This post has been seriously well overdue and I just couldn’t bring myself to write it as I was not not loving being back in London after spending two amazing weeks travelling my most favourite country in the world – Japan. On top of that, I had some teeth business to take care off and finally I’ve settled back into the rhythm, so can blog all about it.
I could easily write a book about our awesome trip, but instead I will just focus on the things that matter to a bike person most – coffee and bikes (well, at least for me). We started our tour in Tokyo staying in a small, but cozy Airbnb apartment very close to Yoyogi Park and Harajuku area and a walkable distance to Shibuya, which was so convenient!
One of the cutest coffee spots in Tokyo must be Little Nap Coffee Stand located just on the other side of Yoyogi park. It’s incredibly tiny with only a couple of seats inside and a friendly doggo staring at us. They were playing old skool Erykah Badu and I just felt like it was 100% my kind of spot. This was my first quality filter in Japan and I was impressed by how smooth it was. We just sat outside absorbing the sunshine and enjoying our drinks and then took a stroll through the park to do some more dogspotting (if you don’t know what I’m talking about – check out Dogspotting Facebook group). This place is a must especially if you’re in the area.
Another place to check out around Omotesando area is Brotures bike shop that is just a walk away from Harajuku that sells a bunch of your regular fixed gear bike brands like Dosnoventa, Cinelli, Leader and of course all the Japanese swaggy parts. This was the first time I saw anodised Sugino cranks in person and was so tempted to get the purple one, but I just couldn’t justify buying it. They don’t come cheap, but if you want to stand out of the crowd, these cranks are just so lush! The guys at the shop are mega friendly (just like anyone else in Japan) and also do monthly fixed gear rides too, so there’s a nice community of riders there. We literally came back to the shop for the second time just to drool at all this stuff below.
Now back to coffee and it is certainly worth mentioning About Life Coffee Brewers, which is a short walk from Shibuya. Just like Little Nap Coffee, this space is tiny – there is actually no seating inside and about enough room for 2-4 people. It was a pretty grey rainy afternoon and even though we didn’t want to walk in the rain for too long, we made it and it was well worth it. Inside there is normally a small art exhibition on the walls, so there’s something to look at while you hide from the rain and drink your coffee. The menu is pretty simple and I just ordered a fruity filter to see how that compared to the other place. The coffee of course was great, but it’s more about the experience of the place and it was certainly interesting.
I should have probably mentioned this bike shop much earlier in the post as it just had everything you could ever want. Our trip to Bluelug Yoyogi Park left us feeling like kids in a candy store. All the Japanese bling you could ever want and loads of popular bike brands too. The shop was extremely well stocked and you could pick up anything you need from here. It really surprised us that all the bike shops in Japan had so much stock available including very rare parts and so many bike frames available to pick up right there. They even had one of my favourite bikes ever – Affinity Anthem, which is being ridden by Ash Duban in Red Hook Crit. I wasn’t going to leave this place empty handed, so I ended up picking up some champagne MKS pedals and a set of purple Sugino dust caps. I still need to put all of this on!
Next up is a fairly well known Blue Bottle Coffee, which I believe has a few branches in LA, NY, SF and Japan, with our nearest one in Shinjuku. This place is located in a big shopping hall and has plenty of seats, unlike the previous two places. With an open setting and loads of seats available this coffee shop felt entirely different and super busy with trendy Japanese teens getting their favourite coffee drinks and instagraming them straight away. Although Blue Bottle Coffee felt a little bit more like Starbucks, it still provided a great experience with top notch filters on offer. I really do like their branding and design – the first time I came across it was in Williamsburg in New York, so this brought back some good memories.
The trip would be incomplete without popping into WBASE that’s a short walk from Harajuku or Shibuya. They are all about BMX bikes, hanging outside the shop and doing all kinds of tricks when it isn’t pouring down. Sadly on this day it was, so we just went inside to have a quick browse and get some stickers. It’s certainly worth checking out their Instagram if you’re into BMX.
Last Tokyo coffee spot I want to mention is Koffee Mameya that reopened after Omotesando Coffee closed down in December 2015. This place is slightly hidden and doesn’t actually have a prominent store front. Like most coffee shops in Japan, this place is small and only serves and sells coffee, nothing else. This was not great news for Kamal, who doesn’t drink coffee at all (I know, what the hell), but I felt like I was in heaven. Koffee Mameya has a lot to offer and with 15-20 different beans on sale you can certainly find something to satisfy your coffee cravings. In retrospect, I should have really brought a bag or a million as I only ended up getting a cup of filter to try. The variety of coffee here is incredible and you can get roasts from all over the world. Interestingly Japanese roasts always tend to be more towards the full bodied side and with 5 local Japanese contract roasters, there is something for even the pickiest of coffee drinkers.
After spending a lovely week in Tokyo, we headed south to Kyoto to check out the historic sights, but were also pleasantly surprised by good coffee and bike offerings. There’s 2 places to mention here – one is called Kon’s Cycle with a vast choice of all the popular cycling brands like Cinelli, Cadence, Dosnoventa and many others. As we walked in, they had Red Hook Crit footage playing on the screen, so that was unexpected. You can also rent out bikes from this place if you would rather cycle than get on the tube to see all the shrines and temples. Sadly, no fixed gears available to rent out, so you would have to do with a city bike or a slightly faster option – geared road bike.
As for coffee, you absolutely must pop in to Kissamaster cafe inside the MSPC store (and by the way, the store is so so nice!). If coffee isn’t your thing, you could just have a hot chocolate or a matcha – expect mega cute latte art here. Sometimes they make a Sakura tree art on the foam, which is next level. The best thing about the cafe is definitely the little garden, which you can stare at whilst having a drink and also browse through a variety of trendy street wear magazines, which is exactly what we did.
Now onto the last city we stayed at before departing back to the UK – Osaka. The vibe in the city is completely different to Tokyo and it seemed a lot more relaxed, loud and buzzing. There were two major bike shops worth checking out – one of them is Giracha Coffee, which combines two things I love into one. This cafe/bike shop has the widest selection of NJS frame sets I’ve seen anywhere and plenty of parts too. We were just amazed at all the stuff hanging off the ceilings and walls – it was almost too much to choose from. I have no idea how these places afford to have all this inventory and not go bankrupt, but maybe in Japan shop rents are cheaper and people actually are willing to spend a bit more on nice bikes. Needless to say, there is hardly any crime here, so you don’t need to worry about your nice bike parts being stolen off your ride at all. People simply leave their bikes outside not even locked to an object, sometimes just a flimsy small cable lock through a wheel and a frame. It’s crazy when you compare it to London, where bikes locked with 2 D-locks could still be stolen if left for longer.
The second bike shop that was a short walk from Giracha is Brotures Osaka. Just like their sister store in Tokyo, they had plenty of fixed gear bikes available as well as some very impressive looking Araya disc wheels. If you want more NJS swag, this shop wasn’t the best for it, but still worth a visit and the guys in there are always up for a chat about bikes.
I hope you enjoyed my round up of coffee and bike spots to check out if you ever decide to go to Japan. I couldn’t recommend it more as it’s such a fascinating country when it comes to nature, history, people, culture and technology. This was my second time there and I would totally go again even tomorrow if funds and holiday time were no issue!
Hit me up if you want more recommendations as I really couldn’t fit everything in 🙂