{BUZ} : Lightyears ahead in retrospect

{BUZ} is not your typical furniture store. In fact, it’s really 3-in-1: vintage retailer, daytime café, and nighttime ba (バー : bar).

{BUZ} : hip, cool, now; generating interest and excitement.”

The name {BUZ} is actually a contraction of the slang term ‘buzz’: all that’s hip, cool, now; the latest ‘word on the street’ generating interest and excitement. And that’s exactly what it is and does.

Located a very short walk from Sakuragawa Station in Ōsaka (2-7-1 Saiwaicho, Naniwa-ku) the quaint little shopfront belies the depth of its interior, both in volume of space and in what’s on offer.

Jonathan E. Akers, co-owner and co-founder of the shop – a collaborative venture alongside his talented wife – is not new to the world of business. He already owns another vintage furniture shop in Awaza, Ōsaka, namely ‘Cat Bird Seat‘, from where he runs his architectural & interior design studio.

He’s clearly a busy guy, swapping a variety of hats many times in a day: dreamy creative, social networker, interpretative consultant, resolute businessman, intrepid entrepreneur, and jack-of-all-trades labourer. It’s not unlike his early work experience of juggling two or three jobs at once.

Sourcing furniture primarily from the United States, Jonathan travels back-and-forth several times a year to meet the demand of his predominantly Japanese clientele. Sometimes his trips incorporate a self-guided tour of the local flea markets for these clients. ‘Americana’ is very popular in Japan evidenced by the fashionable area in Ōsaka known as America-mura (アメリカ村 : lit. American district).

20140721-174431-63871180.jpg

Not surprisingly, Jonathan has the background and the experience to pull it off. Although born in the US of A, he has lived here in Japan for almost 25 years married to his Japanese wife, Yoshi, who together have raised their two (now grown-up) children.

Growing up himself on an equestrian farm in upstate New York as part of a large family, Jonathan adamantly preferred motor bikes to horses. However, nurtured by the great outdoors, he developed a keen appreciation for an honest day’s work. And though he attended a Catholic boys military school his beliefs over the years have evolved into something more ‘self aware’ with distinct Buddhist leanings. On saying this, his philosophy is pretty straightforward:

“We’re all connected, we’re all in this together.”

Mind you it has been a process of development since, as a young man fresh out of high school, the big city lights of New York City (NYC) cast their spell. Like a moth drawn to a flame he was unable to resist the pull. The experience proved invaluable, helping to shape and mould him in ways the countryside never could. It was, after all, there in NYC that Jonathan met his wife-to-be.

It’s interesting that their long-term partnership is as much a business venture built upon their mutual design skills as it is a family endeavour encompassing a deep love for one another.

It’s a team effort, seamlessly operating like a well-oiled machine.

I see this in the way they run the store: it’s a team effort, seamlessly operating like a well-oiled machine. And I have the good fortune to be invited to a sōmen (素麺 : noodle) night at {BUZ}, or more specifically, nagashi sōmen (流し素麺 : flowing noodles) that promises to be interesting.

The noodles are a cross between udon (饂飩 : うどん) and soba (蕎麦 : そば), made from wheat flour like the former but narrower like the latter; similar to those used in a bowl of ramen (ラーメン).

Jonathan – ever the handyman – has cleverly constructed a series of bamboo chutes ingeniously engineered to facilitate a steady stream of water from the mezzanine section down to ground level. It requires a Goldilocks-scenario with a ‘not too fast, not too slow’ approach for optimal effect.

The plan is to release the sōmen at the top from whence they cascade their way through the network of open pipes. To liken it to the game of Mouse Trap unnecessarily complicates the procedure yet the principal of enjoyment is essentially the same. The ultimate aim for diners is to use their chopsticks to pluck the sōmen from the ‘river’ and eat their fill.

20140721-174318-63798663.jpg

The party’s about to commence yet I see Jonathan, tape measure clipped to his belt, is still making last-minute ‘tweaks’ to his apparatus like a scientist conducting an intricate experiment: adjusting the water flow; timing how long it takes for the bin at the end of the chute to fill-up. Making it all happen appears to be a never-ending job.

And Jonathan is quick to agree that like the bamboo chute this shop, which seems to undergo rearrangement ever time I drop-in, is a work-in-progress. As items of furniture are sold, new ones purchased, and events take place, the need to reorder the objets d’art, large and small alike, within the available space is as much a necessity as it is an aesthetic.

As the crowd builds and the ravenous participants wield their hashi (箸 : chopsticks), the festivities begin: deftly capturing noodles like wriggling worms, patrons then dip them in a plastic cup half-filled with dashi (出汁 : a type of clear broth or cooking stock), grated ginger, and shallots. The combination of flavours tastes terrific and it’s a lot of fun.

