Coffee

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt

    Reporter

    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Tatsushi Ueshima

    Main guest

    Tatsushi Ueshima is the Representative Director-Chairman of one of Japan’s leading coffee companies. A family-run business, the company was established in 1933, and Ueshima was its president from 1980 to 2009. He is also the honorary chief curator of the company’s coffee museum. Ueshima participated in the development of the world’s first canned coffee, which was released in 1969. In 1981 his company opened a farm in Jamaica and established a fully-integrated “farm to cup” coffee business, also a global first. Ueshima is involved in a wide range of coffee-related activities outside of his company’s work, including creating the All Japan Coffee Fair Trade Conference and the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan.

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November 27, 2018

Coffee

*You will leave the NHK website.

Coffee is consumed around the world, but Japan seems to have a special relationship with the beverage. On this edition of Japanology Plus, we dig deep into Japan's coffee culture and learn how the country first came into contact with coffee, how and why it fell in love with the drink, and even how Japanese coffee preparation methods have influenced cafe culture worldwide. Brew up a cup and dive in!

To learn more about the origins of coffee culture in Japan, host Peter Barakan visits the port city of Kobe, and for good reason: this city, one of the first opened to international trade in the late 1800s, is said to be the first place that imported coffee.

But being first in coffee was far from the only benefit Kobe enjoyed from its position as an international port city. For one, along with the Japan's Westernization came a greater interest in eating beef, which led to the development of the region's famed Kobe beef. These days, many internationally-focused Japanese firms, not to mention firms from abroad, have their Japanese headquarters in Kobe. And the city even spawned one of Japan's best-selling authors; Haruki Murakami grew up in the Kobe area and is said to have been influenced by its international flair, taking an interest in Western literature.

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This edition of Japanology Plus is best viewed with a fresh cup of coffee.

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Peter Barakan visits a coffee shop called a kissaten in Kobe.

In Kobe, Peter visits a cafe specializing in coffee. An establishment like this is called a kissaten. As we learn, kissaten have long been places to get a cup of individually-brewed coffee—a practice that's influenced the so-called third wave coffee boom abroad. But what does "kissaten" mean? In Japanese, the characters that make up the word actually mean "drink tea shop," but while some kissaten will certainly serve tea, carefully-brewed coffee is usually the main event. If you arrive early enough, many kissaten also serve reasonably-priced "morning sets," which tend to include toast, a boiled egg, a small salad and, of course, coffee.

Kissaten used to dominate the coffee landscape, but many have shuttered over the years (one turnoff for younger customers: many stubbornly refuse to go non-smoking). You can, however, still find them dotted across cities like Tokyo and Kobe, offering refuge from the big coffee chains and a way to travel back in time to the Japan of 30 or 40 years ago.

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An individually-prepared cup of coffee.

On the program, we learn that the kissaten habit of preparing each cup of coffee individually influenced the current third-wave coffee boom, in which shops offer up coffees made with single origin beans in hip spaces. For those wondering what the first and second waves were, it's thought wave one was the initial proliferation of coffee in the West (specifically in the US), and that wave two took place in the 1960s and '70s when interest in espresso-based drinks emerged.

These days, third-wave coffee is now making, uh, waves in Japan. This trend could be seen as a kind of a reverse import when you consider the fact that kissaten were doing third wave-style years before the United States.

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Japan is also famous for canned coffee, available in vending machines on practically every street corner.

In any case, shops of a very third-wave nature began popping up in Tokyo around 2012. These days, there are third-wave shops in places as far flung as Sendai, Fukuoka, and Okinawa. "Third-wave boys" (saado weibu-kei danshi), a phrase for hip young men who love a good cup of coffee, has even made its way into Japanese vocabulary.

Speaking of Okinawa: the island chain is close enough to the equator that coffee beans can actually be grown there. As we learn on the program, Japan imports the vast majority of its coffee—but Okinawan coffee farmers set up a producers' association in 2014 and are trying to come up with ways to promote Okinawan beans, including tie-ups with tourism. Who knows—it may not be too long before Tokyo's third-wave boys are helping to give Japan-grown coffee a boost.

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On Plus One, Matt Alt gets a look at some high-tech ways to brew coffee.

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Peter Barakan gets a cup of coffee with expert guest Tatsushi Ueshima.

*You will leave the NHK website.