Lion Cafe – Tokyo’s Worst “Best Kept” Secret

In the dark heart of Shibuya’s seediest district, Maruyama-cho, amidst the love hotels, used underwear shops and sexual service advice centers lies an oasis of calm, The Lion Cafe.

It really is Tokyo’s worst “best kept” secret, a google search reveals 819,000 results, yet the place remains thankfully absent from guidebooks and “things to do in Tokyo” lists. It is all but unknown……………and that is a good thing.

Because The Lion is special – really special.
It was originally built in 1923 and then rebuilt to the same design in 1950 after it was destroyed in the fire bombing of Tokyo in the second world war.
To enter its hushed interior is to step back in time.
The seating all faces in one direction towards the huge wooden speaker system and the enormous collection of vinyl and cds that adorn the front wall of the cafe. The sprinkling of customers (it is NEVER full) sit in silence, many with eyes closed rapt in the classical music (all that the cafe plays, indeed its raison d’etre) that fills the two story cafe.

The waiter/waitress approaches, deposits a menu whose selection seems like it was decided in 1923 too and hasn’t been updated since, a glass of water, an ashtray and a program listing the music that will be played during the month.
They return after a few minutes and take your order in the whispers that are expected of everyone who enters this magical place.

Then you are alone, the music and the decor transport you to another time and place and within minutes you forget that you are in Shibuya, forget even that you are in Japan.

I have been frequenting The Lion since I first came to Japan 6 years ago introduced to its calming healing effects by my wife.
It is easily my favorite cafe in the world and I can say that having drank coffee in many far-flung places.
A visit to the Lion cafe is the perfect antidote to the stresses of Tokyo life, simply put, I love it.

Go, relax and enjoy its magic, but do us all a favor and keep this magical place to yourself lest it be destroyed by the plebeian hordes.

The Lion Cafe – (be warned, embedded midi music!)

p.s. Along with a ban on talking the Lion cafe also has a strict NO PHOTOGRAPHY rule, I’m not that good with rules but even I balk at abusing the hallowed hall of the Lion, well……maybe just a few pictures if I’m very carefull not to disturb anyone, surely that couldn’t hurt, could it ;-)

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