Ten-yo-ne tempura: Under the tracks in Yurakucho

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013



I have a soft spot for these hard places under the tracks in Tokyo. They scratch out an unglamorous life in the shadows of this gargantuan city.

Tenyone close up tendonTen-yo-ne is a minute or two from Yurakucho station and a world away, in a few hundred meters, from the glamorous Ginza.

For decades, Ten-yo-ne tempura has been serving up Edo-style tempura, dark and savory, cheap and delicious.

It’s a tiny place, of course, with a pale blond counter of smooth hinoki seating six.

On the other side of the narrow kitchen are a few small tables filling an unadorned dining space illuminated with the thin timeless wash of fluorescence. Every once in awhile, you can make out the rumble of trains passing overhead.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREA rack of newspapers and manga are available for free reading while you wait for your tempura to fry.

The jo-tendon (¥1450) is the dish of choice here. Glistening in their burnished gold batter, atop a bowl of freshly prepared rice, are two large prawns, a kisu white fish, some mushrooms, a shishito green pepper, a shiso leaf, and a small kakiage “dumpling” of sliced, mixed veggies and tiny shrimp.

The teishoku set menu includes a small dish of well-made pickled vegetables, a bowl of miso soup, and a tiny dish of seasonal vegetables sprinkled with sesame seeds.

A counter seat over on the right side is the most interesting place to sit.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREPositioned there, you can see the crowd of fresh vegetables waiting in the wings for their turn on the tempura stage.

Plus you can observe the master while he cuts, batter-dips, fries and assembles your tendon bowl.

The lunch for about ¥1000 is a great deal at Ten-yo-ne.

You can sit elbow to elbow with salarymen, office women, and sales staff from the nearby department stores and shops.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREIf you are up for an adventure, stroll down the underground passageway to the left of Ten-yo-ne. This narrow, tunnel-like alley is perhaps a kilometer or so long, filled with tiny restaurants, bicycles, and the ghosts of Tokyo past.


2-1-10 Yurakucho, Chiyoda Ward. Tel: 03.3591.0926. Open Monday to Saturday 11am to 9pm.




Yamaichi: Another tonkatsu joint worth knowing

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Yamaichi tonkatsu

Jack Sprat could eat no fat, and his wife could eat no lean. The couple, though, would both eat heartily at Yamaichi.

The folks here treat their pork with respect. Jack would be able to savor Yamaichi’s lean and luscious pork filet (1600 yen) carefully deep-fried in a crisp tonkatsu crust. His wife could order the Yamaichi “ros” (1500 yen) with its strip of delicious pork fat nestled in unctuousness under the crust.

Yamaichi condimentsYamaichi believes in condiments.

On the table are a panoply of 11 various additions to choose from such as Andes salt, yuzu kosho, shichimi, two kinds of shoyu, pickled scallions, mustard, two kinds of salad dressing, sesame, ponzu sauce, umeboshi, and bull-dog sauce.

The pork at Yamaichi is thicker that at most tonkatsu joints. It is expertly trimmed, weighed, and coated with a larger size of bread crumb.

Tonkatsu chefs sometimes use two kettles each of which heats the oil to a hotter or cooler temperatures depending on the thickness of the meat. Yamaichi uses a hotter oil resulting in a darker, golden brown crust.

Yamaichi counterThe small restaurant is decorated with some style. The tables are dark, gleaming grainy wood. Framed modern lithographs hang on the wall. One brush-stroke calligraphic print asks the question: “What is a voyage?

Only about a dozen or so lucky customers can dine at one time. A short counter seats four. A large 7-seat table fills the room with space for only one small 2- seat table.

Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to share the large table with other happy customers.

With the teishoku set-menu you’ll get a small dish of the house-made pickles, which besides being arranged in a picture-perfect cluster,  are lightly vinegared to add a bright counterpoint to the pork. A small wooden bowl of tonkotsu pork-flavored broth and a bowl of rice will round out the meal.

