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restaurant review

OnJapan Cafe: Get your 'wa' on in Harajuku

By Jeff W Richards

Tucked in trendy Harajuku among the luxury brands, gourmet popcorn shops, purveyors of rock ’n’ roll cosplay wigs, bustier salons, rag tag-to-riches recycle stores and stationery shops that double as bars, sits a restaurant that at times seems the very antithesis to all of the nearby commotion. Located near the area’s famous Cat Street, a popular destination for both international and Japanese travellers alike, OnJapan Cafe is all about exploring Japanese food culture without venturing into parts unknow — or outside your comfort zone — and all in an unhurried, welcoming manner.

A community project created by start-up OnJapan Inc, its simple but seasonal dishes are all about "Nippon no aji," or the taste of Japan. From invigorating breakfasts and tasty lunch sets, to light snacks served with evening aperitifs, the menu has been carefully prepared to express the essence of Japanese cuisine — or washoku. Ingredients and specialties from all over the country have been selected to provide international travellers with an easy yet authentic introduction to traditional Japanese food.

The weekday "teishoku" (fixed price) lunch sets (¥1,400) feature seasonal fish marinated in sake lee then grilled delicately with yuzu (Japanese citrus) miso and accompanied by all-you-can eat or drink miso soup, "tsukemono" (Japanese pickles) and a seasonal side dish (homemade tofu on our visit). Another everyman’s (or office lady’s) staple, the "donburi" (rice bowl), is reworked into a healthy lunch with topping choices of panko-fried horse mackerel from Shizuoka Prefecture (¥1,500), Tottori-sourced sake-marinated and grilled chicken (¥1,300) or a seasonal vegetable medley (¥1,100) with fried wheat gluten cake and ladled with miso-kasu sauce.

More than just a café, it’s a hangout for foreigners interested in Japan — or those who just want a little escape from the over-stimulation of the city. Staff speak English (and other languages) and actively encourage customers to linger a little and enjoy the free Wi-Fi during a meal or sample some freshly brewed "ocha" (Japanese tea; ¥500-¥800), which they are more than happy to help you taste. OnJapan Cafe also hosts a large collection of English titles focused on Japan and its culture — a library-cafe where visitors can eat and drink while browsing hundreds of books to find the information they need to make their trip memorable.

The cafe also hosts regular events ranging from cooking lessons using some of the ingredients from their dishes, seminars and workshops hosted by local experts on Japanese culture, for example tastings to learn more about "nihonshu" (Japanese sake), classes that teach how to make homemade miso, lessons in "shodo" (the Japanese art of calligraphy) or even join a group learning fashionable Tokyo-style nail art — complete with "kawaii" (cute) sushi motifs.

If at all sounds rather conservative or academic, things change as the sun sets and work finishes. There is an extensive list of "nihonshu" available to sample that is curated by Japanese sake and food journalist Yoko Yamamoto, with a three-glass tasting flight accompanied by five seasonal appetizers available for ¥3,000 per person. More sake is on hand sourced from a variety of prefectures and available in a variety of grades — and temperatures — to help drink in the flavors of Japan while you unwind from the day (¥600-¥1,200).

Until March 28, the restaurant and event space will be under the spell of “Tohoku Spring” -- a themed event for the month that sees them featuring special menus and workshops using ingredients and know-how source from the region. Special area dishes and sake will be on the menu as well as some charity events (including the opening night party), with part of the proceeds being donated to organizations helping in the Tohoku region.

OnJapan Cafe

Open Mon - Fri 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Sat - Sun 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. 6-8-1 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Tel: 03-6434-1228 Station: Meijijingumae, Exit 4 Email: Google Map

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Another everyman’s (or office lady’s) staple, the “donburi” (rice bowl), is reworked into a healthy lunch with topping choices of panko-fried horse mackerel from Shizuoka Prefecture (¥1,500),

An everyman's staple menu item at an exorbitant price. It would be helpful if the reviewer here could tell us if paying double the price is really worth it, rather than just promoting this restaurant.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

expensive wa.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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