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Go retro at the coffee shops passed down for generations in Jimbocho

Updated Jun 12, 2017

Tokyo’s Jimbocho is said to be the world’s best antique book town, but there are many gourmet restaurants where you can have unique curries, original coffees, and more as you visit their book stores. Here we showcase the some of these long-established coffee shops.

Sabouru Cafe


Although I always wanted to come to this area, as a Japanese I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I always mistakenly called it jinbocho, when really it’s pronounced as jinbouchou, with an extended o sound in the middle….

Anyway, after coming out of Jimbocho station’s A7 exit, just as you’re about to start your search for the café, suddenly you’ll notice Sabouru and Sabouru 2 right in front of you. Depending on the time of day, you might not want to postpone going in (like I did); during lunch for example you’ll find a line to get outside.

The cafe is…well unique. Not Japanese, not western; it’s like a lodge, but not. It has a traditional red payphone at the entrance. It’s not really a café but more of an old school coffee shop.

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A mysterious space

Sabouru means flavor in Spanish, and during the more than 50 year history of this coffee shop I wonder how often students would saboru (which in Japanese means slacking off) here. It has been used in the movie Shitsurakuen (Paradise Lost), and many artists, writers, and actors come often. This place probably has many stories to tell.

The banter between customers and staff is casual, creating a relaxed atmosphere. The shop has a downstairs, a first floor, and an upstairs. The seat placement and lamps also contribute to the relaxed mood here.

There is a strange dragon or flying Kirin statue in the shop. The expression of the statue seems to silently say, Does it actually matter what I am?

The coffee is recommended but the retro milk shake is really what you should order. It comes with a side of peanuts for 500 JPY.

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Sabouru 2

Next to Sabouru on the right is Sabouru 2, which is food-centric and more than just your average coffee shop. On weekdays during lunchtime it’s filled with office workers from the neighborhood. At these times few students come, almost as if they sense the change in atmosphere.

Here I ordered the much talked about spaghetti Napolitan (a Japanese pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce) for 650 JPY, which comes with a mountainous side of salad. The curry that the table next to me ordered was large as well. Recently there has been another boom in the popularity of spaghetti Napolitan and so this shop is once again getting a lot of interest.

If you want a meal, it’s better to start at Sabouru 2, then changing to Sabouru. Going from one shop for food to another for tea is a pleasantly extravagant experience.

Sabouru and Sabouru 2 Tel: 03-3291-8404 (Sabouru 2 03-3291-8405) Hours: 9am to 11pm (Sabouru 2 11am to 10:30pm) Closed: Sundays and some national holidays

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Sabou Kanda Burajiru (Brazil)

A few minutes away from Sabouru is another coffee shop, with Brazil written in Kanji in the name! This picture is of the first floor which is dedicated to coffee. The shop itself is downstairs.

The strong bittersweet Kanda Blend costs 500 JPY and is expressive of a truly dedicated coffee shop. There are many different coffees, but make sure you also taste one of the variety of cakes they have, which are geared toward adults and so aren’t too sweet. Don’t forget to have some coffee jelly, as well.

Sabou Kanda Burajiru Tel: 03-3291-2013 Hours: Mon to Fri 11am to 9pm. Sunday and national holidays 11am to 7pm No holidays.

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Hakusuido, famous for their "poodles"

Established in 1929, Hakusuido is a western snack shop with a coffee lounge in the back.

I recommend the white chocolate poodle-shaped cakes. For only 380 JPY it’s adorably decorated and a great value. During my visit there were a lot of orders for it. This cute little cake was also featured in the manga “Honey and Clover”.

Another suggested item is the mocha, chocolate, and vanilla mini cream puff set, called Torio Shukuriimu (cream puff trio.) 400 JPY.

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There are many more old coffee shops in the area, so whether visiting the numerous used book stores or finding small curry shops, discovery after discover awaits.

You don’t have to go far from the station to have fun. Visiting frequently and becoming a Jimbocho expert might be fun, too!

Hakusuido Tel: 03-3295-1208 Hours: 9:30am to 7pm Holidays: Sundays and national holidays

This article was originally published on Sep 23, 2015

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