Yamaichi picklesDon’t worry about the line that usually forms outside the restaurant. It moves quickly and you’ll soon be inside.

Be sure to spot the little Shinto shrine tucked into corner near the ceiling.

Yamaichi: 1-8-4 Kanda Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3253-3335. Open Monday to Friday 11am to 2:30pm. Dinner: 5pm to 8:30pm. Saturdays: 11am to 2pm (L.O. 1:30pm). Closed Sundays and holidays.

The restaurant is about a one-minute walk from the A1 exit of the subway station which serves both the Ogawamachi stop of the Maronouchi Line, or the Awajicho stop of the Shinjuku Line.





Retro Kanda kissaten with “nori toast”: Ace

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Ace exterior new

The area around Kanda station is a hive of activity—crowded, jumbled, and thoroughly “shitamachi.” And Kanda’s Coffee shop Ace is my new favorite Tokyo kissaten. About 42 years ago, two brothers took over their father’s role as Ace master. And over the years, they’ve kept things pretty much the same. Coffee is crafted here using the siphon method, once a technique common in many kissa, but now as rare as an honest banker.

Ace interior1The brothers have put together a menu of over 40 straight bean coffees and “coffee variations,” some of which you’ll find nowhere else.

These are not Starbuck’s-like milk confections, but sturdy coffee-grounded originals. Consider: Mexican Butter Coffee with a dab of real butter afloat in the cup. Pontier Beruga Coffee with real whipped cream and meringue (550 yen). Café Alexsandra with thick cream, cocoa liqueur and brandy (550 yen).

Or my favorite Pontier de Café con Leche with whipped cream, sherry, and walnuts (550 yen).

The brothers also carefully brew a wide selection of teas, if you are so inclined. Ace coffee menu

The prices here haven’t changed much either over the decades. A cup of straight Blue Mountain bean coffee is 570 yen and Kilimanjaro is only 480 yen. These prices are almost half of comparable cups elsewhere. And if you’re an early bird, you can have a bottomless cup of “blendo” if you order between 7a.m. and noon.

Ace is probably most renowned for its innovative “Nori Toast.” They take a slice of white sandwich bread, split it down the middle into two very thin half-slices, butter them, slip in a large wafer of nori, dried seaweed, then toast the whole thing to perfection. At 140 yen, it’s a classic. And if you get lost, as I’ve done a few times trying to find Ace, ask a local where the “nori toast” place is.Ace nori toast

If seaweed on bread is not your style, try the “choco toast,” a whipped cream, chocolate sauce concoction that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

A small library of coffee-related books and magazines is on a shelf for browsing. Above that little library, hanging on the wall, is a portrait of the two brothers done entirely in glued coffee grounds.

The clientele at Ace have been regulars for decades. Salarymen and office ladies, old couples and youngish couples.

It is not unusual to lean one’s weary head back against the wall and sneak 4o winks.

Ace is open 7a.m. to 7p.m Monday to Friday. Saturdays the are open until only 2p.m. Ace: 3-10-6 Uchi-kanda, Chiyoda ward. Tel: 03.3256.3941. Ace can be found, if you are lucky, in a 2-minute walk from the west exit of Kanda JR station, or in a 3-minute stroll from the Kanda Ginza line subway station.

Maru-ichi: One of Tokyo’s finest tonkatsu joints

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Sometimes you’ve just got to have a tonkatsu—a thick pork cutlet enrobed in a golden crust of crisply-fried breadcrumbs.

Achieving tonkatsu perfection is not easy. The cutlet must be properly sized. The oil must be fresh and kept at exactly the proper scalding temperature. The breading must protect the flesh and seal in all the tender juices, yet come out entirely grease free.

Masaru Yamagawa learned the fine art of tonkatsu from a master—his father who started his modest little restaurant, Maru-ichi, almost fifty years ago. Over the decades, the father trained disciples who have gone on to set up their own Maru-named tonkatsu shops across Tokyo. Now, though, the son is the master and he serves some of the best tonkatsu in the city.

