Mo-an is a good friend’s favorite place in Kyoto. She’s born and bred here, and like many a Kyotoite her enthusiasm for the old capital can be a little boorish. But with Mo-an I can see why. It advertises itself as a “quite place in a peaceful grove, close to the heart of tea.” It is. But, let me try to improve on that. You could start with the cafe’s kanji: a hermitage in a thick growth.
First, it’s not that easy to find, which is part of its appeal. We cycled on a hot summer’s day in July up past Kyoto University, then past Yoshida Shrine, into an old residential neighborhood and promptly lost our way. A woman walking her dog corrected us. You have to leave your bikes halfway and follow the path into the grove until you at last come upon a rustic old building, once a teahouse, now a cafe.
The walk in on the winding path and the cafe itself are about as Zen as it gets in Japan. The cafe is on the second floor, among a canopy of pines. Spare a thought for the creator of this wonderful space. The best seats are by the windows. Between the setting and the views, most people are reduced to whispering. Look east and you’ll find the kanji for dai (large) etched into the hill. Look west and you’ll find others, which will be lit up in the middle of this month. Lunch of jājāmen (spicy noodles with beef) was very ordinary, the work of mere mortals.
Yoshidayama Sancho, Yoshidakaguraoka-cho 8, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto; 075-761-2100; www.mo-an.com; open 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Sun.; nearest station Demachiyanagi; no smoking; lunch ¥1,000-1,500; no English menu; no English spoken.