Though there is plenty to keep history and Japanese culture buffs busy on a visit to Matsue in Shimane Prefecture, it is a city that is supremely suited to taking your time to enjoy. Pepper your schedule with visits to its many tea shops, cafes and soba restaurants and your feet will not only thank you, but you will get a real feel for a city that delights in the simple pleasures of life.
Matsue is well known for its tea culture, matcha in particular. But it also has a vibrant coffee scene which ranges from traditional kissaten coffee shops characteristic of the post war Showa era to the new wave of coffee bars with a focus on quality and style that have been sweeping the nation. Here are 5 to get you started.
Coffee Kan Kyomise [珈琲館 京店]
Kissaten overlooking the Kyobashi River near the one of the Horikawa pleasure boat boarding points and opposite the Karakoro Art Center. In business for over 40 years, Coffee Kan definitely has a retro vibe, but here you get spotlessly clean refinement rather than old school grunge.
This is one of the best places in Matsue to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with several voluminous “Morning” sets available from 8am until 11am, but they also offer a good selection of lunches and desserts throughout the day. The menu is in Japanese, but there are lots of photos to help you order.
Coffee Kan [珈琲館]
Opening hours: 08:00-19:00
Little Court Coffee
Locally-born Suguru Hasegawa returned to his native Matsue in 2015 after working in a specialist coffee shop during college and honing his hand roasting skills for 10 years. Little Court is housed in a small, but perfectly-formed merchant house on the banks of the Kyobashi River (just 100m from Coffee Kan).
Here, you can enjoy pour over coffee and very skillfully made espresso drinks made with beans, freshly roasted daily. Take out is available, but if you can get a seat at the counter that runs the length of the river-facing windows on the upper floor, it’s the perfect place to take a break, savor the flavor and enjoy the view.
Little Court Coffee
Opening hours: 10:00-18:00 (Weekdays), 10:00-17:00 (Weekends & Hols)
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Coffee Roaster Libre
Another specialist coffee shop that opened in 2015. Bearing in mind that coffee is literally the fruit of a coffee tree, owner and roaster Oshita-san is passionate about preparing coffee that reflects the original flavor of the beans he carefully selects.
Choose from a selection of around 10 kinds of beans, that include both fruity and rich varieties. Appropriate to Matsue, a traditional pottery and ceramics center, the selection of cups he uses to serve his pour over coffee is also delightfully varied.
You can also blend another aspect of Matsue culture at Libre, ordering a cup of coffee that pairs well with a beautiful wagashi sweet supplied by the city’s oldest wagashi maker Keigetsu-do.
Simple is best at Imagine Coffee. The menu offers coffee in three styles; pour-over coffee, espresso (plus Americano or Latte) and French press, all using beans supplied by their nearby roasters. Other available drinks are Japanese tea, banana milk and hot or cold lemonade. Order and pay at the entrance before taking a seat.
The interior is warm and cozy, highly conducive to allowing time to slip by as you melt into the embrace of freshly brewed coffee. Toast and sweet treats also provide sustenance if you are finding it difficult to move on.
Open until later than most of Matsue’s coffee shops, Imagine Coffee is the place to come for that after dark caffeine hit. Imagine Coffee also serves breakfast (brunch?) sets on weekends and holidays 10:00-14:00. Choose a basic set and choose from the list of additional options. Like we said, simple is best.
Shinji Lake Sunset Cafe
Any visit to Matsue isn’t complete without, should the weather gods be cooperative, watching the sun set over Lake Shinji.
If the sky is looking clear, head just south of the Shimane Art Museum and the lakeside and you will find a cute, multi-colore hut that houses a Sunset Cafe open from 16:00. Although their sunset cocktail gets most of the press, the above-mentioned Imagine Coffee supplies the hot brews.
Sunset information (in Japanese, but this page gives you the time of sunset and 1and idea of the kind of view you can expect – 100 means awesome and 0 means you are out of luck).
Shinji Lake Sunset Cafe
Opening hours: 16:00 until the sun goes down
Closed: Whenever the clouds obscure the sunset
Non-Japanese passport holders can currently take a direct express bus between Hiroshima and Matsue for only ¥500 if you purchase your ticket in advance and agree to filling out a simple questionnaire. Note that ticket offices may only open after the first departure of the day.
More articles on Matsue
・Let culture wash over you in Matsue
・Tea culture for all in Matsue
・Matsue’s Surprising Kyomise District