Hello! Seeing as this is my first post, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Rachael, and I am a first-year ALT living in Nakanojo, a small town with mountains on all sides. My hobbies are reading, writing, drawing, and eating; things that can all be conducted at my favorite sort of place in the world: a cafe. I love the productive atmosphere and the versatility of being alone or in a group. Furthermore, sitting down for a drink and a snack at a cafe provides a respite from either committing to a restaurant or aimlessly wandering around an area. Since arriving in Gunma, I’ve tried to seek out as many of these places as possible.
Last year, an ALT named Tamara started a series recommending cafes as well, although it capped at two posts. I hope to continue the series, posting one or two cafe spotlights per month, so please look forward to them!
One more thing: I have a car, which makes my access to places different from someone who would take public transit. I will try to include places that are both reasonably reachable by car and/or public transit/walking.
The first cafe I’d like to spotlight is a little place called Piece Cafe. About a 15 minute walk from the station, Piece Cafe sits on a street corner and beneath a restaurant. Occasionally you’ll see the staff of the upstairs restaurant make appearances in the cafe, which is something really neat about this part of downtown Takasaki! You’ll notice the counter space near the register is filled with business cards and colorful flyers advertising other cafes, bookstores, and music shops in the immediate area.
The entrance is heralded by the cafe’s logo, a puzzle piece in humble brown and blue pastels, as well as a sign advertising the cafe’s specialty: soft-serve ice cream. At the time of writing this, Gunma is ridiculously cold. However, I am of the opinion that ice cream is acceptable to eat no matter the season, especially if it’s good! Plus, the cafe is well-heated and guest blankets are available to use as well.
The atmosphere of Piece Cafe is quiet and calm. About five tables run along the north wall, so it is fairly small, although I have never had trouble finding a seat. For computer or device users, there is an outlet next to the table furthest away from the door.
Like most cafes in Japan, Piece Cafe has really delicious food! They usually have a sandwich-of-the-day deal going on, and I am a big fan of their shrimp and avocado grilled sandwich.
If you want dessert, they have a 焼きシフォンケーキ, which I think sounds a little more refined in Japanese than ‘fried chiffon cake.’ Especially considering its lovely presentation:
If you are a cake person, then you need to try this! Its flavor is gentle, not too sweet, accompanied with the topping of your choice and a little dish of the ice cream that the cafe boasts on its doors.
As for drinks, they offer a house-made ginger ale that is unlike any I have ever had. Due to all the pulp and strong flavor, it’s probably closer to ginger beer than ginger ale. If you are a coffee drinker, I recommend their cappuccino.
I hope you get the chance to visit Piece Cafe soon!
Hours: 12:00 -21:00, Closed on Wednesdays!
Address: 〒370-0813 Gunma Prefecture, Takasaki, 本町64−1−1
This week’s café review is for anyone who appreciates a hot coffee paired with some cool jazz.
I almost didn’t notice this café as I walked past. But from the inside, deep and earthy tones of a double bass found their way through seams and glass panes and leaked into the streets. The low, inviting rhythm caught my attention and I had to stop and listen.
By the entrance there is a menu board listing all the artists to play over during the current month. I was pretty excited at this point; I had been looking for a jazz bar ever since arriving in Gunma. And as I read, I started to hear and pick out the other instruments—a sultry saxophone, a smooth jazz guitar and a piano playfully striking improv notes.
Unfortunately the set was almost finished so I didn’t try out the café that night. So the following weekend I came back in order to catch a full performance.
When I looked into the windows the week before, it was brimming with swanky looking people. So I decided it would be best to show up a little early. The café opens from 6 PM for business and the live music begins at 7.
After walking inside I immediately was greeted by a staff member who remembered me looking at the board the weekend before. I was surprised and delighted by this.
The inside of the café has a cozy and charming ambience with low lighting and tea candles on every table. Black and white posters of the glowing, soft faces of 40s movie stars and singers greet guests. And the shop is lined with shelves holding old hardcovers and Parisian antiques and probably a few secrets too. A large brass tea kettle in the middle of the room is left to boil and I got lost watching the steam billow, creating heat spirals in the air.
