This unique coffee shop in the hills of Higashi-hiroshima has been freaking visitors out since 1960. [日本語]
Although Bateren [伴天連] takes it’s name from the Japanese word for Catholic missionary priests, derived from the Portuguese padre, when you first pull into the parking lot, you might think you’ve arrived at a Japanese temple. Despite the Buddhist trappings, however, it is soon clear that Bateren is something altogether different.
A severed, hairless, mannequin head stares out from atop a pole. An outsized Japanese lantern stands at the gateway. On crossing the Sanzu no kawa (the ‘river of the dead’), strange figures adorn the rocks down which water tumbles. A skeleton beckons you past a signboard that bids you “Welcome to Bateren”.
But you are not there yet. Moving carefully down the narrow passageway that gets ever darker as it approaches the doorway, you may find yourself nervously laughing to yourself as your pulse starts to quicken. Pushing the creaking door open, sets off a jangling of chains, and you find yourself plunged into darkness, your feet searching for the floor. A voice, comes out of the gloom, “Irrashaimase, just make your way on through…”
After taking a seat at the counter, my eyes become accustomed to the dark and all manner of weird and, well, weird things become visible. Skulls, snakes (apparently captured on the hillside surrounding the cafe) in bottles, a stuffed rabbit with a monkey’s head and reptilian hands. And mannequin heads, lots of mannequin heads.
The master, out of whose parents’ imagination Bateren took shape over years of collecting, explains the menu. It doesn’t take long as it is confined to tea, coffee and a few soft drinks along with two simple kissaten staples; “hot cake” pancakes, mixed sandwiches and toast with egg, ham and salad. Everything is ¥500 (there’s a ¥100 discount if you order food with a drink), unless you want a frozen coffee, cafe au lait, cocoa or strawberry milk which are “OLL [sic] ¥600”. The master tells apologizes that their special drinks such as bloody juices and unko excrement cocoa are no longer on the menu; for some reason people weren’t keen.
Bateren isn’t going to win any culinary awards, but as we eat our passable fare, the master points out some of the cafe’s particularly unique ornaments and curios. A walking stick made from a horse penis dangles behind me, the petrified hands of unknown creatures hang in bunches above. A plastic hand that fits perfectly around a wooden phallus. A shrunken head of unknown provenance and veracity stares out from behind the counter and then there is that monkey-headed rabbit, a favorite construction of the founder. We are subjected to a series of little, well practiced, surprises which it would be unfair to reveal here, all in good fun and all a bit creepy.
Apparently, Bateren is a favorite destination for day-tripping couples. The young ladies get freaked out and cling to their partners for comfort says the master, smiling. With its limited menu and somewhat difficult to reach location, Bateren isn’t likely to be somewhere you visit regularly. However, this kind of interactive ero-guro Sanzoku (minus the great food), it’s certainly a place you should check out at least once and makes for a great destination for visitors looking for a dose of weird Japan.
Opening hours: 10:00-18:00
Closed: Irregular holidays
Bateren is 10-15 minutes by taxi from Higashi-hiroshima shinkansen station.
Address: 730-305 Saijo-cho Shimominaga, Higashi-hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 〒739-0023
Address in Japanese: 広島県東広島市西条町下三永７３０－９７