Beverages taste better here, when you can drink in Japanese scenery like this.

Back in 2017, Starbucks opened one of their most beautiful stores in Japan, and arguably, the world. Located at Ninenzaka, a traditional stone-paved pedestrian street in Kyoto, Japan’s old capital, the unusual branch made news for being the first-ever Starbucks to feature tatami, traditional straw mat floors, but that’s not the only thing unique about its design.

The outside of the building, for example, doesn’t look like a regular Starbucks. All the buildings along this historic slope are wooden machiya, traditional two-storey townhouses, which look just like they would have a century ago, so you won’t find any modern-day signage here.

In fact, when our reporter Egawa Tasuku set out to find the Starbucks on a recent trip to Kyoto, he couldn’t. Standing on the stairs at Ninenzaka, he’d heard that you could see the Starbucks from this section of the slope, but after gazing up and down the street, he was none the wiser to its location.

▼ Can you find the Starbucks?

If it was here on this 150-metre (492-foot) long street, it was expertly hidden, like a ninja. Zooming in a little for more details, the stealth Starbucks remained invisible to Egawa’s eye.

That cute bunny sign in the foreground of the photo above almost distracted Egawa from his mission, but just as he was staring at the retro rabbit, the building next to it caught his attention.

▼ Ah!

▼ The mermaid appears!

Despite being less than five years old, the wooden signboard at this Starbucks looked as if it had been here for a century, and the weathering made the mermaid look strangely like Fujin, the Japanese god of wind, who’s often pictured with a windbag around its head. Egawa was impressed by the way this Starbucks blended in so perfectly with its surroundings, and when he approached it from the front, it looked even more like a traditional store, complete with a noren curtain at the entrance.

The building the Starbucks is housed in dates back over a hundred years, and from the outside, you can sense the respect for tradition in its beautifully maintained appearance.

That respect for tradition continues inside, because as soon as you pass beneath the noren curtain at the entrance, you’re met with this rustic wooden interior. Customers are required to place their order here at the counter before proceeding to the bar counter at the further end of the building.

Dimly lit and atmospheric, walking through this Starbucks is like stepping back in time to a different era. The fact that customers are encouraged to walk through the building to get a sense of its different areas makes this more than a Starbucks — it’s a unique experience.

▼ As customers wait for their drinks at the bar counter, they get to enjoy views out to the inner garden, a common machiya feature.

After receiving their orders, customers can climb a narrow wooden staircase, another distinctive feature of machiya houses, to the main seating area.

The staircase is so narrow it’s been designated a one-way route, but don’t worry — you won’t get stuck up there forever as there’s a separate staircase for descending.

At the top of the stairs is the beautiful tatami room, where you’ll find comfortable cushion seating and a hanging scroll that depicts the Otowa Waterfall at Kiyomizudera Temple, which is located at the end of the Ninenzaka approach. There was another room nearby as well, but that was in use by a group of ladies so Egawa decided not to photograph them.

Venturing further into the building through a narrow corridor leads to…

…a counter area where the trash receptacles are located. While this is a common feature at many a Starbucks, it’s highly unusual to see this type of setup inside a machiya.

Looking diagonally to the left and behind, there’s another tatami mat seating area with cushions and low tables. Customers who use the tatami areas are required to take their shoes off before stepping up onto the tatami.

▼ The number of seats here has been reduced at the moment due to coronavirus countermeasures.

Egawa decided to take a seat at a table by the window. This area was particularly beautiful, with windows on both sides of the room, including a gorgeous circular one, which made him feel as if he were inside a Japanese teahouse.

From where he sat, Egawa felt incredibly cosy, hugged on all sides by dark wood features.

However, the best thing about this window seat was the fact that he was able to look out onto the street and over the rooftops of neighbouring buildings. At dusk, the view was so magical Egawa had to pinch himself to check he wasn’t dreaming.

▼ This daytime view of the table where Egawa sat shows just how spectacular the views are from here.

Egawa decided then and there that this was his dream study setup. Imagine how wonderful it would be to own a spot like this where you could relax for hours over a good book and a beverage? Egawa got a taste of what that would be like during his short visit, and the drink he chose for the occasion was one recommended by this branch — a matcha Frappuccino packed with matcha powder.

This rich Frappuccino tasted like a matcha-flavoured warabi mochi, a jiggly, jelly-like Japanese dessert that’s particularly popular in Kyoto. The traditional flavour was a perfect match for these traditional surroundings.

▼ When you’re sipping on a beverage while drinking in this view, the taste is simply magical.

Once you’ve managed to tear yourself away from the comfort of the building, you might want to stop for a moment to take a photo from the spot Egawa showed us at the very beginning. Once the sun goes down, the lights inside the store allow you to see customers sitting, chatting and moving around inside, which makes it feel as if you’re peering through a window into the past, or visiting the set of a period drama.

The Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya branch, as this Starbucks is known, is truly one of the most beautiful places to stop for a Frappuccino in Japan. And that’s certainly saying something, because there are plenty of gorgeous Starbucks branches in Japan, like this one with Edo-style charm in an old castle town, and this one inside an old wooden station building.

Cafe Information

Starbucks Coffee Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya branch / スターバックス 京都二寧坂ヤサカ茶屋店
Address: Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Higashiyama-ku, Kodaiji Minamimondori, Shimokawara Higashi Iri, Masuyacho 349
Open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. (currently until 6:00 p.m. on weekdays and 7:00 p.m. on weekends due to temporary early-closing coronavirus countermeasures)

Photos ©SoraNews24
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