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  • Shona McCarthy

Starbucks Coffee Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya

Updated: Feb 11


When I was wandering around not far from Kiyomizu Dera in Kyoto, I got very excited to see this Starbucks that had been set up inside what looked like a very old Japanese shop. However, what I found on the inside wasn't quite what I expected, and I learned some very important lessons.

I had expected the interior to be somehow more traditional than it was. And in many ways, they had made it fit with that old world-ish Kyoto aesthetic. But one must bear in mind that by the time I was on this trip, I had been in a course in the humanities for 3 years that was rife with post-modernism and meta-modernism. So this trip I had gone on was an effort to take a journey into the distant past; to reconnect with the things that had originally inspired me; to flee the contemporary as much as I could.

The service area was very much like any serving area I had seen in any Starbucks. But it differed in one very important regard. The cabinets of food that are normally covered with glass anywhere else in the world were not! They were open and you are meant to grab the food or drinks you want and take them to the cashier. So, you can imagine the consternation and confusion that occurred when I got to the counter and asked the server for a bottle of apple juice and she repeatedly told me to get it myself! You can also imagine my shock when I reached into the case and found there was no glass there at all!

I then went to the seated areas, trying to find somewhere to rest my aching legs. In each of the "seiza" or floor sitting zones, there was a lovely pair of maiko geta on display, and a little sign telling visitors to take off their shoes before entering.

I had expected to be greeted by something like the image above in these areas. I thought I would get to sit and relax and quietly take in my surrounds. Instead, each area was filled to overflowing with hipster kids, looking sullen as they sipped a their paper cups. Hipster muzac flooded the area. It was as though these youths had been unwillingly plopped in the region and were hiding themselves away in these corners, clinging desperately to a sense of post-modernity; I could almost imagine them muttering sulkily that they wish Japan would stop being so Japanese.


The scene, far from creating the charmingly anachronistic sensation I had hoped for, felt more like the way I had often seen Hipsters engaging with cultures not their own. No depth, no attempt at deeper insight. Just superficial lip service, and some moody pro-Marxist utterances that they seem to believe are helpful, but would actually mean the destruction of all historical art and tradition if they were enacted. It was as though the air had been sucked out of every room, leaving nothing but the backdrop for an upcoming Netflix political drama.

I wouldn't normally write such abysmal words about a location I've visited, and I typically avoid doing so. But I've made an exception here because I happened to stumble upon images of the landmark Starbucks in happenstance. I realised, on a second look, that the building really is even more beautiful and remarkable than I remembered. And it occurs to me that throughout my trip I saw a lot of young holiday makers acting as though they were on holiday. So, my recommendations for people who would like to have a relaxing time here is this: This Starbucks opens at 8am and closes at 8pm. The worst time of day to go is around 2-3pm. The best times to go are early in the morning or late in the evening, since most of the hipster youths will either be sleeping or more interested in drinking alcohol at those times. These times include 8-10am and 5-7pm. Sunday is the absolute worst day to go with Saturday a close second. Weekdays are much better, with Wednesdays and Thursdays being the most tolerable. There is little you can do about the music system in the place. So you may be able to at least dull it with earplugs, or drown it out with noise-cancelling headphones. I recommend loading up your phone with a collection of your favourites, and some Japanese music so that you can get better atmosphere out of your locations in general, but especially when the location and the music chosen by the owners is poorly matched. I can recommend an assortment of Ghibli Movie classics or Trad Japanese covers of songs you already love. While you can't control what the other visitors might be wearing, you can choose to wear a kimono you could rent and be dressed in locally, in one of the many kimono rental stores that dot the area. Or you could buy a kimono from my online store and learn to dress yourself in it before you go to Japan so that you can wear kimono throughout your trip. It makes all of your memories and photos a little more special. Especially since the kimono becomes the ultimate keepsake from your trip.

I think that with planning and creativity it's possible to make the most of any experience in life. Looking at the building, I can see the wonderfully preserved beauty as it is. It's just a shame that its floors are so often stacked with people too proud to fully appreciate it.


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(Images by Tripadvisor and jonesryan98.)


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