Last week was blah. The weather was cool and rainy (no fun since I bike to school). I’ve been feeling kind of awkward at work, and it’s all left me a little bit homesick. So John and I decided to have a low-key weekend.
Saturday, though, the weather was too beautiful not to venture out. We met up with our friend Harmeet for lunch and some errands.
On our way to the library, we decided we could go for a hot drink. John recalled an interesting-looking cafe entrance he’d passed a few days before, so we went to check it out.
The cafe gate opened to a step-stone path which, to our curiosity, meandered into a gorgeous fall garden. Maple leaves, sakura trees, Shinto sculptures and bird songs enveloped what looked like a big, traditional Japanese home.
In the entrance, we panicked upon the realization that this was a “real” restaurant, when we only wanted coffees. But we were soon met with an enthusiastic “Irasshaimase!” We had no choice but to take off our shoes and come inside.
I’m so glad we did. Cushy antique furniture lined the enormous windows, and in this garden, there were no bad views. Binoculars hung on the wall for bird-watching. Twinkling music box melodies drifted through the rooms.
John and Harmeet got coffee, and I had a set that came with a frothy cup of matcha and a small rectangular sweet. Served on a sakura leaf and eaten with a wooden skewer, the texture was like a combination of gelatin and bean paste. It was marbleized with the red and green of cherry pieces and leaves (maybe shiso?)
After we finished, the owner told us that she knew some of the other English teachers in the area, and a few had even taken traditional tea ceremony lessons with her! She pulled out a photo album to show us how red the maple leaves become in the fall, and how the garden is carpeted in a layer of pink cherry blossoms in the spring.
We are constantly surprised by the gems we find tucked around our small city. As we exited through the crunchy leaves, John said what I’m sure we were all thinking: “That place reminded me why we live in Japan.”
Houraikan cafe is located at 1280 Sannocho in Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture (大分県 中津市 三ノ丁 1280).