All the ingredients at Maru-ichi are carefully sourced. The pearly pink cutlets come from Iwate. The red-orange carrots are grown in Chiba, and the surprisingly sweet cabbages are harvested in the Miura peninsula where the spring cabbages, especially those picked from late March to late April are renowned.

It’s still a family operation at Maru-ichi. Masaru’s elderly mother, sporting a nifty white jacket and white kerchief, watches over the rice, which is cooked in a large old-fashioned kama over a gas flame—the tastiest way to make rice.

Behind the counter at Masaru’s elbow, his wife readies each plate with a mound of lacy, shredded cabbage, a spring of curly parsley, and bright wedge of lemon.

Maru-ichi is a tiny place with only a 7-seat counter and two tables each seating four. The menu is small too. All orders are set menus, teishoku, with rice, house-made pickles, and tonjiru soup. You can choose either the leaner “hire,” (filet) or the luscious “ros” (loin) each at several weights: 170 grams, 250 grams, or for the genuine trencherman, the 300-gram plate.

On my most recent visit, Masaru confided that he was fascinated by UFOs and Area 51 in Nevada. Maybe that explains the otherworldly flavors of the Maru-ichi teishoku. Compared to other tonkatsu joints, the rice is softer and more delicious; the carrots and cabbage sweeter; the meat more tender and flavorful. The real secret, though, is probably the great care that goes into everything at Maru-ichi. They go to the trouble, for example, of boiling the carrots, burdock, and onions separately to make sure they are evenly tender before adding them to pork-based miso soup to make tonjiru.

Customers don’t mind the drab exterior of Maru-ichi. They know that the interior is spotlessly clean and all efforts at beauty are focused on the plate. On that recent visit, I ordered the 170-gram tonkatsu teishoku (1,300 yen). Next to me, a well-dressed matron with a diamond-encrusted emerald ring, as big as a walnut on her left hand, ordered the larger 250-gram teishoku (1,700 yen). When she finished, she left without paying. She’s a joren, a regular, and she’ll get her bill at the of the month.

For the complete review, and other of my reviews, please check out:


Maru-ichi: 1-7-2 Omori Kita, Ota-ku. Tel: 03-3762-2601.

Lunch 11:30 to 1 pm. Dinner 5 pm to 7 pm.

Closed Wednesdays, Sundays, and National Holidays.

Maru-ichi is about a 2-minute walk from the East exit of Omori Station.

Minoya: Horse flesh nabe in Morishita

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Minoya is a Tokyo landmark. For over 110 years, this venerable establishment has been serving sakura nabe, a sukiyaki-type dish but made with horsemeat, to Morishita locals and connoisseurs. Nowadays, though, most Japanese are not familiar with the taste of sakura niku. Pork, beef, and chicken are much more popular. Horseflesh, however, is truly delicious.

The sakura moniker comes from the bright red color of the flesh which has a fine, close texture and a faint underlying sweetness. One of the best ways to discover this for yourself is with a side order of niku sashi, thin slices of horsemeat sashimi from the senaka, or lower back of the beast, served with a dab of freshly grated ginger and a rich shoyu dipping sauce. Another popular side dish is the pale pink abura sashi, slices of sashimi from the back of the neck.

The main attraction at Minoya is the sakura nabe (1800 yen), a dish you cook yourself at the low table. You will receive a shallow iron pot containing a rich warishita broth made of dashi, shoyu and mirin. You’ll also get a plate carefully arranged with a mound of shirataki, thin noodles made from konnyaku; a few slices of negi, welsh onion; a couple slices of fu, wheat gluten dumplings; and some morsels of luscious fat which will later melt into the sauce. Draped over all this are thin slices of bright red momo niku, from the thigh, moistened with a spoonful of sweet brown miso.

