Shibuya’s old and unique Lion cafe

Just like most (or should that be all?) large cities, Tokyo has a seemingly disproportionate number of big chain coffee shops. Places where the drinks are average, the prices high and the atmosphere utterly generic. But fortunately there are alternatives — they just have to be sought out that’s all. And arguably none of them are more worth the effort than the wonderfully old, and truly unique, Lion.

Shibuya classical music cafe Lion

First opened in 1926, it burned down during the war, but in 1950 it was rebuilt in the same location, using the original design. A look and feel that thankfully still remains today. In fact the only changes have been outside the Lion’s doors, as it has now become one of a very rare breed: a meikyoku kissa, or classical music cafe. Somewhere people go to sit silently, sip coffee or tea, and soak up the rich sounds.

Shibuya classical music cafe Lion

An experience that as well as being incredibly soothing, is also about as far as it’s possible to get from those aforementioned modern chains — and indeed the modern world in general.

Shibuya classical music cafe Lion

A Tokyo bar and the city’s most basic toilet?

Cheap, cheerful and not especially cleanly bars and eateries remain common finds in Tokyo. Utterly unpretentious places where anyone can pull up a chair and enjoy good, honest food and booze. All of which is served in a similarly genuine manner.

old Tokyo bar and bucket toilet

Many of these establishments have memorable quirks too; their confined nature often meaning certain compromises need to be made. And from experience, this can result in some interesting, or at least interestingly placed, lavatories. I’ve had to go to one behind a fridge. Others that have involved going outside and then back in again through a different door. Plus another that required a walk down the area’s main street, before turning into an alleyway where the bar’s toilet was. Or at least a toilet was.

But in Yakitori Shima, the fact that the question of whether a wee or a poo was needed when enquiries were made about the toilet’s whereabouts, suggested it could be more of a concern than a mere quirk. And such concerns were indeed confirmed when directions led to this (blue) bucket-based affair round the side of the bar. A toilet made all the more public by also being across from the entrance to an apartment building.

old Tokyo bar and bucket toilet

Mercifully for the ladies, or indeed men needing to evacuate other matter, there is actually a more conventional facility through the door to the right of the bucket. It is, however, up some stairs that are so steep a rope has been added in a slight nod of sorts towards health and safety.

old Tokyo bar and bucket toilet

And yet at the end of the day, none of these peculiarities hurt Yakitori Shima’s back-to-basics charm. As with cheap beer, good food and a wonderfully genial host, how could they?

old Tokyo bar and bucket toilet

Post-work salaryman beers

Post-work drinks are very often an integral part of office life in Japan, regardless of whether the participants want to go out boozing with their bosses or not. They will, do, and that’s all there is to it. And as this previously posted picture appears to prove, such evenings aren’t always much fun, let alone the stress relievers they should be.

Tokyo drinkers disagreeing

But thankfully that’s not always the case. In fact the complete opposite can actually be true. As photographed in the exact same spot, along with the very same senior figure, is a night of smiles.

Tokyo salarymen drinkers

Not scowls.

Tokyo salarymen drinkers

Small Tokyo bar, big friendly smile

This fella’s bar might well be small, with an open window having to double as a service hatch of sorts for the few seats outside. But, what clearly isn’t lacking in size is his big, welcoming smile.

Tokyo bar owner smile

Not to mention his equally large, and similarly smile-inducing, drinks.

Tokyo bar owner big drinks