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Monozuki: Nishi-Ogikubo outpost of old school coffee

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

monozuki interior 2

Time has stopped in Monozuki, a charming old school kissaten a few minutes from Nishi Ogikubo station. This phenomenon may be due to the fact that none of the pendulums are swinging inside the dozens of antique wall clocks gracing the rough walls or because since Monozuki opened 39 years ago nothing has changed except the lines on the faces of the longtime regular customers.

monozuki floorWell, one more change—the mastership passed from the previous owner to  Yamada Hiromasa decades ago. Yamada left everything the same, still brewing Monozuki’s delicious coffee, cup by cup, using the paper drip method.

Monozuki is an exemplar of the mountain-lodge style of kissaten that spread across Tokyo in the 60s and 70s. The interiors are all rough-hewn timbers, antique lamps, framed oil paintings, and vintage knickknacks.

Saboru and Ladorio in Jimbocho are other classic models of this nostalgic trend. For the younger generation of Japanese, who think coffee shops equal Starbucks or Tully’s, these old school kissaten are eye-openers.

Not surprisingly, though, some regulars are college students who know great coffee when they taste it, and who need a quiet place to study. The background music is jazz, and the large globe aquarium with the lone goldfish swimming in circles makes for a soothing ambiance.


monozuki plum cakeA recent cup of deeply-flavored Kilimanjaro (¥500) showed off this bean’s pleasant bitterness balanced by its subtle acidity.

The shop also offers house-made cakes. The summer’s plum pound cake (¥380) is superb.

Monozuki’s prices are very reasonable. Most coffee shops charge at least ¥700 for their straight brews. A cup of the Monozuki Blend is only ¥450.

For that price, you can sit as long as you care to writing your unfinished novel, planning your next business venture, chatting with old friends, or just watching the hands of the clocks paused at their particular moment.


3-12-10 Nishi-ogi Kita

Suginami Ward

Tel: 03.3395.9569

Open daily 12 noon to 9 pm. Monozuki is about a five-minute walk from the north exit of Nishi-ogikubo station.monozuki exterior




Tonpachi tei: another fine Tokyo tonkatsu joint

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Okachimachi Station near Ueno is a hive of activity. It sits at the tail end of the Ameyoko street market and seems to be under constant construction and reconstruction. Kasuga dori is the main thoroughfare perpendicular to the Yamanote tracks and after a short walk down that main street you’ll spot  the pit viper shop, Bunkyudo, the write-up of which you’ll find in the January 2009 archives of this blog. Next to Bunkyudo is a narrow passageway called “Tanuki Roji” which translates to Racoon Alley.

Down Racoon Alley on the left you’ll come upon Tonpachi, a fine tonkatsu joint. I first found Tonpachi a handful of years ago when it was still being run by the second-generation master. It was a narrow, dark, atmospheric eatery that despite its decrepitude turned out a tasty tonkastu. In my absence, the place has been gutted and rebuilt into a narrow bright, still somewhat atmospheric eatery run now by the third-generation master.

The master is a talkative fellow. He explains that his great grandfather started the tonkatsu shop nearly 70 years ago. The grandfather, though, wasn’t much interested in pigs or cooking so he opened a coffee shop instead which is now defunct. The master’s father took over the business and just recently retired. The old shop had to be remodeled, he adds, because things here and there were falling apart.

The thick pork cutlets at Tonpachi hail from Chiba. The filiment-cut cabbage is sourced wherever it is sweetest, says the master. The very narrow shop is mostly counter and kitchen with a small table for two and a less small table for four. A television set above the “oshibori” steamer seems permanently set to samurai dramas. His wife assists. Every so often she opens the oshibori heater and spritzes the heated towels with a fragrant mist. They have what could be Tokyo’s best smelling hot towels. I spent a long moment inhaling the fresh soap scent with the towel pressed to my nose.

The “ros” tonkatsu set (1700 yen) comes with a mound of that fine cabbage, a dollop of potato salad, a small bowl of very fine house-made pickles: turnip, carrot, cucumber and Chinese cabbage, and a bowl of miso soup loaded with tofu and bits of pork. The breading on the cutlet is flaky and crisp. The master prefers the slower, slightly cooler frying temperature that some other tonkastu joints use.

The more expensive “hire” or filet cutlet is also fine. Oysters and crab are in season now, and Tonpachi offers a set featuring either of those for 1400 yen. On the counter is an array of condiments: Worchestershire Sauce, the house-made tonkatsu sauce, and a tiny pot of mustard. Also is a cute little toothpick dispenser. Push the crow down and he’ll pick up a toothpick in his beak.

From my counter seat, we chat about Tokyo and how much it’s changed in 30 years. Raccoon Alley got its moniker from an old coffee shop named Raccoon,says the master, that used to be situated nearby. Not his grandfather’s place, though, he adds. Nor were ever any real raccoons about.

When I finish and am sipping a cup of green tea, the master points to a box of shop namecards at the end of the counter near the door.

“I’ll take one,” I say, “and I’ll recommend this place to my friends.”

“Please!” he says. “Take four or five or six.”


Tonpachi Tei: 4-3-4 Ueno, Taito-ku. 03.3831.4209

Closed Sundays.