If you are not sure how to proceed, an oba-san waitress will place a few ingredients into the pot and start the gas fire for you. Once the sauce starts bubbling, you remove each tidbit one by one, then dip it—just as in sukiyaki—into a cup of stirred raw egg as a “sauce.”

Besides being deeply tasty, horseflesh is also healthier with more protein, less fat, and half the calories of beef or pork. Be sure to keep your eye on the meat as it cooks, for it quickly colors in the bubbling sauce. Eat it when it still has a few pink blushes, said the oba-san.

Inexpensive additions to your one-pot meal are the side dishes of yakitofu, tofu branded with dark grill marks, and enoki mushrooms. Bottled beer, Asahi Super Dry, or saké or a highball of Super Nikka seem to be the tipples of choice. Although half-bottles of wine are also available.

The pace of your meal, then, is up to you as you add, cook, take and dip each ingredient to the slow sizzle and hiss of the bubbling sauce.

The traditional Japanese-style room is large and open with cool reed mats covering the tatami. You’ll sit on a white zabuton at one of the low stainless-steel covered tables arranged along two walls. Old fashioned white globe lamps hang from the the richly-grained wooden ceiling lined with cherrywood crossbeams. This “sakura” motif is repeated in the five-petalled flowers cut into the wood of the shoji screen doors which line both walls and the serving dishes and sauce pots.

At one end of the comfortable room, under a rope noren, are large sliding windows which look out on a neat miniature garden complete with a little waterfall, rocks, and a pool of swimming koi.

When you are ready to leave, pay at the table and receive a well-worn wooden “check-paid” billet. Take that and the other wooden billet too, the one for your shoes that you left in the black-pebbled genkan as you entered.

2-19-9 Morishita, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-3631-8298. Lunch 12 noon to 2 pm. Dinner 4 pm to 9:30 pm (L.O. 9pm). Closed Thursdays. May thru October also closed on the 3rd Wednesday of the month.

For the complete review, and other of my reviews, please check out Metropolis magazine.

The Spice of Life and Rocking Chair coffee in Shitamachi

Friday, August 26th, 2011

The spice of life is not a leaf, or a seed, or a powder. I think it is satisfying work. Here are two spots in Shitamachi where you can experience such satisfaction.

The Miyagawa family has been selling shichimi spice for more than 70 years. The peppery “7-taste” mixture includes red pepper (roasted or dried) and at least six other ingredients such as sansho pepper, black sesame, poppy seed, dried mikan peel, nori, hemp seeds, and mustard seeds. Mr. Miyagawa passed away some years ago, but Mrs. Miyagawa will still deftly mix you a bag of shichimi spice from the various canisters on her worn wooden work table. Less spicy? Hotter spicy? Just let her know.

While she’s working, her cat will watch you from its corner on the raised tatami under the one “naked” incandescent light bulb which hangs in her shop. You may also want to get one of the lovely wooden gourd-shaped shichimi dispensers that she sells.

Shichimi spice is excellent on soba, udon, or in some nabe dishes. Some people even sprinkle it on ice cream.

Such homey establishments are quickly disappearing in this shitamachi neighborhood near Ryogoku station. To find the Miyagawa shop, turn right out of the Oedo subway line exit and walk along Kiyosumi Dori toward Morishita. The shop is a 7 or 8 minute walk from the exit.


Kameido station is just two stops away from Ryogoku station on the Sobu line. A few steps from the east exit of Kameido Station is one of Tokyo’s most interesting kissaten: Kohi Dojo Samurai, the rocking chair coffee shop.

Evidently, some thirty years ago, the master of the Samurai shop was taking a cigarette break while rocking back and forth on a swing in a playground when he was struck with the idea that his customers might also like to rock back and forth while drinking coffee. So he then purchased a dozen rocking chairs to line his long wooden counter.

The coffee at Samurai is excellent, brewed usually using the paper drip method, but you can also order a cup made with the cold water drip method, which is made over seven hours drip by cold drip. You can choose your own cup from the many arrayed along the long wooden shelves behind the counter.

