Half a century ago, the hilltop at the summit of Dogenzaka in Shibuya was a family-oriented neighborhood with green grocers, a bowling alley, and restaurants. Several decades before that, the classical music coffee house, Lion, staked its claim as king of that hill.
Inside the Lion it’s as quiet as a church. The pale milky sunlight seeps in through glazed windows. The dark wood Doric columns support Moorish arches in what must have been an architectural delight during the roaring twenties.
The wooden chairs have seat cushions of very faded red plush. The chair backs are protected by pressed white coverlets. These chairs are neatly arranged into rows like church pews facing the front, the soaring altar of the massive “3D Sound System” speakers mounted high in the tabernacle and illuminated by electric candelabra and a scintillating crystal chandelier.
Holding out 87 years so far, Lion has become a metaphor realized, a bastion for the religion of music and a refuge from the sordid world outside.
Patrons enter Lion with reverence, respect, and hope for solace and salvation. Their saviors are Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Brahms, Bruckner, Schumann, Fauré, Mendelssohn, Scriabin, Mussorgsky, and Rachmaninov.
At least they were for the March series of LP concerts held everyday at 3pm and 7pm. April will feature a new line up of musical messiahs.
Anytime in between those two concerts, worshipers can make musical requests to the staff. These requests, and the concert line up as well, are announced in soft whispered tones by an acolyte as he fits the needle into the groove. If one whispers too loudly, you are kindly asked by the staff to speak more quietly.
No food is served, and no food is allowed. A Bach fugue, a Mozart concerto, a Beethoven sonata, a Chopin nocturne or a Fauré requiem are the nourishment here.
Meikyoku kissa translates to “great song” coffee shop. And with the thousands of vinyl LPs and CDs organized on sturdy shelves, any great song request can most likely be granted. No one seems to mind the scratches and hiss that accompany the vinyl selections.
On the monthly LP concert program, Lion proudly proclaims that it is air-conditioned—a certain draw back in the day. It also states that the American music magazine “Audio” wrote up the 3D Sound System in 1959.
Any music lover, or lover of Tokyo, ought to make the pilgrimage to the top of the hill on the Dogenzaka slope. Be sure to check out the second floor gallery seating. Notice the framed icons hanging on the dark walls—paintings of Bach or Beethoven and other composers shadowed with the patina of decades.
Check out the restroom. And as you make your way there in the dim light, pause for a timeless moment at the foyer of the back entrance.
Lion: 2-19-13 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03.3461.6858. Open daily 11a.m. to 10:30p.m. http://lion.main.jp/info/infomation.htm