We speak to Hiroyuki Kato, the owner of an unlikely kissaten in Ochanomizu, which has a fine selection of jazz records and serves English Breakfast throughout the day.

Kato, 28, was working at a record shop when he came across a kissaten for rent on Instagram. The old owner of the kissaten was retiring and looking for someone to take over the 40-year-old property. From the tables to the glass phone booth, it was all available to rent. All he had to do was apply.

Along with his partner at the time, he messaged the address on the poster and was put in touch with the landlord. They went through two rounds of interviews although he didn’t think there was anyone else interested. “I think the owner just wanted someone they liked,” says Kato.

Onkyo Speakers, Photo Lisa Knight

Jazz Kissa or No Kissa

When Kato and his partner got the go-ahead, one of the first things they did was change the name, to reflect the cafe’s new direction as a jazz kissa. A jazz kissa differs from a normal kissaten in that the focus is jazz, rather than coffee.

Previously, it had been a standard kissaten, but Kato wanted to make it a jazz destination. It was named Donato, which refers to Brazilian jazz musician João Donato.

We are talking quietly in a raised space, past the phone booth which now functions as a record player booth, near to the kitchen. The music plays at a high volume. If we were in the main cafe space in a prime spot, it would be hard to hear each other. Talking is not exactly encouraged. The giant Onkyo speakers, which Kato brought in specially, dominate the room, taking up approximately two tables worth of space. On the rug in front is a chair upon which Kato places the jacket of the record currently playing. Alongside it, there’s a sign that says, “Don’t Touch.”

The record selection is refined, befitting someone who previously worked in a record shop. Selections range from German experimental jazz labels such as ECM to famed Japanese jazz masters like Shoji Yokouchi. As we talk, Kato gets up periodically to change the records when they finish, rifling through the collection for the next vinyl.

Kato’s book selection, Photo Lisa Knight

Donato: In with the Old

Kato decided not to make too many alterations to the shop. The tableware was changed, some of his own books were added and there are small touches here and there, such as a plant in one corner and dried flowers in another. Aside from that, it’s mostly as it was. Outside the shop stands a small, lit sign board with a logo designed by Kato’s friend Toru Kase. “We gave him free rein,” he says. The resulting logo is a smudge of a cat accompanied by the kissaten’s name, one of the very few contemporary aspects of the cafe.

We ask about the challenges of opening a jazz kissaten. “Covid, I guess,” is his response. He hasn’t known what it’s like to run a jazz kissa outside of Covid restrictions, yet feels they’ve been doing pretty well so far.

While Kato hasn’t been able to fully experience a non-Covid operation, something has changed a little since the restrictions eased. “I had some tourists in here the other day. They even brought their own books,” he tells us. He’s excited at the prospect of sharing jazz kissa culture with others, commenting about the increase in tourists near his home.

Donato’s Full English Breakfast, Photo Lisa Knight

Full English Breakfast Formula

One of Donato’s popular dishes is part of the reason why the cafe caught Tokyo Weekender’s eye. It serves a Full English Breakfast — and a pretty legit one, too. Featuring an all-star lineup, the Donato breakfast contains toast, home-made beans, sunny side up eggs, tomatoes, sausages, mushrooms and bacon.

We ask what inspired him to start serving an English Breakfast. “Ken Loach,” he says. He was watching Loach’s 1967 British kitchen sink film Poor Cow when he first heard of an English breakfast. He noted that it was “rare” in Japan and hit upon the idea of serving a Full English in his jazz kissa.

Outside Donato, Photo Lisa Knight

Surprisingly, Kato has never been to the UK, nor has he tried a real English breakfast. It was simply a case of research. “I searched ‘Full English Breakfast’ online and watched some YouTube videos. I included the parts that seemed to be the most common,” he says.  This formulaic approach certainly seems to have worked. As a Brit in Japan, finding a decent English Breakfast is like gold dust. Yet, amid a sea of sub-par attempts to copy one of Britain’s only decent meals, Donato’s breakfast stands above the rest.

Photo Lisa Knight

Eating a Full English in a Showa-era kissa, listening to Japanese jazz from its Japanese Onkyo speakers surely has to be one of the most surreal experiences available in the capital. With regards to feedback, “Someone from England tried it and said it was good,” says Kato. However, he seems somewhat bemused by the attention.

Back to Jazz

Kato has plans to expand the menu, serving other “rare” items. These include a Reuben Sandwich, Elvis Sandwich and Sambal “for the vegans.” While TW was in the kissa, he was trying out a Reuben for his dinner. “Still a little way to go,” he says.

As for the music, the record playing as we speak is a Shoji Yokouchi release. His personal favorite record is Red Mitchell Harold Land Quintet’s Hear Ye!, but the record he feels most fits Donato is The Moontrane by Woody Shaw. “It’s proper, serious jazz,” he tells us before we depart.

More Info Website →
Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays