In terms of fascinating Japanese cities, Kumamoto is arguably one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Thanks to its slightly isolated location (on the southern island of Kyushu) and its almost anti-city laid-back vibe, it’s a great place to visit if you’re looking to explore a different side of Japan or just simply need to escape the manic energy of more densely populated hubs. When you’re in town, be sure to check out the local café scene, which is as diverse as the people who live here. From traditional Japanese sweet shops, to bookworm-friendly hangouts, to tastefully understated roasteries, there’s something for everyone. Here’s a guide.
And Coffee Roasters
Cafe, Japanese, $$$
If you’re a coffee snob who prefers quality over fancy exotic flavoured blends, then don’t miss And Coffee Roasters. The team here have perfected the café staples, excellent espresso and masterfully poured hand-drip coffees. Located a level underground, it’s the perfect hangout for when the weather is less than desirable or if you’re looking for a distraction-free café where you can get a little work done. Also next door in the same complex is a large bookstore where you’ll be able to find the perfect reading material to mull over.
For those who plan on getting out of the city and visiting Reigando Cave, one of the area’s best kept sacred secrets, put aside a little time to have lunch at the neighbouring Café Kokopelli. An antique store, café and restaurant, this charming hangout is overflowing with freshly baked sweets and excellent coffee. If the weather permits, take a seat on the sprawling front lawn to appreciate Kumamoto’s endless rolling mountains and sweeping, foliage-filled landscapes.
For something a little more classically Japanese, make your way to Kusadohiko Honpo, a traditional sweets store just a short stroll down the road from the towering torii gates of Fujisakihachiman-gu Shrine. The café serves up all old-school sweet staples, like mochi and green tea, but for something super special try the oshiruko, a warm, sweet soup made from red bean with chunks of chewy mochi.
If one book-surrounded café wasn’t enough, pay a visit to Café & Books Bibliothèque, which is as the name suggests is a café populated with books, magazines and other designer bric-à-brac. Part cozy café space, part book store, part community hangout, the café’s on-site gallery occasionally also hosts art exhibits, markets and workshop events.
If there were an Olympics for the café with the most Instagram-worthy fare, then Cafe La Patx would win gold every time. With French bread covered in soft, gooey cheese and strips of bacon sitting atop perfectly laid out salads, baked cheesecakes and quiche made with fresh seasonal local produce, it’s the perfect place to stop of for a mid-afternoon snack or a heartier, comfort food-style lunch. Beyond the food, the café’s drink selection is pretty impressive, too, with the 100% mandarin orange juice being a local favourite.
With its rustic, almost ramshackle, mismatched furniture, the laid-back atmosphere of Cafe Rinonka is only half of its charm. The other half is its towering peach parfait, a menu staple that’s become a local social media star (just take a look at their Instagram). In terms of more substantial foods, the café serves up a cross-section of dishes including Hawaiian-influenced fare and more classic offerings like onigiri.
According to the café, the term ‘Gluck’ means ‘happiness’ and, really, what says happiness better than a perfect cup of coffee? If you’re sensitive or a little particular about how you like your coffee, then this is the place to go. The spacious light-filled café roasts its own beans on-site, so if you do have any questions the expert staff will be able to help you out. Even better, the team also stock their own bean blends, so if you find the perfect bean you can take it home with you.
As you can probably tell by the name, this is a café that doesn’t mess around with superfluous extras. Pronounced ‘coffee dot’, this no-frills coffee shop makes a mean latte, but when June and July roll around there’s nothing better to beat the sweltering summer days than by grabbing a fresh cold brew on ice, or in a glass bottle to enjoy a little later. If you’re not much of a coffee fan, the café also makes a pretty mean lemon squash.