The beauty of this activity is its ability to bring people together. It’s a community event where folk of all ages participate. One couple look to be in their 60s whereas another have a toddler-in-tow. A 20-something boy and girl compete for strands alongside adults twice their age. Yet it’s not really a competition; more a pastime liberated from the confinement of strict rules.

There’s plenty of cheering and clapping, shouts of encouragement and squeals of laughter, not to mention smiles all-round. A few participants appear to be as lubricated by the liberally supplied drinks as the water transporting the sōmen.

Water … acts as the primordial force uniting friends and family.

Water – long a symbol of life as it both sustains us and mimics the blood coursing through our veins – acts as the primordial force uniting friends and family. Yet perhaps, more simply, it’s just a novel and enjoyable way to have a meal and unwind at the end of a busy week. As the ‘up-tempo’ music playing in the background builds I find myself almost wanting to dance – almost.

When I next visit the store I’m able to explore and admire the vintage furniture and accoutrements more closely: Mason Jars and Fishs Eddy mugs, battered leather chairs and plump canvas cushions, risqué picture postcards and esoteric key rings, brushed-steel lamp stands and funky old calendars. An eclectic range of items that evoke nostalgia, drawing from an era long before mobile phones, the Internet, and selfies.

20140721-174614-63974558.jpg

20140721-174754-64074478.jpg

Jonathan’s keen eye for detail is what led him down the artistic design path. He readily perceives that information needs to be visually accessible and appealing thereby permitting the quick association of fascinating products with otherwise mundane descriptions. Hence the database and in-house app he created for his business cleverly incorporates an image of each item on its price tag providing a user-friendly experience for both customers and staff alike.

20140721-174928-64168812.jpg

In much the same way the combination of comfortable sofas, a cool atmosphere, and a cultivated environment creates a great place to relax; to chill-out. An old jazz LP plays wistfully in the background, in keeping with the retro-American theme.

An oasis in the hustle & bustle of otherwise hectic lives.

I wonder if Jonathan’s underlying carefree, easy-going, social nature – his penchant for meeting people and making connections, discussing concepts and sharing anecdotes – is the driving force behind the establishment of a place such as {BUZ}? A place where one can easily drop-in to have a chat, shoot-the-breeze, and compare notes. An oasis in the hustle & bustle of otherwise hectic lives.

Yet Jonathan is more than just a thinking man; his lithe physique and muscular arms speak volumes about his preference for manual labour. He enjoys making stuff – being practical – something he attributes to his family heritage: his father was a plumber and he has a brother in construction. It calls to mind some of his early childhood memories: building things, fixing tractors, and bailing hay on the family farm.

Upstairs he shows me around the next stage of the building’s development: an open area that it is being remodelled into a space-for-hire targetted at events such as exhibitions and parties.

Of course, he’s doing much of the demolition and renovation work himself. Transforming it with an artistic flair and creative genius. His hands-on approach allows him to better translate what’s in his mind into the real, concrete world. For an inquisitive thinker fluent in both English and Japanese, finding the right words can nevertheless be elusive. My conversations with him remind me of a teacher and pupil or a parent and child: imparting knowledge and wisdom is an imperfect process.

“We could go down that rabbit hole.”

Intuition & information duel, mythologies & mysteries compete, and ideas & ideologies battle as truths swirl around the vortex of his mind. It’s not unusual for Jonathan to veer off on a tangent and “down another rabbit hole”; as much intrigued by the complexities of the world we live in as by the forces that shape and manipulate it.

Yet, like the new glass installation downstairs, Jonathan is all too aware that shifting one’s position can easily change one’s perception. What is abundantly clear at first can suddenly become opaque. Perhaps we see only what we’re taught to see?

As a young boy he would tinker with computers – pulling apart keyboards and reconstructing component parts – eager to recreate and recompose the old into the new. Always questioning and constantly searching, he’s excited about what lays ahead: with regards to his family as well as the business. But it’s one step at a time as he works on seeing this project through to completion.

Whilst Jonathan considers himself lucky he doesn’t take for granted what he’s achieved.

“Ultimately, relationships are far more important to me than success.”

He reassures me that it’s all about finding balance. Yet ultimately, relationships are far more important to him than success. They’re wise words: very palatable and easy to digest. And so I find myself nodding in agreement as I order another beer and share in one of life’s simple pleasures: friendship.

Kim*

Advertisements

Bar ISTA

Another excellent kissaten (喫茶店: coffee shop) in Ōsaka is Bar ISTA.

In the same general area as Dōtonbori but a few streets off the main drag and thus in a much quieter part of town, this small hole-in-the-wall has a warm, cozy and very friendly vibe to it.

