For sixty years, with charm and grace, Fumiko Suzuki has been serving “classics,” “coffee,” and “paintings” in her restful kissaten, Nelken, in Koenji.
“Nelken” is the German word for the carnation flowers, fresh sprigs of which fill a vase on each plain wooden table. They are her favorite flower, explains Madame Suzuki, who looks nowhere near her 80s. She is carefully coiffured, stylishly dressed and wearing a simple pearl necklace. She smiles shyly, and politely thanks me in Japanese for speaking Japanese to her.
Her “classics” are composers such as Brahms, Chopin, or Dvorak. A vinyl LP version of Mr. Brahm’s fine Hungarian Dances is playing, with crackles and pops, through the wall-mounted speakers.
Her coffee is single bean selections such as Kilimanjaro, Brazil, or Colombia—each ¥650 the cup. Or the house blend or a “brandy” coffee (¥500). Of course, teas such as Russian Tea (¥530) or Royal Milk Tea (¥580) can be ordered. In the evening, states the menu, cocktails such as “Nelken Fizz,” (¥680) or “Mizuwari” (¥900) are available.
The “paintings,” heavy gold-framed oil paintings of landscapes, fruit, dancers, vistas, and of course, carnations hang on every open wall space. Each crushed red velvet upholstered chair has a carefully ironed white lace doily across its back. The red velvet curtains are drawn aside to allow a milky blue light to filter through the pebbled glass panes.
Dark wooden posts, cherry wood, I believe, are positioned like rustic fences, creating a separate space for the ten small tables. A life-sized female nude sculpture stands next to one table. Sadly, over the years, she has lost one of her hands.
A small brick-bordered path winds the few meters toward the counter at the rear where Madame Suzuki prepares her coffees and teas. The high counter is so filled with CDs, magazines, and coffee paraphernalia that Madame Suzuki must keep the liftable countertop flap down. This means she must duck under it many times a day to get behind the counter or out again. This she does with considerable aplomb and verve.
Nelken is often filled. Young women, old men, couples, or a harried person who wants to relax and browse through a magazine while sipping coffee.
Nelken is a remnant of a Tokyo gone by, but which still hangs on in little kissatens throughout the city.
After the Brahms, Nelken was filled with the joyful, yet gentle longing of Claudio Arrau’s interpretation of Schumann’s Kinderszenen — the 7th piece, “Traumerei,” that Madame Suzuki had selected. The next day, I sought out my own copy of that CD so that I could keep some of the quiet calmness of Nelken with me whenever I heard it.
Nelken: Koenji 3-56-7, Suginami Ward
Tel: 03.3311.2637, Open everyday.
To Get to Nelken, exit Koenji Station from the South Exit and bear right along the station until you find the PAL shopping street. It is quite famous with a large PAL sign above it. Walk down the PAL shopping street for a few minutes until you get to Jeans Shop Nakaiya on your left. Turn right at the jeans shop and walk down that narrow road until you find a shrine, Chosenji. Just in front of the temple, nestled among greenery, is Nelken.