Catwoman is back. This time, though, she isn’t wearing a black spandex body suit. No mask, no whip and no sexy purr in her voice. In fact, at 67, she’s not quite as lithe as she used to be.
She is, however, sheathed in a form-fitting turquoise leotard with rainbow-striped leg warmers, proud to show off her double-pierced ears from which sparkly gold kittens dangle.
Yes, most likely Kazuko Ohtake gave up prowling the streets years ago. But one thing she wisely held on to was Canopus.
Established 30 years ago by Ohtake’s husband, this brightly lit, cluttered little rectangle was once known as Contessa, and folks in the local Setagaya bedroom community would congregate here for drinks and snacks from dusk to dawn. But after her husband died 10 years ago, Ohtake took her sister’s advice and turned the hot spot into a less stressful coffee house, renaming it Canopus, after the star of the same name.
Canopus seems to have little to do with its namesake. The cafe has a definite lived-in look and what appears to be most of Contessa’s original furniture and flooring. Other than to take a peek at questionable ’70s decor, it would be easy to pass Canopus by. But soon after meeting Ohtake, it becomes apparent this one-woman enterprise is definitely worth a coffee afternoon.
Let’s start with the cats: They’re everywhere. Calendars, stuffed toys, posters, paintings, ceramics, curtains, mobiles — we’re talking “meow” with a capital M. Oddly, the only thing that’s missing is the real thing (although Ohtake does confess to nursing an ancient one-eyed stray named Kaosu, in the back room). “I like all animals,” she says, modeling her Felix the cat apron. And just in case I was wondering, she quickly adds, “And I’m a vegetarian, too.”
She insists she is not a “cat lady,” but she does admit to making a mistake by buying her first “cat thing.” Before she realized it, two of her crazy “cat friends” were dragging her on shopping jaunts to out-of-the-way boutiques where she could get that must-have creamer in the form of a Sacred Purr Manx or a candle holder resembling an Egyptian Mau.
That explains all the cat paraphernalia. But what’s with the Prince wall clock?
“Oh, that!” she laughs. “I’m a big fan of his. One time I went to Las Vegas just to see one of his shows, but unfortunately,” she grimaces, “I didn’t get there in time. So I bought this instead.”
It’s not difficult to imagine Ohtake in that Vegas audience, whooping it up with the best of them. As it was, Canopus was alive with song, the yusen system pumping out everything from The Spinners to The Stones. She confides, “I like contemporary music — not enka!”
The customers are mostly local and loyal. Ohtake boasts she knows them all by name — their dogs’ names, that is. That’s not hard to understand, considering she does occasionally turn a blind eye to someone bringing in a well-trained schnauzer or poodle. “Bring them in!” she says. “It’s my shop.”
Whereas the rest of Ohtake’s world is somewhat unconventional, the Canopus menu is pretty standard. Blend coffees, soft drinks, teas and toast will set you back anywhere from 250 yen to 800 yen. But really, one doesn’t come to Canopus to get Calpis (although it is available).
No, it’s Ohtake herself that’s the cream in the coffee. Running around taking orders, Ohtake has more vim and vigor than most of the teenage girls roaming Shibuya in search of a sale. She rarely takes time off, although she does like to go golfing (there’s a set of clubs right near the front door). “You know,” she smiles, “just in case the mood strikes me.”
She was hesitant to have her picture taken for this article because she thought she was “just a regular obasan.” But with her swift moves and slim figure, she seems more like an elegant retired dance teacher who decided running her own coffee house was less trouble than teaching prima donna wannabes how to plie.
According to the Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000, Canopus is used as a reference point for navigation of spacecraft launched on interplanetary missions because of its brightness. That could be true. With Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” pumping, Ohtake’s brightly colored dance togs shimmering and gold kitty earrings glittering, Canopus is sure to cross somebody’s radar screen.