1. Rebon Kaisaiyu
    Photo: Kit Kriewaldt
  2. Engawa Café
    Photo: Engawa Café
  3. Kayaba Coffee
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaKayaba Coffee
  4. Rengetsu Café
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaRengetsu Café

7 most nostalgic Tokyo cafés set in heritage buildings

Travel back in time with a cup of coffee at these atmospheric cafés inside old Japanese houses, shops and bathhouses

Tabea Greuner
Written by
Time Out Tokyo Editors
Tabea Greuner

Tokyo is famous for its diverse food culture, being home to Michelin-starred restaurants and plenty of traditional culinary options such as sushi, gyoza, ramen and more. However, if you like your afternoon coffee with a generous serving of local heritage, then drop by one of these cosy cafés.

The coffee shops are all set inside old-school buildings across the city, including renovated sento bathhouses, traditional Japanese-style homes and old shops. Some of the buildings are nearly a century old and a few have even been designated tangible cultural properties of Tokyo. The structures have remained largely unchanged to keep the rustic charm of a bygone era.

It’s a great way to get up close with traditional Japanese architecture, all while sipping on a hot coffee. Read on for our favourite Tokyo cafés in heritage buildings.

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Classic cafés

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Ikegami

Worth the trip out to Ikegami all on its own, the wonderfully retro Rengetsu Café is set inside a gorgeous Japanese-style structure built in 1933. Occupied for decades by a soba noodle shop on the first floor and an old-fashioned hatago inn on the second floor, the structure looks just like it did back in the early days of the Showa era (1926-1989). Although the straw mats on the ground floor have been replaced by wooden panelling, you can still spot the soba noodle menus above the entrance, as well as the beautiful old counter and an ancient safe built into the wall.

Head to the second floor for an even more traditional Japanese setup with tatami seating and tokonoma alcoves. Take a closer look at the windows – the see-through openings once provided views of the nearby Ikegami Honmonji Temple, while the wooden lattice decor is designed to resemble clouds. The space can be divided into three separate rooms, which you can rent for events and photo shoots.

As for the food, we love Rengetsu's moreish apple pie, best paired with a green apple-flavoured cream soda. If you’re looking for something more substantial, opt for the Rengetsu lunch plate that comes with a main dish, two sides, salad and rice. It’s counter service only, so make sure to secure a seat first before ordering on the first floor.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Wineries
  • Shirokane

If you're a cheesecake lover, then Cafe Tenement is the place for you. Only a ten-minute walk from Hiroo Station, the rustic two-storey building is over a century old and offers nine different types of homemade cheesecake. Among the flavours you’ll find inventive options such as hojicha (roasted green tea), black soy bean and organic coffee as well as two seasonal flavours that change every two months. When we visited, we enjoyed the standard brûlée cheesecake and a seasonal dark cherry creation. The cheesecake itself is not as sweet as others and the individual flavours complement each other very well. Opt for the cake set that comes with a cup of coffee, café au lait or earl grey.

If you’re looking for a savoury treat instead, try pasta napolitan, the retro dish made with spaghetti, tomato ketchup, onions, green peppers, bacon and a fried egg on top. The meal includes a soup, a rosemary scone and a salad (available from 3pm). However, you can also choose from all-day food options such as curries, gratins, stews and salads, made using fresh and seasonal ingredients from Kyushu.

The café is owned by Japanese musician Hidefumi Ino, who comes up with a monthly playlist of relaxing tunes suited to the calm, old-fashioned atmosphere of the café. The musical influence is also reflected in the interior, with vinyl records and old speakers decorating the space. Head up to the second floor, where you can still see the old wooden roof, and wooden beams running across the room. 

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Yanaka
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Upon spotting this charming old house on Yanaka's Kototoi-dori, most passers-by probably wouldn't guess that it's been home to a café for well over 70 years. Constructed in 1916, the building hosted the Kayaba coffee shop from 1938 until the death of the original proprietor in 2006. Beloved by both locals and visitors, the community icon made a strong comeback in 2009, when a local not-for-profit group teamed up with the folks behind nearby gallery Scai the Bathhouse and reopened Kayaba – with the original exterior and signage intact.

