Most Starbucks outlets worldwide (at 31,000 and counting) masquerade as homey neighborhood coffee shops, circa Seattle in the ’90s, featuring earth tones and armchairs. But at the Kyoto Starbucks Coffee Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya, the decor takes an earlier era as inspiration, evoking the centuries when Japan’s merchant class lived in wooden townhouses, known as machiya. Kyoto is famous for retaining the greatest number of Edo-era (1603–1868) machiya, which, after a long period of disfavor, are now appreciated for their elegant, comfortable designs.
In 2017, Starbucks opened a store on Ninenzaka, the historical road leading to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a massive tourist attraction. It’s no surprise that the coffee giant would want to open there, as the sloped street itself is a draw, lined with handsome historical houses and shops.
To fit in, Starbucks set up shop in a two-story, 100-year-old machiya. Curtains at the entryway and lanterns on the exterior display the Starbucks mermaid, while inside next to the counter, an austere Japanese garden floods the insides with light. While the menu is fairly typical, customers can either sip at tables on the ground floor or ascend to the second, where elegant scrolls line the walls and tatami mats and cushions line the floors. Sitting on them requires removing one’s shoes, an act that would probably be forbidden at any other Starbucks on Earth.
Know Before You Go
This Starbucks has subtle signage, so be careful not to walk right past it.