Bongen Coffee: Hidden Corner of Zen

For those of you unfamiliar with Tokyo, there is an area located in the southeastern region of the city, called Ginza. It is well known for it’s high-end shopping, and everyday there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people milling about the luxury designer stores, depatos (department stores), and fancy cafes.

Ginza happened to be the first area I visited and explored upon my arrival in Tokyo. I was staying at the Park Hotel Tokyo, which is located in the same general region, and I knew I needed to walk around somewhere if I was going to stay awake until night time (I had been up since 3:30 in the morning, and after 12+ hours of traveling, I was dragging). I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of people shopping as well as the endless supply of clothing, accessories, and well, just, stuff available for purchase. Add onto that the lack of English signage to guide me, and my head was spinning that first afternoon.

So when I decided to check out Bongen Coffee my third morning in Tokyo (which also happened to be my birthday), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The Instagram pictures looked cool, but if it was located in the Ginza area, I couldn’t help but question how nice of a spot it actually would be. Would there be a lot of people? Would it be difficult to find? Would it even be open in the morning?

And what about food? What if there was no food? my growling stomach wanted to know.

So many questions bounced about in my head as I anxiously power-walked through the streets, constantly glancing at Google Maps as it guided me to my destination. I wondered if I looked as lost and nervous as I felt.

Without too much confusion though, I made it safely to the door of Bongen, which was hidden away on what looked to be a quiet residential street. The road in front of the store was completely still and empty, but the door was open, welcoming customers, so I hesitantly stepped inside, out of the bright, morning sunlight.

As I entered, I was immediately amazed at just how teeny-tiny the place was. There was barely enough space for a small bench on which about three people could comfortably sit. Two individuals currently occupied the bench, chattering away in Japanese, but to my relief, the rest of the shop was empty except for the barista behind the counter in the back of the store.

I quickly ordered a pour-over coffee and a raisin sandwich (which was less of a sandwich and more of a cream cookie), before taking the last spot on the bench.

As I was waiting for my coffee to cool, I took a deep breath and looked around at the rest of my surroundings. Even though the shop lacked the dark nooks and soft furniture that can be typically found at my preferred coffee spots in the US, the warm wood decor and soft lighting effectively gave the shop a cozy and peaceful vibe. Except for the chatter of the other patrons and some shuffling from the barista, the place was quiet and calm, and I found myself very quickly relaxing back into the bench, the stiffness in my shoulders loosening with every sip of coffee that I took.

It was my 30th birthday, and I didn’t want to spend it filled with anxiety, so taking advantage of the shop’s zen atmosphere, I practiced my breathing exercises and re-centered my thoughts. I made a quick plan of action regarding the rest of my day, and by the time I was done with my cup of coffee and cookie, I was not just ready but excited to head over to Tokyo station and the Imperial Palace Gardens.

Even as I write this, the memory of Bongen Coffee’s zen atmosphere is filling my limbs with peace, and I can’t help but want to return, to sit quietly on that small bench, cup of coffee in hand, and rest.

It’s definitely something to check out if you ever find yourself in Tokyo.

In the meantime though, back to the ole grind…

The one and the only Pookachino

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