There is a cover charge of 1000 yen but for three hours of live jazz music, this is a fair price. Along with the cover, I had to buy one drink and one food item.
Although a glass of dark red wine would have suited the mood very well, I had walked past a coffee pot near the entrance that already won me over with the smell. I chose a black drip coffee and a piece of blueberry cheesecake for the perfect bitter/sweet combination.
The café’s menu includes alcoholic options such as wine, beer, and whiskey as well as coffee, juice, and tea. If you’d like to have a full dinner at Concert Café, no problem–they offer pasta, sandwiches, and other French entrees to satiate your appetite.
Around 7 PM, the band began to set up. This night featured a trio of a jazz guitarist, a pianist and a double bassist. They began with Nat King Cole’s “Route 66” and the guitarist sang the accompanying vocals. With the emotion he channeled into the lyrics and how he wore a slight smile on his face, I wondered if maybe he had a personal connection with the area. The band played for another thirty minutes before taking a break.
To anyone reading this, this is not-so-breaking news; being a foreigner in Gunma can draw a lot of attention. Sometimes it’s pretty uncomfortable but tonight was one of the many times where I really appreciated it. The band came up to chat and after the usual icebreaker questions, I discovered the jazz guitarist had lived in Los Angeles for two years.
Our conversation finally led into jazz and we talked about the bossa nova Stan Getz, cool jazz’s Gerry Mulligan, and my personal favorite, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. The pianist piped in that Chet Baker’s “Everything Happens to Me” was his go-to song during his time playing in jazz bars in New York City.
Having to go back on set soon, the band asked if there were any requests. They were happy to play for me: “Girl from Ipanema”, “My Funny Valentine” and of course, “Everything Happens to Me.”
Needless to say, two hours of jazz and coffee later, I left Concert Café absolutely content.
Concert Café is located at オフィスＭｏｍｏｓｅフランスRenjakuchō, in Takasaki, Gunma. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from Takasaki Station. And if you’re having a difficult time finding it, just search for the FamilyMart Aru Cho location on Google Maps. It’s the building to the left.
Whether you are a hardcore jazz enthusiast or someone who appreciates some great live music and atmosphere, Concert Café is the perfect place to impress a date, gossip over wine or unwind after a week of hard ALT-ing. (And I highly recommend the blueberry cheesecake.)
Warming your hands with a steamy mug of house coffee as you look around in awe of the cozy, contemporary and themed atmospheres of Japan’s coolest cafes doesn’t have to be limited to weekend ventures to Tokyo! With these articles, I aim to bring the spotlight to the more than deserving cafes of Gunma. Even in the inaka (and surprisingly enough, especially in the inaka) there are hidden gems scattered all around the prefecture just waiting to be unearthed. As I find these, I want to share them with the GAJET community so that everyone can find their home away from home (away from home.) The next time you meet up with fellow ALTs on the weekend for some r&r, try out one of these places!
Head lowered as he finger picked the strings of the acoustic guitar in his lap, the owner of THREE SENT spoke of his vision for the café. THREE SENT grill&sweets is a restaurant café in Isesaki that is only the beginning of the Samm Entertainment dream. The owner of THREE SENT currently owns not only the restaurant café but also an adjacent hair salon (which deserves its own raving review perhaps in an Osusume Salon column) but he hopes to expand and open an entire business area of services to Isesaki locals. It will be a place where no matter what you need (food, entertainment, basic services) you can rely on Samm Entertainment to provide. The owner hopes that it can be a place where people can visit and be immersed in the feeling that they have entered a small town or community. Why is it named Samm Entertainment? Who is Samm? Well, the owner said there’s no reason behind the name except that he thinks it sounds cool. A worthy enough reason, in my opinion.
