The city of Ibaraki in the north of Osaka is home to Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light, a modernist concrete masterpiece. Out of the spotlight, another architect in Ibaraki has been quietly but busily breathing life into buildings whose glory days would otherwise be behind them. Cafe Ibaraki Yu might well be the finest example.
This was once a public bath, and architect Shigeharu Kuriyama from Design Saho makes no attempt to disguise this legacy. At the entrance you stow your shoes in lockers; an old analog TV still looms over the sliding doors; a bonbondokei, a clock from a different era, ticks and chimes on the hour. The main cafe occupies the changing room: Where once you would have stripped, now you dine on low tables and retro couches. The mood is sentimental more than melancholy.
The food, too, is evocative of the past. Teishoku (set meals) are served on rustic wooden trays: tonkatusu (deep-fried pork cutlets) with spring cabbage, tsukemono (pickles), rice and miso soup. This is hearty and healthy food.
Be sure to take a wander into the old bathing room at the back, now converted into a music venue. The wall taps are still there, as are the ubiquitous blue basins, but now an imposing wrought-iron chandelier hangs over a stage where live bands have taken the place of piping-hot water. This is the type of storied cafe you want in your neighborhood.
4-1 Miyamoto-cho, Ibaraki-shi, Osaka; 072-631-1887; www.saho.cz; open daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m, closed Mon.; nearest station Ibaraki-shi; no smoking; lunch around ¥1,000; Japanese menu; no English spoken.