The Starbucks in a Tea House

I’m sure we are all familiar with Starbucks. The ubiquitous Starbucks cafe with it’s distinctive logo and modern style can be found in almost every major city in the world. For any traveller (me included), the promise of a cup of hot java accompanied with free wifi is a comforting thought when you are on the road.

So how would you like to visit a Starbucks that is so different from the usual cafe that you’ll find in your home city or anywhere else?

If you visit Kyoto’s historic Higashiyama district, there is a Starbucks that can be found inside a 100+ year old traditional Japanese town house that was used by geishas in the past. Newly opened in June 2017, this Starbucks has attracted a lot of attention with it’s attention to preserving the traditional feel of feudal Japan.

So I found myself on a cold, dark and rainy night walking through Higashiyama looking for that familiar warmth of a hot coffee between my freezing hands.

Higashiyama is probably one of the best preserved shopping streets in Japan. The traditional houses have mostly been converted to shops serving the tourists that flock to the nearby Kiyomizudera Temple.
I passed by many souvenir shops such as this while looking for the Starbucks. All the while, there was a slight drizzle as dusk fell.
As the sky darkened, the streets began to empty. Shops started to close for the day, as visitors returned to their hotels and dinners places.
There are several restaurants in Higashiyama, but they were mostly empty. It seems that the favourite place for tourists to have dinner in Kyoto is Gion District or Kyoto Station area.
Away from the main street I could still find a quiet back alley like this where residents park their bicycles.

At last with the help of Google Maps, I found the Starbucks. If you weren’t looking closely, you could walk right pass it, especially on a dark and rainy night.

The Starbucks logo is not very obvious unless you look for it.
You wouldn’t have guessed that there is a Starbucks cafe in there.

It’s small on the outside but upon entering the front door, I found that the interior is actually quite large through the efficient use of space.

A mix of modern and traditional touches where customers can order their food and beverages. I had to order at the counter and then walk to the back of the shop to collect my orders.
The back of the shop where customers collect their orders. The stairs lead up to the seating areas.
The second floor is divided into several rooms like a traditional Japanese tea house. Guests have to take off their shoes and sit on tatami mats. How cool is that? Although if you are not used to sitting on the floor, there is a small area where there are normal tables and chairs.
Adding to the traditional feel are tourists dressed in kimonos. Now it’s beginning to feel like I time travelled back to feudal Japan.

Due to it’s popularity, this Starbucks can get really crowded during peak hours. The second floor is really quite small (I guess maybe 30 persons would be it’s maximum capacity) and the counter staff would let you know if there is seating space available.

I did go there just 30 minutes before closing and it wasn’t full. The opening hours of this particular Starbucks is from 8am~8pm daily. Well, 8pm is kind of early for closing time from where I come from, so plan your visit before going. The staff won’t allow you to hang around or go to the second floor if you are not buying anything, so do take note if you just want to take photos.

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