Ginza is home to some of the most famous and stylish cafes in Tokyo. During the boom of cafes during the first half of the 20th century in Japan, many of them were opened in Ginza, the unmatched downtown area of Tokyo during this time period. Some of them are still going strong after 100 years. Even though none of them are housed in their original building, their spirit lives on in the name, interior and drinks.
These cafes are a relic from the days when everything European was seen as something that needed to be introduced to Japan. The Taishō roman style, as named after the Taishō period (1912-1926), focused on the 19th century European Romanticism, which provided inspiration for the styling of buildings and fashion.
These cafes now charge a premium in comparison to other coffee chains, but offer comfortable seating and great coffee. I am always pleasantly surprised about the quality of the coffee each time I step into these establishments and start slurping the liquid black gold.
Nowadays you can choose in Ginza from a large number of cafes, old and new, cheap and expensive. Some cafes even pretend to be more classy than they are, for example the Doutor across the Wako department store.
I focus in this article on the traditional kissaten that prioritize serving tea, sweets and foremost coffee (not light food such as Kissa You that are regarded in Japan as cafe as well). I omitted Ginza Renoir. Even though it has Ginza in the name and I would warmly recommend to try it out, this chain did not originate in Ginza.
1. Ginza Tricolore (1936)
Ginza Tricolore started out in 1936 as one of the many cafes in Ginza offering fragrant coffee and home-made pastry. Very obviously with the reference to the French flag, hoping to bring a French cafe atmosphere to Tokyo.
The current location was reconstructed in 1982 in a unique red brick 2-storey building, very small in comparison to the rest of this neighbourhood. The building together with the revolving door with small canopy right above tries to evoke the European feeling even before you enter.
The cafe turned into a minor chain with five cafes in Japan branded as Ginza Tricolore, two as Kissa Tricolore. Check my full review of this cafe.
Budget: JPY 880 for one coffee
Web: http://www.tricolore.co.jp/ginza_trico/ (in Japanese)
Smoking: first floor smoking, second floor non-smoking
Name in Japanese: トリコロール本店
2. Café Paulista (1911)
Said to be the origin of all kissaten in Japan, Café Paulista opened in 1911 in Ginza and is the oldest cafe still in business.
The most popular coffee is here the cafe florestal (in Japanese mori no kōhī), made from premium organic coffee beans from São Paulo, which have a bit of sweetness to them. The cafe holds a close connection with Brazil, not just through its name (paulista means “child of São Paulo”), but also with regards to is establishment. Café Paulista was founded by Mizuno Ryo to sell the Brazilian coffee he received for free from the Brazilian government for his contribution to the emigration of Japanese to Brazil.
The original building of Café Paulista was a beautiful white manor house, but is no more. The current building dates from 1970 and the cafe has been renewed several times in the meantime. Check my full review of this cafe.
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday: 8:30-21:30; Sunday and holidays: 11:30-20:00
Budget: JPY 650 for the most popular cafe florestal
Web: http://www.paulista.co.jp/ (in Japanese)
Smoking: first floor smoking, second floor non-smoking (both floors non-smoking during the weekend)
Name in Japanese: カフェーパウリスタ
3. Shiseido Parlour Salon de Café (1902)
Shiseido Parlour is foremost famous as one of the first Japanese-style Western restaurants serving dishes as omelette-rice (omurice), meat croquette and macaroni au gratin. You would not expect a cosmetics giant to serve you coffee and food, but the connection between a pharmacy and sweet stuff is not unheard of (think Belgian chocolates coming out of the Neuhaus pharmacy in Brussels).
Shiseido opened as a pharmacy in 1872 right here in Ginza and put a soda making machine (soda fountain) in its shop in 1902. It proved to be popular and marked the start of the Salon de Café, where sweet things are still the main focus. While the coffee and tea are excellent, the main stars of the show are the sweets: colorful parfaits, dessert plates, cakes, cream soda, fruit sandwiches and more.
Shiseido Parlour also turned into a chain with 8 cafes/restaurants in and around Tokyo and several in the rest of Japan. Cafes/restaurants can also be found in Singapore, Taipei and Bangkok. Check my full review of this cafe.
Salon the Cafe is located on the third floor. On the first floor is the Shiseido Parlor Shop and on floor 4 and 5 the restaurant.
Opening hours: 11:30-21:00 (on Sunday and holidays until 20:00), closed on Monday
Budget: JPY 980 for one coffee, desserts generally JPY 1000-2000; sets available
Web: https://parlour.shiseido.co.jp/shoplist/salondecafeginza/ (in Japanese)
Name in Japanese: 資生堂パーラー サロン・ド・カフェ 銀座本店
4. Café de l’Ambre (1948)
Café de l’Ambre is a speciality coffee shop started in 1948 in Ginza by Sekiguchi Ichiro. Only coffee to be found here, and a handful of coffee desserts. It is one of the legendary cafes in Tokyo and probably has the best coffee in all of Ginza.
Café de l’Ambre is not a traditional kissaten in that it does not serve many of the items usually to be found in these places such as breakfast sets and cakes, but the decoration and the feel of the place suggest otherwise. Sekiguchi Ichiro, who ran the place until he was 103, was a coffee freak in pursuit of making the perfect cup of coffee. Therefore, he kept experimenting and trying out different things to serve the best cup. Check my full review of this cafe.
Opening hours: Weekdays: 12:00-22:00 (last order 21:30); Weekends and holidays: 12:00-19:00 (last order 18:30)
Budget: more than JPY 700 for one coffee
Web: http://www.cafedelambre.com/ (in Japanese)
Names in Japanese: カフェ・ド・ランブル
5. Cafe de Ginza Miyuki-kan (1969)
Following the classic cafes from the first half of the 20th century, many newer cafes aim to provide the same kind of atmosphere. One such example is Cafe de Ginza Miyuki-kan.
The interesting thing about Cafe de Ginza is that they have not just one, but five cafes in Ginza. While other cafes expanded to other neighborhoods in Tokyo and even outside of Tokyo, Ginza de Cafe just stayed in Ginza itself. One exception though, they opened one cafe in Tachikawa in 1982.
This cafe is mainly well known for its chestnut mont blanc of which 200,000 are sold each year. Parfaits, smoothies, lunch sets are also offered. Check my full review of this cafe.
Opening hours: 9:00-23:30 (opens weekends at 10:00, closes on Sunday and holidays at 23:00)
Budget: JPY 756 for one coffee (morning coffee and lunch coffee is cheaper)
Web: http://www.cafe-ginza-miyukikan.com (in Japanese)
Name in Japanese: 銀座みゆき館 銀座本店 (6丁目店)
6. Tsubakiya coffee (1978)
Tsubakiya coffee adheres very strictly to the Taishō Roman style, next to Ginza Tricolore the interior is probably the most classic of all the cafes in Ginza.
The coffee in the Ginza main store I visited is served in Royal Copenhagen porcelain and the coffee is made with a siphon. Remarkable detail is that the waitresses wear a maid uniform and hence it is often called the original maid cafe, before any of the Akihabara maid cafes became popular.
Tsubakiya also became a chain with now more than 40 cafes all over Japan. Check my full review of this cafe.
Entrance fee: JPY 200 (groups above 20 have a discount, as well as elementary school students)
Opening hours: weekdays: 10:00-4:30 (next day); weekends and holidays: 10:00-23:00
Budget: nearly JPY 1000 for one coffee
Website: http://www.towafood-net.co.jp/cafe/store/tabid/107/Default.aspx (in Japanese)
Name in Japanese: 椿屋珈琲