Inside, you'll find a fusion of the time-honoured kissaten tradition and the modern craft coffee ethos – no AeroPressing, just honestly good joe, best combined with a pick off the wonderfully retro food menu. Try the egg sandwich for a quick bite, or the weekly lunch for a more substantial option. Kayaba is one of those places where you can lose track of time and just drift away into daydreams, no matter what's going on outside the weather-bitten windows.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Iriya

After closing its doors in November 2016, this long-standing sento bathhouse in Shitaya was revamped into a charming neighbourhood café. The traditional structure and layout of the building have been kept as they were when the sento was first built in 1928. It still looks like your typical Japanese bathhouse from the outside. The homely interior has been renovated with modern fittings and decor, but still has the cosy feel of a local sento.

The entrance to Rebon, which still has the shoe lockers you find at bathhouses, leads into a café space that offers a range of coffee made with beans roasted in-house, as well as different teas including matcha latte and herbal tea and soft drinks like lemonade. We recommend ordering the coffee and ice cream set, which comes with a scoop of housemade fresh fruit ice cream paired with a coffee that compliments the dessert.

Note that the former bathing area is now an office and is not part of the café. 

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Takenotsuka

If you’re looking for a tranquil hideout to relax, then head straight to Engawa Café. This cosy eatery is part of Showa no Ie, a beautiful Japanese house with a small Western-style annex in Adachi ward. This registered tangible cultural property was built by Kenshichi Hirata in 1939 and members of the Hirata family still live in and manage the building.

Upon arrival you’ll be guided to the café space in the back of the house, where you can choose between tatami seating and tables along a beautiful wooden indoor engawa porch. We recommend the latter, where you’ll have stunning panoramic views of the adjoining garden. The green oasis is home to a variety of seasonal blooms, including camellia, plum and weeping cherry blossom trees, azaleas and hydrangeas. Come autumn, it’s also a great place to admire the colourful foliage.

Engawa Café offers a wide selection of hot and iced drinks, including Engawa original blend coffee, darjeeling and earl grey tea and the recommended mango and apple fruit tea. For something cooler, try the iced matcha latte, iced hojicha latte or iced royal milk tea. Pair your drink with a piece of cake and you’ll get a ¥100 discount on your order – we recommend the seasonal fruit tart.

Note that Engawa Café is only open between Tuesday and Friday.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Mukojima

This wonderful café, located along the Hato-no-machi-dori shopping arcade close to Hikifune Station, provides you with a full dose of old-school shitamachi ambience. Housed in a wooden building that was constructed in 1927 as a pharmacy, the shop was remodeled into a café in 2006. You’ll still find the old medicine cabinets, medicine drawers, wall clocks and sewing machines once used by the former tenants.

Koguma serves up hearty lunches – classic choices like baked omurice, baked curry rice and chickpea curry rice – as well as homemade cakes, that are all tasty and expertly prepared. Many old-style Tokyo cafés offer cheesecake, but the seasonal fruit cheesecake here is something special. You can choose from 30 different drinks, including a retro milkshake made in a cocktail shaker, but we recommend the Koguma craft coffee.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Kamakura

Tsubame Café is a 13-minute walk from Kamakura Station, nestled in a quiet neighbourhood near the small Nameri River. The 85-year-old wooden Japanese-style building may be rather unspectacular from the outside, but as soon as you step in, you’ll find yourself in a cosy café, complete with traditional tatami flooring, a beautiful wooden ceiling and an indoor engawa porch.

Tsubame Café’s menu is inspired by yakuzen, a cooking method based on traditional Chinese medicine. The concept is also reflected in the interior design, so you can spot an old wooden medicine cabinet at the kitchen counter, old medicine jars repurposed as flower vases as well as lots of dried flowers decorating the space.

Tsubame uses only local and organic vegetables, which means you’ll find just two lunch options on offer. Opt for the yakuzen oden that comes with rice, soup, small side dishes, herbal tea and annin-dofu (nut milk jelly) as dessert, or the yakuzen curry that includes rice and three sides, plus the herbal tea and dessert. We recommend visiting before 1pm on weekends and holidays as the lunch offers tend to sell out fast. If you miss out on the lunch sets, though you can still look forward to puddings, waffles or parfaits. 

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