Good things happen when you get lost in Kanazawa.
Case in point: It was a chilly day late in the fall of last year, and I was visiting Kanazawa’s Higashi Chaya district. Here, many of the old tea houses are open for business, serving drinks and sweets in beautifully preserved traditional interiors. But the wind was cold, and all the shops had their front doors shut. Being an awkward and shy human being, I couldn’t bring myself to venture past the closed doors. I took a scenic ramble through back streets and past countless houses, enjoying myself thoroughly until I realized that I had no idea where I was. It was getting late. I was cold and hungry. The street I was on was obviously residential, and hardly wide enough for one car. A cat, seated on the front steps of one of the houses, narrowed his eyes at me and twitched his tail as if to say, “You don’t belong here.”
Was there no chair, no steaming mug for a weary traveler?
I was in this state of adventurous dejection when I saw it. The sign screwed to the electrical pole in front of me read “Moon Café,” in English, with a cryptic arrow below that seemed to indicate an about face down a foot path between houses. If this really was a café, I had a hunch it was my kind of place.
Located only a few minutes from the main street of Higashi Chaya, the hidden entrance to Machiyajuku is most easily recognizable by the intricately carved wooden dragon protruding from its exterior wall. “Restoring genki to the heart, the body and the earth” is the theme of this restored Showa residence, which now serves a community space, art gallery and live house as well as a café. Leave your shoes in the entryway and duck through the sliding door into a softly lit wood interior, where the soft-spoken owner Chika Utsunomiya waits to welcome her guests as though they were neighbors coming over for lunch, and not just customers.
Those familiar with Japanese home style cooking may recognize some of the menu items. The lunch set includes a number of small dishes (last Sunday’s menu: soybeans, boiled potatoes, lightly fried eggplant with garlic and millet ankake sauce and cold soup with okra and seaweed), served with brown rice. At 1000 yen, it’s filling, affordable, and the kind of meal you feel good about afterward. Their Ryuu Udon is topped with wakame and awa (millet), and is available as a set, or by itself for 500 yen. If you aren’t sure of what to order, feel free to ask for explanations or advice. Everything relies heavily on fresh vegetables, and meat beyond fish broth is rare. The drink menu includes Yona Yona Beer, black tea and coffee alongside seasonal beverages (and hey, it’s almost yuzu tea season) and such unusual options as Maya Nut Milk (which is delicious).
Alongside the café, the building is also host to classes on everything from yoga to tea ceremony, as well as live music and other events. I will be back on October 2 between 11:00 a.m. and 15:00 p.m. for a rummage sale, entirely stocked by unused items collected from old households in Kanazawa. For more information on upcoming events and classes, check out their webpage.
If you’re in Kanazawa and are looking for pleasant conversation and a healthy bite to eat, please stop by. And tell them I said to say hello J
Address: 石川県金沢市東山1丁目34−6 920-0831
Monday, Wednesday-Friday 12:00~18:00(open later with reservations)
Saturday Open Until22:00
Sunday Open Until16:00
This place can be a little tricky to find. I recommend pasting the address into Google and printing out a map.
- From Asanogawa Oobashi (the large bridge on 359 leading to the entrance to Higashi Chaya), head up the river, past the Ume no Bashi bridge to the next bridge, which is made of steel painted white and has large arches on either side.
- On the Higashi Chaya side (the north side) of this bridge, the main road curves to the right and splits, one half going along the river, the other half heading up the hill. Take neither of these roads. To the left, a third road takes a sharp left. Follow this road into a residential area.
- Pass three narrow streets splitting off on the right. At the fourth street, you should see a sign for Moon Café posted on a telephone pole. Take a right, and follow the narrow street around to the right. Machiyajuku will be on your right.
I’m hoping that someone out there will test these directions for me. Please let me know if they worked for you.