By special guest blogger: Oliver Trapnell
Harajuku is a popular Tokyo neighbourhood. So much so that many might conclude that it is a guaranteed tourist trap, luring us into the packed, pop-idol lifestyle that permeates the area. More than often than not, a visitor here can end up being swept along Takeshita Street by the hordes of shee-ple and be so overwhelmed by the lights, noise and atmosphere that there is no fun in the experience. But if you are someone who enjoys seeing though the hodgepodge of flashy signs and general hubbub, there are a number of little-known shops and cafes only slightly removed from the usual hum of tourists where one can find a pleasant experience and maybe even a moment of peace.
If you’re anything like me in the morning, you’ll probably require at least one caffeinated beverage before your day has truly begun. Not one to shy away from the bizarre, l found mine opposite Yoyogi Station. With slight trepidation I approached a cute coffee booth that purported to specialize in “Butter Coffee”. Having never heard of such a thing, I nervously ordered the house special. From my ignorant initial observation, the beverage in my cup appeared to be plain milky coffee. I was shocked upon my first sip by the subtle undertones that the butter incorporated into that smooth coffee taste that we all know and love. It was unexpectedly delicious! Even though everything happening inside was clearly visible from the street, I still have no idea how they managed to incorporate butter into the coffee without leaving a trace of oil or scent.
Coffee in hand, l headed south towards Harajuku via the ‘scenic route’ of little side streets, which were slightly more maze-like than I had anticipated, although I eventually found my way through.
I don’t think it’s possible to go to Harajuku and not indulge in some form of sweet treat. In keeping with that tradition, I found a couple of places to satisfy my sweet tooth. Fortunately, both are a little removed from the usual hustle and bustle of Harajuku, enabling me to walk off some of their calories, too.
The first was only a short walk from Harajuku, just to the south of Yoyogi Park and NHK. It’s a hidden gem, aptly named the “World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon-pan Ice cream shop” (1-15-9 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku). I should point out that Melon-pan is so-named for its shape, not its flavour. It’s a sweet round bun that looks a bit like a melon, but tastes like a cross between a scone and a waffle. The beautifully warm, soft interior and crunchy crust Melon-pan I got here, packed with a generous portion of ice cream was a welcome treat in the unexpected sunshine this winter.
Despite being a small hole in the wall, the shop had a variety of ice cream flavours to accompany their excellent bread. This is one time when I am happy to “settle” for “Second Best” and am certain to make multiple return trips in order to give all their flavours a try.
After devouring every last crumb of my Melon-pan, I headed east towards Meiji-dori and Omote-Sando and then north towards Sendagaya dodging the plethora of main-stream clothing stores that litter the area. At last I emerged from the Harajuku crowds to reach the second shop to entertain my appetite: Kippy’s COCO-Cream (2-6-3 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku), a dairy-free ice cream parlour that makes its ice cream from coconut water, honey and a host of other organically-sourced ingredients. The variety of coconut flavours they’ve managed to create is simply staggering and, combined with the assortment of available toppings, easily assuaged my remaining cravings for a sweet.
As I meandered north, continuing to walk off my sweets, I stopped by Hatonomori Hachiman Shrine in Sendagaya to be greeted by the soft rustling of wind through a small bamboo garden and a gentle trickling of water in the Temizusha. After a quick prayer that I don’t develop diabetes from eating so much ice cream, I settled into BiRd & rUby, a cozy coffee shop overlooking the shrine entrance.
The seating area couldn’t have been any larger than 3 metres square and during my coffee drinking and sunshine absorbing not a single person entered to disturb the shop’s silent atmosphere, giving me the perfect chance to bask in the pleasantness of my day…and to finish a book I had been reading.
© 2018 Jigsaw-japan.com and Oliver Trapnell
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