A separate menu lists seven “flavored” coffees: blueberry, green apple, caramel, banana, hibiscus, almond, and cinnamon. The natural flavor has been added to the ground beans themselves, and is not added with a syrup. You can try a trio of these coffees for 750 yen.

The service is brisk and friendly with the male staff smartly dressed in powder blue short-sleeved shirts, black slacks and black neckties, a retro Showa-period look that makes them seem like airline pilots.

Simple lunches can be had here, including beef stew for 800 yen, potato pizza for 600 yen, a Texas Burger for 750 yen, or a Hamburg Doria for 700 yen. The chocolate tart was served with a fresh shiso leaf, a surprising, but tasty combination.

In the evening, the Samurai starts serving booze and cocktails, all priced at 550 yen.

Why “Samurai”? The master happens to be an aikido master, thus the “dojo” in the name. A full set of samurai armor is prominently displayed at on end of the narrow shop, spotlighted and framed by flowers.

The master must be quite a character. In order to attract customers to an early morning set of toast and coffee, he lists the opening time as 7:60 am. He believes it sounds earlier than 8:00am.


Miyagawa Spice Shop: 3-6 Chitose, Koto ward.

Kohi Dojo Samurai: 6-57-22 Kameido, Koto Ward. Tel: 03.3638.4003. Open 7:60 am to 25:00 am. Closed Sundays. www.samurai-cafe.jp. Check out their video on the shop website.


Fuji Kitchen & “Coffee Western” Kitayama in Shitamachi

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Just a short walk from the red-lantern entrance to Sensoji Shrine in Asakusa, Fuji Kitchen is a trip. Two women of a certain age, dressed stylishly in black with pearl necklaces and gold chains, have been running this tiny establishment for over 40 years. The pint-size interior has a nautical feel with pinewood wall planking held in place with rows of iron nails. For some reason, an old flintlock rifle is prominently displayed on a rack. From the small speakers mounted on the ceiling comes a soundtrack from the 1970s when the ladies wore jeans: The Who, The Beatles, The Doobie Brothers, Janis Joplin, The Band. The grey-haired chef in his white T-shirt and jeans can be seen in his very narrow kitchen from the six-seat counter. Three other tables fill up the few remaining square meters.

Fuji Kitchen serves the beefiest beef stew I’ve ever tasted. The menu boasts that the demi-glace sauce simmers for a week in preparation. The two fist-sized hunks of beef are lusciously tender with each bite almost melting in your mouth. They are served with four unadorned penne pasta pieces, two green beans, two thick rounds of glazed carrots, a spoonful of Gratin Dauphinois potatoes, and that dark, chocolate brown demi-glace sauce over which one pearl-necklaced lady pours a small vial of cream just before serving.

The stew costs 2700 yen. Rice or bread is extra for 300 yen.

The clientele here is of a sort you won’t find elsewhere in Tokyo: no youngsters, mostly regulars who have been coming here for decades. The two matrons exhibited a slight shyness at having a foreigner take a seat at the counter. But once I demonstrated that I could speak Japanese and commented favorably on the 1970s background music, they smiled.

To find Fuji Kitchen, instead of entering the shrine under the red lantern, take the left-hand lane that parallels the entrance. You’ll spot the orange and brown awning about 60 or 70 meters down the lane.

They are open for lunch from 11:30am to 2:30pm and dinner 5:30pm to 7:30pm. Closed on Tuesday and Wednesdays.

Fuji Kitchen: 1-20-2 Asakusa, Taito Ward. Tel: 03.3841.6531

After this beef stew, a walk and a cup of coffee would be in order. A short subway ride away in Ueno (four stops on the Ginza Line) is on of Tokyo’s most unusual kissaten, Coffee Western Kitayama.

