Osaka’s “American,” a Café Time-machine set to “Showa” (Travel)
There are a few different modes to Japanese nostalgia, the most familiar in the West being the samurai-and-geisha feel of the Edo period. However, one style of romance for bygone times that’s experienced a renaissance in the last decade looks back on the post-war economic boom of the Showa era with a twinkle in its eye. Though there are plenty of chances to experience somewhat over-the-top “recreations” of the Showa aesthetic (for example at the national izakaya chain Hanbey), your best bet is to track down a place that’s authentically from the period. Of all the cities in Japan to do this, Osaka is arguably your best pick, and of all the locations that’ll give you a feel for the real decor and atmosphere of the time, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a nicer one than the American.
Opened just after the war in 1946 (making 2016 its 70th anniversary), the American is a “jun-kissa” or “pure cafe,” a name given to the actual cafe-cafes of early modern Japan, which stood in contrast to the many alcohol-serving “cafes” that were like the Japanese-style hostess bars of their time. The staple of the American and other classic working-class cafes across Japan is a breakfast special called “mōningu.” Short for “morning service,” at its most basic a mōningu is coffee and toast together with a hardboiled egg, but the possibilities are endless. The American also serves plenty of sweet dishes like pancakes and parfaits to get the blood sugar up in the afternoon and evening.
If you’re already out and about exploring Osaka, getting to the American couldn’t be easier. Less than a minute’s walk from Osaka’s famed Dotonbori, the cafe is located inside the historical Sennichimae shopping arcade just south of the wooden Tazaemon Bridge. Even the exterior is somehow evocative of an earlier time in Japan’s history, combining Nuclear-age elegance with something distinctly Osakan.
Now we’re inside, let’s take a look photo-by-photo.
Despite the incredible number of things there are to see, you may first find your eyes drawn to the gorgeous multi-storey chandelier above you.
However, there is more craftsmanship to behold: in addition to the samples you’ve seen outside, there are three more display cases filled with exquisite plastic renderings of the cafe’s menu.
Throughout the cafe, you’ll also see flowers. Far from plastic, these flowers are fresh as can be, with a new selection delivered every week.
Once you’re seated and your order’s been placed (yes, they do have an English menu), take a moment to look around at the details in the architecture, like the colorful round panes of light embedded in the wall:
Or perhaps the smaller yet no less character-filled interior chandeliers:
Whether you decide to take your coffee before or after you eat, it’ll be brought to you in an immaculate china coffee cup together with liquid coffee whitener, called “coffee fresh” in much of Western Japan.
I decided to take the Japanese cafe classic for my breakfast order: hotcakes. Here in Japan, there’s an emphasis on thick, fluffy pancakes, and the American delivered on both fronts.
After you’ve eaten, maybe you’d like a little peace and quiet away from Dotonbori’s din to digest your treat. If so, hang a right once you’ve exited the cafe, walk south away from Dotonbori about 15 meters, and turn right again down the second alleyway you find on your left. Stroll down past the red steel lanterns on your left and you’ll arrive at Hozenji, a tranquil little temple in the middle of Osaka’s boisterous downtown.
Whether you’re using Osaka as a base of operations for exploring Western Japan or delving deeper into the fascinating cityscape of “Japan’s kitchen”, you could do a lot worse than starting off your day with breakfast at Sennichimae’s American!
Bonus for Retro-foodies
The cafe also offers a special take-away options: boxed and wrapped sandwiches, perfect for a retro snack on the train or a pick-me-up in the middle of a long day’s work.