The proprietor, Fumiaki Nozato (野里史眧), does more than just brew a great brew. He creates art: latte art!

He is so talented that not only did he win a competition a few years back but now he teaches wannabe baristas how to do the same.

I suppose when latte artistry is of such a high standard it’s easy for the recipient to be dazzled so that the kōhī (コーヒー: coffee) is of secondary importance.

20130203-173649.jpg

But not at Bar ISTA. The coffee is superb. As good as any I’ve had in Japan.

And the set-menu of pasta + coffee at lunch for ¥900 is a bargain.

As is often the case with shops like his, there are knick knacks decorating the premises: kawaii neko (cute cats), a jar full of corks, objects made from twisted wire, coffee beans (of course), a wind-up chattering-teeth toy, and chain links.

I’m sure they all have some significance and perhaps I’ll find out over time.

At night, the shop lives up to it’s clever name and becomes a (バー: bar).

I return in the evening and as I enter the ongaku (音楽: music) playing is mellow: Jack Johnston. Setting the mood and creating just the right atmosphere.

I sit down to enjoy Shiraz by the glass. But there’s also Heartland beer on-tap and various liqueurs.

What’s more, an assortment of dishes are available at very reasonable prices.

My pasta with a cream sauce, yasai (野菜: vegetables) and buta niku (豚肉: bacon) is oishii (delicious).

Later the music becomes more up-tempo. Yes, it’s jazz, although with a little more energy than what I’ve been hearing in other places.

I can see myself returning here many, many more times before I depart.

Kim*

Cafe Contempo

On the advice of a friend I decided to try out another café. He said he liked it so much he got a job there.

It’s located in Orange Street, across the road from Ippudo where I ate yesterday, and literally a few blocks from Streamer Espresso.

20130208-183813.jpg

Yet unlike Streamer Espresso, this place has lots of chairs & tables. Quite a few in fact. Which is unusual by Japanese standards unless you’re in one of the large chains like Starbucks, Doutor, Tully’s or the like.

They also have light food such as muffins & cookies (although sadly they’re pre-packaged and not freshly baked), apple pie as a winter special, and chocolates.

Importantly, the coffee is good. Yet I would insist that Streamer Espresso is definitely better.

However, if you need a place to sit and chat, study or simply read a book then Cafe Contempo offers a more practical solution given it’s set-up.

It even has a large, separate room for the smokers!

The music is relaxed: jazz, of course.

And the decor is, well, contemporary. Coffee art of one sort or another adorns the walls.

I like the place. Please don’t get me wrong. I just don’t love it.

Perhaps there’s something about the intimacy of smaller, less populated café’s?

A coziness that comes from rubbing shoulders with other patrons?

And personality: both that of the venue as well as the barista(s)?

My next taste-test will be Bar Ista for this very reason.

Stay tuned!

Kim*

Streamer Espresso Ōsaka | 1

Having arrived in Ōsaka only yesterday my first call-of-duty is to find good coffee. No, make that great coffee.

You see, Ōsaka has a reputation for amazing food and if their dedication to the culinary arts is anything to go by then it makes sense that it would extend to the making of espresso.

So after some Google searching I came across a user-based review website listing two cafés in Ōsaka.

Both scored well by the reviewers. And both are within reasonable walking distance from where I’m staying (less than 1 hour: I tend to do a lot of walking in Japan).

Streamer Espresso is marginally closer so it’s my first port-of-call.

Located at 1-25-12 Minamihorie Nishi-ku Osaka in MAXX Department Stores lends it a stylish atmosphere: men’s and women’s dressy casual clothing that looks hip yet understated at first glance.

This also gives the premises a more open feeling unlike many pokey cafés I’ve come across.

20130131-150018.jpg

The music playing is modern yet anything but pop. More a blend of hard rock and jazz. Mellow yet edgy. All sung in English, of course!

A couple of couches, low leather stools and some rustic coffee tables provide a spot to rest my tush as I pen a glowing review.

20130208-192130.jpg

The kōhī lives up to my expectations. An excellent balance of flavour that is not overwhelmed by the milk: a common problem with the chain kissaten such as Starbucks and the like.

They also sell a few accessories: beans packaged in army camouflage; carry bags & t-shirts; coffee-mug jars & a book on latte art.

20130131-150557.jpg

20130208-192119.jpg

But it’s the coffee that will have me coming back for more.

You know, I think I may have already found the “go to” place for my early morning brew here in Ōsaka.

streamerespresso.blogspot.com

Mon – Fri : 8am – 8pm
Sat, Sun & holidays : 11am – 8pm

Kim*