got there in the morning (right when they opened at 8:00am) there were children in uniforms on their way to school, old ladies sweeping porches outside their homes, and people hanging their laundry. This really is a neighborhood.

With respect to their location, Starbucks employed one security guard who keeps people in line and keeps crowds from forming. I went so early that I was one of the only people there, but I have no idea how busy this place gets on say, mid-day on the weekend.

From the outside, the house is discrete. Only the Starbucks-branded Noren (cloth doorway) marks this building as a café. The exterior is almost otherwise untouched. Though, upon leaving I did catch sight of the subtle mermaid silhouette on a light outside.

hanging the Noren in the morning just before the store opens

the Noren signifies that the store is open

subtle Starbucks logo details

Inside, the house has been heavily redone, but not to the loss of it’s original character. For instance, it smells exactly like my century-old house in Shimane. The first floor is dedicated to housing a long line of people, a counter where you can order and select sweets, a small sitting space, and a back room where the drinks are made. Upstairs contains rooms and rooms of seating. As I walked around, I noticed that they basically kept the frame of the house, and used traditional materials to modernize it, so that it still had an authentic quality.

the entrance seems generic at first

Japanese-flavored food

decoration at the entrance 
the back room drink stand

the back room where you pick up drinks


natural lighting

Guests still on pillows on tatami (woven straw) matts. Tokonoma (alcoves) in the room display kakemomo (paintings) and ikebana (flower arrangements). Shoji (sliding paper doors) section off the rooms as in a traditional house. There is also a room with modern chairs and seating arrangements.

Japanese style (left) and western style (right)

I am impressed that Starbucks refrained from putting it’s logo on everything…actually, anything inside the house. The art and displays are complete unbranded, as are the cushions and all other decorations. It would have felt cheesy if there were mere moderns replicas but Starbucks kept it classy this time. How they manage to keep this place clean, tidy, and undamaged with all the unruly tourists running around is beyond me.

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