Monday, September 7, 2009

It's not all about the food

Contrary to what you may assume from its title, this blog isn't just about food. I have been known for go for minutes, sometimes even hours, without eating anything-- yes, it's true!

The most common explanation for when I'm not eating something is that I'm drinking something instead. That was my excuse yesterday afternoon, anyway.

The brew

I spent most of the afternoon in one of my favorite parts of Osaka, a little nook of pre-war town houses in Karahori and Nakazaki-cho that escaped the incendiary bombing of WW2. Just minutes from the skyscrapers of Umeda, and yet a hundred years apart in atmosphere, this neighborhood preserves the look of Japan before all the economic development, boom and bust craziness.

Many of the houses have since been converted into shops, galleries, restaurants and cafes, and several nearby art and design universities give a touch of youthful vibrancy to the neighborhood where original residents still hobble down to corner grocery shops and cats doze idly in the streets.

Disgruntled cat outside

The area has several nice cafes but none more worth the visit than Utena Coffee and Tea House.

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Utena Coffee and Tea House
Nakazaki-nishi 1-8-23
Kita-ku, Osaka City
Phone: 06-6372-1612

The store front

With a sign so small and unimposing, you'd never know Utena was a public establishment at all, but for when the sliding doors are half-opened to let in the sun and the hidden recesses come to light.

Inside the cafe is simply gorgeous. A bookcase to the right of the entrance catches light from the pane glass window to illuminate faded paper Showa-era publications as old as the building itself.

Bookcase at the entrance

The original wooden framework is preserved, and is matched perfectly by the dark wooden decor of the tables, chairs and counter. The floors are cement worn smooth by a century of foot traffic, and reflect the green of the potted plants growing on the opposite side of the street outside.

Love the decor

Nice ceiling

Interior window

Simple menu

Utena offers a simple menu of coffee, tea, fruit juices and milk, with cheese cake, almond pudding and toast the only food options available. I've tried both the cheese cake and the pudding and found both smooth, rich and delicious. The coffee is ground and brewed a cup at a time in a testament to this country's attention to detail. But of course the real reason you come here isn't so much the menu as the mood.

Particularly in the back of the cafe, where another glass sliding door offers a view of the courtyard and interior garden.

A seat by the window

This is where you want to sit when you come Utena, and be sure to bring a book or a friend for the perfect way to while away an afternoon.


  1. I have to start a "travel to Japan" fund. It's imperative.