• Japan In Focus

Shibuya Cafe Continues to Offer Experience of Listening to Masterpieces; Near 100-Year-old Cafe Maintains Traditional Atmosphere of Years Gone By

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The interior of Meikyoku Kissa Lion, featuring giant speakers to the right. As you sit in a chair that has been in use for more than 50 years, you are surrounded by the pleasant sound emanating from the speakers.

In the Dogenzaka district of Shibuya, bustling with young people, there is an old Western-style building that appears to be made of stone. I could hear classical music faintly leaking out from the building when I listened carefully. Stepping inside, it feels like wandering into a different world from a fantasy story. It is hard to believe I am in the midst of busy Shibuya.

Since its establishment in 1926, or the first year of the Showa era (1926-1989), Meikyoku Kissa Lion has been a haven for classical music lovers, offering the experience of listening to various masterpieces. Although it was destroyed by fire during the Tokyo Air Raid, the cafe was rebuilt in 1950 and later it expanded to its current form.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The windows and exterior walls, reminiscent of architecture from abroad, are so elegant and pleasing to the eye.

The seating capacity is about 120 on the first and second floors combined. Almost all seats face the giant speakers, making it look more like a theater. According to the cafe, the entire building is equipped with a stereophonic sound system, allowing customers to listen to three-dimensional, high-quality music as if it were being performed live.

Customers seemed relaxed, enjoying coffee brewed with deep-roasted beans. There are more than 5,000 records crammed into shelves under the speakers, along with over 5,000 CDs. You can make a request for a song you want to listen to. Taking photos and talking loudly are discouraged here.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Countless records and CDs are stored underneath giant speakers.

Over the 98 years since it opened, an unimaginable number of customers have visited the coffee shop. There are customers, like one who visited for the first time in 50 years, who are impressed to see that it has not changed at all, saying, “Everything remains the same as before.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A manual elevator that lifts drinks to the second floor is still in use.

The cafe is open almost all year-round, except for New Year’s and the summer holiday period, to welcome customers from Japan and abroad.

“We want our customers to feel at ease and feel the same way anytime they come here,” Naoya Yamadera, 62, the cafe’s acting manager, said.

Yamadera said he is not only meticulous about maintaining the speakers and records, but also ensures that the atmosphere of the cafe and the taste of the coffee remain the same.

I asked Yamadera for a seat with particularly good sound, and he directed me to the frontmost seat on the second floor, where there was a stairwell. I found myself immersed in the sound, which came and went, and forgot about my daily life for a while. Students and regular customers of the Showa era may also have come here to enjoy such a moment.

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Meikyoku Kissa Lion

Address: 2-19-13, Dogenzaka, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo

Access: 7-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station

Memo: Open from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., the venue features regular concerts starting at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., during which music is played according to the program. Requests can be made outside of concert hours.