The wait, for ramen, can sometimes seem like an awfully long one.
Bar owners in their 70s aren’t that uncommon in Tokyo. Men and women who’ve been doing the job for so long it’s simply a habit; a habit that in many ways keeps them young — or at the very least young at heart. Entering a bar and finding out the owner is 93, on the other hand, is decidedly less common. And yet to look at her, and see her confidently cook food and serve beers, you’d never know it.
Running the place for over 60 years, she still opens every night. If there are customers she happily stays open. But if there aren’t, she closes. No stress either way. On evenings when there are customers, however, she’s not averse to a natter, and with us at least she talked about the changes she’s seen during her lifetime — all of which has been spent living in Tokyo’s western extremities. This mountainous area of the city experienced the development of a post-war dam that changed the region enormously, creating both upheaval and employment. On a personal level her family experienced some of this upheaval firsthand, as they were displaced by the dam’s planned location; her childhood home being one of nearly a thousand that had to make way for the project.
But the huge amount of work that construction of the dam provided has obviously long gone, and the presumably substantial number of visitors that once came to see it have understandably dwindled too. Then factor in generations of youngsters wanting to leave and set up home in far more populated parts of the city, and it’s easy to see how much quieter the town must be. Not to mention how much it has changed — especially so for someone who has lived there for so long.
Yet despite her family also moving away, she’s happy to stay put. Happy to run her little bar too – no matter how quiet it may be sometimes. A place where she’s very much at home, and where she’s still quick to smile, have a joke and sip on her beloved sake.
Japanese standing bars are wonderful. There’s the usual decent food and cheap booze, along with the added bonus of a really good vibe. The latter is perhaps due to their decidedly rough and ready nature, or maybe even the fairly frequent coming and going of customers, but either way, they are always very convivial. Places where it’s incredibly easy to chat, feel completely at home, and also have fun, unexpected interactions.
Coffee Amikane doesn’t open very often, or indeed for very long. Just Tuesdays and Saturdays. From 7am to around 9. There are only 6 seats too. And drinks-wise, you can have coffee. That’s it. No size options. No flavours. No fancy embellishments. Just coffee. But when you are nearing 90 and still working, that’s presumably more than enough to worry about.
Tokyo doesn’t lack coffee shops. Not in any way whatsoever. And perhaps predictably, the big chains dominate; their many seats inexplicably almost always occupied.
But there are alternatives. Mercifully there are a good number of them as well, although it’s hard to imagine that too many have owners as old as the lady below. A lovely woman now well into her 80s, she unhurriedly makes coffee and tea in the limited space available. Then equally unhurriedly, she carries it up to her customers on the floor above. This previously photographed floor, to be exact.
Even in these days of limited attention spans and built in obsolescence, the speed at which Tokyo transforms itself can still be dizzying. Buildings often go up and down at a startling rate, plus the businesses in them seem to change hands regularly. And yet at the same time, some things do mercifully stay the same. Like this old coffee shop for example. A fantastically cluttered little place that unapologetically offers little more than a tentative nod towards any kind of modernity.