Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Le Lion Cafe in Shibuya Tokyo

I was going to walk to a bookstore but decided to visit Le Lion Cafe which is in the Shibuya area of Tokyo.  I go here often over the years. It is one of my favorite places and by far my favorite cafe.  Their specialty and only specialty is that they play classical albums - mostly vinyl.  The coffee there cost 550¥, and it’s not that good.  What you’re paying for is someone to play records for you.  A vintage DJ set where one plays music for another.   They have these two massive wooden cabinet speakers facing the coffee drinkers.  One is not allowed to converse at the cafe.  There are small wooden chairs and covered seats.  All were facing the direction of the three turntables, various amps, and a CD machine or two.

When I walked in, they were playing Schubert’s “The Four Seasons” on vinyl.  Before and after each record, the waiter/waitress gives an introduction to the music being played.  Usually, they give the composer and the piece, but they also read from what looks like an old hardcover book on classical music, to provide detail about either the recording or the orchestra/musician/composer.  Last night after each playing, the waitress cleaned the vinyl before and after playing the record.   The next record was, I think, a piece of music by Tchaikovsky.  All introductions are done in Japanese, and they do exhibit the album cover on a stand in front of the speakers, but the lighting is so dark it’s hard to make out what the print says on the record cover.  She then played a recording of Handel’s harpsichord music.

I casually looked around the small room, and there are three people there drinking coffee and listening to the music.  There is an upstairs as well, that is the balcony, and the seating arrangement is the same as the bottom floor.  When you see the speakers, one would think that it will be loud.  The volume is somewhere in the middle.  What's interesting is that the music doesn't drown out the noise outside the cafe.  You can hear people laughing and walking pass the Lion Cafe, and one is aware that there is life outside the listening room.  The other thing one notices is that the architecture inside and outside represents a baroque era.  It is almost if you were walking down a street in the 17th century Vienna and you come upon this coffee house.  It's European but with the oversight of a Japanese aesthetic.

There are many things here that I find impressive, but one is sitting by yourself and being confronted with Western culture in an Eastern country.   The cafe is located in the Red Light District in Shibuya.  There are nothing here but bars and love hotels.   One would think that the perfect location for Le Lion Cafe would be the Ginza or West Shinjuku.  Here in Playland is the ultimate escape from the 21st century into the world that is both real and imagined.  The best 550¥ ever spent.

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