But, as of now, Samm Entertainment is building a sturdy foundation with THREE SENT café. What makes THREE SENT a worthy afternoon endeavor is the contemporary atmosphere, the friendly owner and staff (very excited for foreign customers!) and undeniably the most important aspect of a cafe—exemplary food!
From 11:30 AM till 2:30 PM, THREE SENT offers lunch service with a smaller, rotating set menu. But don’t let the small menu scare you away from trying something new and unknown because it’s just another testament to quality over quantity. THREE SENT offers lunch sets with soup and salad and main dishes of gourmet sandwiches, hearty chicken and beef entrees as well as grilled fish.
Between 2:30 and 5:30, THREE SENT is still open but only runs their drink bar and the location as a coffee shop. THREE SENT has a full drink menu of roasted coffees, herbal teas, imported wines and hard liquors. Looking to relax a little, I opted for a chamomile herbal tea.
Past 5:30 PM, the café starts up its kitchens for dinner service and if you sit at the counter, you can even watch the grill as the chefs skillfully work around it. THREE SENT’s dinner menu is a full menu including various pastas, cultural fusion foods and high quality steaks. On my last visit, I tried a featured monthly special of marinated shrimp and mushrooms sautéed in a garlic oil, intended to be eaten over fresh and lightly toasted French bread. Every time I eat at THREE SENT I am impressed by the balance of flavor and the combination of the ingredients’ texture. I have yet to try a dish that didn’t impress.
Beyond the rotating lunch menu and the decadent dinner courses, THREE SENT’s claim to fame is their feature dessert, the Dutch Baby pancake. In fact, it was their advertisements posted outside promoting the dessert that peaked my interest in the first place.
A Dutch baby pancake, also known as a Bismarck, or Dutch puff, is originally a breakfast food but thanks to THREE SENT, you can enjoy it at any point of the day. It’s a simple pancake made with egg, flour, sugar and milk and baked in a cast iron pan. (Which I might add that cooking with a cast iron pan is a great way to get the essential mineral iron in your diet. For women this is especially important, so I believe this more than justifies eating this dessert for health reasons!) What sets the Dutch baby pancake apart from its fellow pancakes and pastry puffs is that it is immediately served while piping hot with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream, fluffy whipped cream and a combination of your choice of ingredients ranging from chocolate to berries.
A big fan of sweet and savory flavor combinations, I tried the Manuka honey (a unique multifloral honey from New Zealand) and Rosemary Dutch Baby. As the ice cream melts and the toppings begin to mix, the pancake absorbs and takes on all the flavors without becoming a crumbly mess or too wet. I will definitely be back to try the Mont Blanc chestnut variation next time I stop by.
With plans to remodel and expand, I cannot wait to see how Samm Entertainment develops. And no matter when you decide to visit THREE SENT, you can expect great service, amazing food and an owner who is more than happy to chat with you!
THREE SENT grill&sweets is located at Nirazukamachi, Isesaki, Gunma (群馬県伊勢崎市韮塚町964-2) and unfortunately more than a walk’s distance away from the nearest station. But don’t let this deter you! If you don’t have a car, I’m sure the temptation of a Dutch baby pancake would make this a willing trip for almost anyone.
THREE SENT is open Sunday through Saturday from 11:30 AM with extended hours till midnight on Friday and Saturday. The average budget for lunch is between \1000-2000 and for dinner \2000-3000.
As I sit in the staffroom sipping my lukewarm, bitter, flavorless school drip coffee (because I’ve run out of the next best thing, Blendy sticks) I cast my mind back to my weekend in Tokyo… visiting amazing cafés, stylishly drinking macchiatos as if I was Kim Kardashian buying shoes at Louis Vuitton. If you’re feeling like me and (constantly) craving a decent coffee then here is my top five cafés to visit in Tokyo for a bloody decent coffee. (more…)
So there you sit at your enkai, staring at another glass of pale, watery beer. If only you could get your hands on a dark and roasty stout or a hoppy and fragrant IPA. Anything but Asahi! Luckily there are opportunities for better beer in Gunma, if you know where to look. (more…)