When I first discovered this kissaten, a couple of weeks ago, I entered the shop and was immediately told by the proprietor, a portly, dapper gentleman in a crisp white shirt and black bow tie, that I couldn’t enter and would have to leave. He ushered me outside, saying that only “kawatta okyaku-san” or “strange customers” could enter. He pointed to a notice taped to the front entrance and read it to me. “No photographs, no talking about business, no laptop computers, no reading.” He explained further that sometimes customers would get angry and arguments would ensue because they didn’t know or didn’t agree with these rules. “Besides,” he said, “we are not open now. We are on a break.”

When I explained that I had come from far away Mitaka to sample his coffee, he relented and let me in.

This kissaten began in the mid 1960s, a few years earlier than the Fuji Kitchen, and nothing much inside has changed since. Every available space is filled with large burlap bags of coffee beans stacked five or six high. They crowd the few tables and threaten to topple over onto the counter or the upright piano. Near the entrance is a venerable roasting machine which is fired up several times a week.

On the top of the piano sits a bronze bust of a famous jazz pianist. I knew the face but couldn’t remember the name. When I asked who it was, the owner said it was his father, Count Basie. From then on I called the owner, “Basie-san.”

His wife and son fill out the staff. She recommended the A Set or B Set. The A Set (1500 yen) was a cup brewed with “old beans” fifteen years old and included the “Shizuku,” a chilled concoction that followed the coffee. The old bean brew was served after several long minutes of preparation. When I asked “Basie-san” what the Shizuku was, he said it was difficult to explain and it was a secret. Meanwhile, several other customers entered the shop unaccosted by the owner.

The brew was excellent. It was served in an elegant bone-china cup along with two kinds of sugar—large crystals and granulated. The little milk pitcher was served in a tiny dish with a chunk of freshly chiseled ice leaning against it to keep it cool.

Several notices were taped along the counter stating “No Photographs” so I could not take a picture of the coffee or the interior. After I had finished the coffee, I was served a small “kuchinaosu,” a palate cleanser sip of hoji cha, I believe. Then came the chilled Shizuku in a tiny stemmed shot glass. It was dark, like a coffee liqueur, with a white foam top. When I asked what this was, perhaps a cold-brewed Dutch drip concoction, the proprietor answered in English, “My original. Only me in the world.” Then he immediately asked in Japanese, “Did you understand my English?”

I assured him that I did, and that the Shizuku, whatever type of coffee drink it was, was perfectly delicious. The proprietor beamed.

The rules at Coffee Western, I later found out, are in place so that customers focus on drinking and enjoying the coffee. The philosophy here is if you want to work on your computer or read and ignore the coffee, then you should take your trade elsewhere.

When I had finished, we exchanged meishi and I found out the owner’s real name was Kitayama. I asked him if it would be okay if I came back again to be a customer. “Of course,” he said with a big smile. He followed me out the door, waited for the light to change so I could cross the street, and bowed to me as I made my way to the other side of the street.

Coffee Western Kitayama: 1-5-1 Kamiya, Taito Ward. Tel: 03.3844.2822. Closed Mondays. From Ueno Station take the Iriya exit and the kissa is about a 5-minute walk.


















Food for thought: bell crickets and coffee in Jimbocho

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Mr. Takai doesn’t care much for ordinary crickets. He’s a connoisseur. For the last 20 years, he’s been raising “suzumushi,” bell crickets, so that in September his knife, scissors and hardware store will ring and sing with cricket song.

Nestled among the used bookstores of Jimbocho, the Nozaki Cutting Tool shop, now under the stewardship of Mr. Takai, has been selling bladed tools for almost 100 years. In times past, there were other such shops in the neighborhood, but bookstores have crowded out the hardware competition. One wall of the narrow Nozaki shop is lined with 100s of scissors—left-handed scissors, long-bladed tailor’s shears, delicate German scissors shaped like a crane—and a wide range of the hand-forged, one-piece Japanese scissors found in every home sewing kit. Above the rows of scissors are kitchen knives—beautiful tools with the Nozaki named stamped into the shoulder of each blade. Kitchen knives and scissors are on perpetual sale—20% percent off.

