Jimbocho (2)

After dropping in on the Bean Book Carnival the other day [see “Jimbocho (1)” post], I wandered through the back streets of Jimbocho in search of Kissako, a coffee shop I’d visited before.  In the busy noisy outer world, Liu Xiaobo had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Norway was taking a lot of flak from the Chinese government as a result.  But in the quiet slow-paced inner world of Kissako, I found Norway being appreciated, like a cup of very good java.

To find Kissako you have to get lost first.  You go down the street you think it might be on, or off, and then you don’t find it, so you follow your instincts and turn left or right at the next corner and the next until you find yourself in a narrow back alley with no idea where you are or by what route you got there.  You have left behind the rushing traffic and crowded sidewalks of Jimbocho, and are now alone.  At that moment, an old house with lots of potted plants out front and a sign that says 喫茶去 appears in front of you.  This is Kissako.

“Kissa” means coffee shop or tearoom.  Our translation staff found the “ko” part trickier.  By itself, it means “gone.”  So they googled around and came to a website featuring information on the Japanese tea ceremony [www.mitene.or.jp/~oono/(in Japanese)].  Here they learned that kissako is a word in its own right, a Zen term meaning “Nice to see you! How about some tea?”  (It does not mean, the website warns, “Drink your tea and be gone!”)

Green tea is on the menu at Kissako, but its specialty is coffee.  The aroma of fresh-ground beans greeted me as I entered.  Though the street outside had been empty, the shop was full, except for one table right inside the door, which the Master (proprietors of coffee shops are called “Master”), who was working alone, quickly cleared up for me.  I sat down facing the wall to the immediate left of the entrance.  When I’d come here before that wall had been covered with an enlarged print of Art Kane’s famous 1958 photograph, “A Great Day in Harlem.”  It was gone now, and in its place was a collection of CD covers.  Then I noticed the music.  It was not jazz.  It was fiddles, playing something that might have been the accompaniment to a barn dance somewhere in Appalachia.

Kissako is a jazz-kissa, a coffee house that plays jazz recordings, hence the wall-sized print of “A Great Day….”  But today, for whatever reason, it was fiddles.  The menu was inside an old 45 album cover: “Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic, vol. 9” from CLEF Records.  Various coffees and teas were available from ¥600 to ¥700 [$7.00 to $8.50], and something out of the ordinary:  a piece of cake called mor monsen made from a Norwegian recipe.

I ordered my coffee and the cake.  Then I noticed the windowsill to my left.  It was piled high with CDs—I counted over 100—with a little note explaining that these belonged to the Norwegian Culture Cafe, and I could choose any CD I wanted to listen to and request it (kind of like a non-mechanical jukebox).  Now I was confused.  Had Kissako changed hands and become the Norwegian Culture Cafe?  A closer look at the CD covers on the opposite wall revealed that these too were from Norway.  In front of them was a stack of Norwegian picture books.  I concluded that the Master had made a recent trip to Norway, fell completely in love with the place, and returned with CDs, picture books and mor monsen recipe, determined to remake his jazz-kissa into a museum celebrating Norway.  (It turned out this conclusion was wrong.  Read on.)

The door kept sliding open and people poked in their heads—where were they all coming from?—only to be told that the downstairs was full but they were welcome to sit upstairs, reached by a narrow, steep and creaking stairway opposite the entrance.  It took a while for my order to come, so while the fiddles fiddled on and on, I browsed through the pile of CDs.  They were all Norwegian jazz.  I had heard of none of the groups or musicians.  There was Embraceable You:  The Warm Symphonic Moods of Bjarne Nerem, which included standards like “Stardust” and “What’s New”; The Zoo is Far, by the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble (piano, harmonium, toy piano, trumpet, violin, Hardanger Fiddle, viola, cello, baroque harp, drums, percussion and glockenspiel), which included intriguing titles like “Music For One Cat” and “Need Elp”; Bushman’s Revenge Cowboy Music, with titles like “Bad Feng Shui,” “Supersonic Macho Blues,” and “Makes It Worth a Beating.”

The coffee and mor monsen arrived:  six small cubes of butter cake laid out on a plate and sprinkled with powdered sugar, with a daub of plum jelly on top and 2 small triangles of pineapple to the side.  A feast for the eyes and the palate.

When I went to pay my check the Master asked me if I were from Norway.  I told him no, but that I had enjoyed being in Norway for the past hour.

When I got home, I googled Norwegian Culture Cafe and found out what’s going on.  The n.c.cafe is an “imaginary cafe” which circulates in “volumes” around the Tokyo area, manifesting now and again at a local cafe and occupying it for a while.  It is the creation of the Society of Japan-Norway Musicians and aims to introduce Norwegian culture through its music CDs.  At its website [nccafe.blog22.fc2.com (in Japanese)] I found a recipe for mor monsen, which uses the following ingredients:  unsalted butter, sugar, flour, eggs, grated lemon rind, currants, almonds and powdered sugar.

On Wednesday, October 27 there will be an exhibit at Kissako of aurora borealis photographs by the Japanese photographer Hiroyuki Kudoh.  Norwegian Culture Cafe, Vol.4 will be in residence at Kissako through Sunday, November 14.

[Kissako:  Kanda Jimbocho 2-24, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Ph.: 03-3229-6969.  Open every weekday, 7AM – 9PM; Saturday, noon – 9 PM; Sunday, noon – 6PM.]


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2 Responses to “Jimbocho (2)”

  1. tammy Says:

    My mother was adopted from Tokyo her last name was kissako… I still dont understand the true meaning of her last name. 😦

    • tokyotree Says:

      Hi Tammy, Thanks for your comment. I am away from home just now but will try to see what I can find out about your mother’s last name when I return home. It seems unusual to me. The meaning would depend on how it is written in kanji. Do you know the kanji? I’ll be in touch again in about ten days. Ella

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