Drop of Cafe : Himawari and Tube Lane, Chuohirosaki

It’s a cold Saturday morning, there’s snow covering the ground. I’m walking out of my psychiatrist’s office. It’s a thirty minute walk across town from where I live; I didn’t have an appointment this morning, but I embarked at the early hour of 8:30am this Saturday morning with the purpose of making it to the psychiatrist’s office by the time it opened at 9am so that I could be seen even without an appointment. I arrived at 9:25am. I’m feeling surprisingly fine this morning, but lately I’ve been feeling incredibly down and having difficulty trying to keep my spirits. So, I woke up early on a Saturday morning to walk across town to tell my Japanese psychiatrist that my head hasn’t been feeling too well again since I stopped taking the medication.

But as I’m leaving the psychiatrist’s office, something compels me to walk down the street to visit a small, quaint neighborhood shrine. I had initially planned on just walking back home after my doctor’s appointment, but before I knew it, I was walking in the direction of the Shinto symbol on my googlemaps app. There are disappearing patches of snow melting everywhere as the morning sun shines brightly in a clear sky. It’s beautiful. As I’m walking around Toshogu shrine, a city heritage site, I begin two hum the two opening lines from the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood theme.

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine, could you be mine?”

The sun is up and shining brightly down on the streets of this beautifully snow-covered city of Hirosaki that I live in. I begin walking alongside one of the small channels and stroll in the direction of town. As I’m walking along the side of the channel, I’m awestruck by how beautifully the sunshine is reflecting off of both the water in the stream and the snow. Despite the mood difficulties I’ve been struggling with over the past few weeks after having stopped taking my anti-depressants, the ethereal scenery in front of me has me in quite a bubbly mood. And matter’s brighter, I have the words of Fred Rogers playing on repeat in my mind. So, instead of heading home, I decide to head into town celebrate this bubbly feeling by revisiting two of my favorite cafes in town. The two lines from Fred Rogers’ theme continues to play on repeat in my head as I stroll, and I realize after a while I’m singing under my breathe as I stroll down the street. I love to sing and can’t help but do it when I’m feeling happy.

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine, could you be mine?”

I originally found these two cafes by pleasant accident. I was eagerly waiting at the train station for my date to arrive from Aomori city; he was riding in to Hirosaki so that we could meet up for our first date, a coffee date. I was still pretty new living in Hirosaki at this point, and I wasn’t yet quite familiar with –if any – cafes here in Hirosaki. So beforehand, I had done extensive research of any shop even close to a “café” that I could find in town. Despite all of my mental prep for the date, I didn’t account for the fact that my iphone 6 battery was on it’s last leg, and my phone along with all of the café research I had prepared had died at the train station before my date even arrived. Oh God, I was so nervous to begin with, and now I was going to look like a naïve fool in front of my date. Before I could run away and avoid embarrassing myself, I looked up and there my date was. After my embarrassed confession that I had lost my café research, my date assured me it was fine and that we could just head downtown as find something as we walked. And so, we stumbled upon Himawari Café, or “Sunflower Café”.

The first time I walked into Himawari Café, I was immediately overwhelmed with the sense that I had travelled back in time to 19th century, rainy London. The inside of the café was so dark, we initially thought they were close. Aggressive classical music was blaring a little too loudly throughout the café, and beautifully monochrome paintings covered the gray-brick walls. Despite the initial cold atmosphere, Himawari café quickly won me over. The café food drinks were so cheap and delicious, and the woman running the café even had a hand-written English menu she was eager two share with us (despite both of us being fluent in Japanese – but she was trying to be incredibly accommodating, and that meant the world). During my recent revisit to Himawari Café, my curiosity got the best of me and I initially ordered ‘coffee jelly’ – which as it would turn out, is just coffee that has been solidified in the form of jello(?). I know, I was surprised to. The first time I had come to this café on the date, we eventually ordered a raw-ham pizza. During my revisit, I ordered something called ‘pizza toast’ on the English menu. As it would turn out – and this is equally as surprising as the coffee jelly – ‘pizza toast’ turned out to be a small personal pizza that was just assembled on top of a piece of toast. Oh boy was it good though.

“Music & Coffee HIMAWARI” café is located in my favorite area of downtown Hirosaki, the area surrounding Chuohirosaki which is sprinkled with nightlife bars and pubs, izakayas, cafes, and cheap ramen shops.

Well I was already having a lovely Saturday afternoon and was craving more sugar, so I decided to head back to the second café we had visited on that first date (which lasted 11 hours and included two cafes and a small ramen shop). “Tube Lane” café is located just a little stretch down the road from Himawari café, so it is also within the Chuohirosaki district of downtown Hirosaki. Tube Lane – which is located off of Dotemachi street, one of downtown Hirosaki’s two main streets – emits a considerably younger, brighter atmosphere than Himawari café. When I first walked up the stairs entering into Tube Lane café, I was immediately struck by how bright the café was even on the incredibly rainy that that it had been. The walls are white and lightly covered with simple, hipster decorations that honestly aren’t as eye-catching as the paintings on Himwari’s walls. Huge windows illuminate the open-spaced café, and there have been a lot of young, college-aged patrons both times I have visited Tube Lane. This café definitely has a funkier vibe than the cafés I have typically seen in Japan.  

Tube Lane’s English menu is present on their regular menu, so whether you wish to order in Japanese or English, there is no need to worry about asking for the corresponding menu. Because I was still moderately full from eating at the previous café, I opted to only order an iced matcha latte and a piece of kabocha pumpkin cheesecake, which was a piece of cheesecake cooked into the shell of the pumpkin. During my previous visit to Tube Lane, I had ordered a delicious maple latte and a Japanese-inspired parfait, which was filled with sweet anko and matcha icecream.

I had really pleasant memories visiting both Tube Lane and Himawari café, so it only felt natural that on a day that I was feeling so bubbly, I managed to find myself in these warm, welcoming places again.

It really was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

As always, thriving not just surviving in Hirosaki, Aomori.

Jane Claire

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