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Japan – Senjeu coffee shop in Nagano (or why Japan is great)

Following my post earlier this week on Japan and its unique relationship with nature I wanted to do a follow up. Something of a demonstration of the character of its people which is evident during the current earthquake/ tsunami/ nuclear crisis.

So this post is about a coffee shop you will never go. This is not for any horrific reason related to the earthquake/ tsunami but because it is located in a no man’s land between two skiing towns in remote Nagano Prefecture and will never be featured in any magazine or guide book.

In any other country this would mean that Senjeu coffee shop would serve you a Starbucks-eseque mess and gift you a hollow corporate experience. In Japan it means that you experience a taste that compares with any “third wave”* coffee shop in London, New York or San Franscisco (and maybe even Australia if I had been).

It also makes you contemplate giving up your career, life’s distractions and attempting to emulate the focus and passion which was so evident at Senjeu coffee shop.

Senjeu coffee shop is a husband and wife operation. The wife does the coffee, well, neigh obsessively. The husband bakes wood fired bread, deliciously, in small batches. There is no rational economic reason for what they are doing. There is no easy answer for why a small town in the middle of nowhere deserves such perfection.

Well… apart from the fact this is Japan. This is a country where the apple farmers rotate by hand each apple during the growing season so there is an even spread of sunlight. Where under each apple tree reflective layers are carefully spread out so the bottom of the apple also gets to ripen. Where the apple trees have been cared and nutured for hundreds of years.

This is focus in a way which I can barely understand but which I can definitely taste.

Link to the Japanese Red Cross here.


  1. This is why travelling in Japan is so rewarding. Perfection is pursued, in everything, to the nth degree. And that is true whether it’s a coffee shop, convenience store, inn or pink leather cowboy boot collection. It brings to mind Oku in Kyoto, a perfect blend of contemporary and traditional, where they do the best creme caramel I’ve eaten.

    And it is the character, and pursuit of perfection, that will see Japan out of this current crisis better than most other countries in the world.

    • I fear how we would react to a similar triple whammy of badness. I think London would collapse – just look at the snow!

      The thing is, I often think Japan does things you wouldn’t immediately think of as good better than many countries. Some of the best French meals I have ever had have been there.

    • Mariko

      Arr you are sweet. SInce I moved to Hong Kong, I have often recalled what a wonderful upbringing I had with the amazing natures and foods in Japan.

  2. Thank you for posting this slice of life. I love your photography, storytelling, and subtle support of a community in need.

  3. Great posts on Japan -really shows what a special place it is.

  4. The baking of the bread in the artisanal way in that stone oven, together with the aroma from that and the freshly brewed coffee… in the middle of nowhere during Winter just when u need it the most. Now that’s hardcore! I can’t foresee us replicating any similar experience anywhere else in the world !

    • The first time I stumbled into on my own and starting thinking I was mad. It was just too strange, too uneconomical. I must have got lucky or be drunk or something.

      So I took Jen and it was even better (we had their stone baked cheesecake which they were testing. Just wow)

  5. Al & Noriko Coley

    We will be in the area visiting some places in Nagano in late May or early june 2012. We also have a friend that has a coffee shop in Nagano area. I should know the name and I can not ask my wife because she is not home at the moment. But I will look for the coffee shop sign as we move around………maybe see you there……Al Coley

  6. Hopefully, though we are getting married in May in Europe so don’t think it is too likely. That said I would love a quick retrip to Japan but will probably have to wait until xmas and skiing!

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