Mr. Takai sells tweezers, nail clippers, toenail clippers, ear cleaners and barber shears. He’s got two-inch long Victorinox Swiss Army pocket knives in assorted rainbow colors and a Victorinox machete with a 15-inch blade. Also in stock is a large stuffed 4-point antlered buck’s head. He’s got a samurai-like sharkskin-handled knife with a gleaming 180mm blade. He’s got knives to cut paper, slash bamboo, or hack through branches, and knives that are works of art—handle-less knives shaped like a dragon, a bird, a bamboo shoot, a feather. He sells traditional Japanese planes of all grades. Other traditional carpenter’s tools crowd the back wall. Hand-made hammers—some with heads the size of a thumbnail—the odd pliers, screwdriver, or rasp fill spaces on lower shelves or behind the counter.

Mr. Takai is a bit of a collector. On the top shelf of a dusty glass cabinet is a small assembly of old pocket knives, antique nutcrackers, a small metal camera, a few straight razors, and a fountain pen or two. Those are not for sale, he says, but offers to show me a nutcracker.

But what brought me into the Nozaki shop was the sound—the choir of cricket song pouring into the street. Covering the counter, on the floor, behind the counter, and next to the grinding wheels on which Mr. Takai will sharpen your blunt knife or dull scissors for about 800 yen, are plastic cages filled with his suzumushi. Suzumushi are not as lovely as the korogi, the lithe field cricket.  Bell crickets are long-legged, pot-bellied bugs with the nasty habit of cannibalizing their cage mates. So every autumn Mr. Takai must purchase a few crickets to top off his breeding herd.

He says suzumushi are not difficult to raise. The female lays her eggs (which are so small you might fit ten into a grain of rice) near the end of September. Mr. Takai tends the cages through the winter keeping them clean and not too cold. When the hatchlings emerge in May, he lets them feed on slices of eggplant or cucumber, and fresh watermelon in summer. The standard technique is to impale the food on small bamboo sticks stuck into the dirt to keep the food unsoiled.

Some 200 years ago in Kanda, just a few minutes walk from Mr. Takai’s shop, an astute entrepreneur named Chuzo, who ran an oden stand, caught some suzumushi, put them in bamboo cages, and sold them along with his stew. Together with the son of a samurai, they set up the first business in bug sales. Such business continues. After the stifling heat of summer and after the drone of cicadas which only seems to intensify the heat, have dwindled away, you see people in pet shops, in department stores, in markets and festivals, buying these suzumushi insects. And you see the plastic, cricket-filled cages in train stations, in coffee shops, in police stations, and in bars—for the cricket’s song brings the first cool promise of autumn.

Mushi-no-ne,” the song these insects make, is like the ringing of the tiniest, most delicate silver hand bell. Japanese have always loved listening to crickets. For almost a thousand years, music lovers have collected suzumushi into cages to hear them sing of autumn. Department stores even sell exquisite bamboo cages filled with a few crickets perfectly reproduced in black iron, which will sing uninterrupted when you finger a switch.

Mr. Takai is a reticent, soft-spoken fellow, who chooses his words carefully. Why does he keep raising crickets for 20 years? He just likes the sounds his insects make, he says. He shrugs his shoulders as the tiny chorus of carillon chimes echo and ping from his oiled blades and saws.

Along a narrow passageway behind the Nozaki shop are three kissaten, coffee shops, each over 50 years old, and each recommended by Mr. Takai. Exit Takai’s shop, take the first right then the first left and you’ll spot the brick pile which is Ladorio. This rustic kissa is celebrating its 61st birthday this year. Try their pomegranite “squash” soda.

Next to Ladorio is the venerable Milonga, a Latin music kissaten for tango lovers. And if the crickets are not singing in the Nozaki shop, seek out the mountain hut-like Saboru.

Hidden away behind a pot of ornamental grass near the Saboru entrance is a box of bell crickets provided each year by Mr. Takai. He says they usually start singing just around five o’clock.