Kojo – Tokyo, Japan - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura


This subterranean spot might be the epitome of Japan's baroque, retro coffee houses. 


Kissaten is a Japanese-style coffeeshop that originally appeared before World War II. Once a massive craze back in the 1920’s, the term now refers to a retro, European-influenced type of cafe that has a nostalgic ambience of the Shōwa era (1926-1989). Many continue to exist in a past era that doesn’t recognize wi-fi, alternative milks, or to-go orders.

Located in the ever-popular Ueno district, Kojo (officially stylized Kojyo) may be the most ostentatious of such specialty cafes, being an archetype of so-called shiro-kei or “castle-type” kissaten. Such type of cafe is characterized by ornate, sparkling lighting fixtures, European art, and classical music, and Kojo fully lives up to its name, which literally means “old castle.”

Inside, you’ll find a large Yamaha Electone organ, a Tutankhamun mask, crystal chandeliers, and a massive, Art Deco-style stained glass window. Huge slabs of rock and fake plants divvy up the room, giving Kojo the feel of, to quote a reviewer on Japan Travel, “a mixture between a mountain cave and a southern European church.”

Today, these stylized throwbacks stand in contrast to the country’s recent influx of third-wave coffeeshops (many of the Starbucks variety). After hopping off the train at Ueno, wander into this portal to an antiquated Euro-dream, pondering bygone design infatuations over a Vienna coffee or the cafe’s signature milkshake.

Know Before You Go

The fastest way to get here from Ueno Station, if you've taken a Tokyo Metro subway, is to start from Exit 1 and walk for a couple minutes. If you get off at Keisei Ueno Station, go with Ueno Park to your back and it will take you about 10 minutes.

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