What if I told you there’s a café in Shibuya where speaking is forbidden? No soy lattes, no tapioca drinks, no frappuccinos. Instead, you get a menu of kissaten staples: coffees, milk teas, a few juices. And a soundtrack of classical music, played from vinyl via giant, wall-mounted wooden speakers.
This is Lion.

Photo by Lincoln Kawabata

They weren’t keen on photos when I visited, so let me set the scene. You walk up Hyakkendana, past the strip bars and ramen shops, until you encounter this faux European wonder’s illuminated green sign, boldly announcing the establishment’s name in stylised katakana. The grey, stone (effect) and concrete façade is complete with arched doorways and windows that wouldn’t look too out of place in Ghent. As you step into the entrance, you’ll see the hand-written sign informing you that conversation is not possible.

Photo by Lincoln Kawabata

The interior is dark: worn wood and seats upholstered in red velvet, set across the first floor and upstairs gallery, illuminated by glowing teal fluorescent tubes and soft, tungsten bulbs. Seat yourself at any empty table and a staff member will bring you a menu and programme before taking your order, sotto voce.

Photo by Lincoln Kawabata

The music takes centre stage here. Conversation is banned because you are supposed to concentrate on listening, free from distraction. You don’t impose your noise on the other customers, and neither do they on you. I visited on a weekday afternoon and soon found myself losing track of time as I sipped my coffee, enjoying a programme of Vladimir Sofronitsky performing Chopin, and Glenn Gould playing Beethoven. At the table next to me, a woman read; diagonally across, a solitary salaryman silently smoked.

The quiet between pieces is immense, interrupted only by the staff softly announcing the composition just played. A rare respite from Tokyo’s constant sensory bombardment; the music is given room to breathe, not having to compete with talking, jingles and selfies. This was my first visit to Lion, but it will become a regular retreat for me. An oasis in the middle of Shibuya’s unbridled madness. The perfect blend of Showa kitsch and good taste.

Want to experience Lion from home? Check out their website (Japanese), complete with embedded MIDI music and lots of Flash. Planning a visit in person? They are open 11:00 to 22:30, seven days a week. The address is 2 -19-13 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo:

By - Lincoln Kawabata.