Fukui City is a sprawling empire. Though it boasts the title of city, the actual area one could call urban is but a small tract of land that falls within Fukui City’s realm. This fact has its downsides — no subway, slow buses with very limited schedules, no massive shopping areas or arcades — but that lack of urbanization has left room for amazing things to grow in the suburban and countryside wild. Things like Tenohana Cafe. This is not a post about just another adorable coffee spot. Tenohana Cafe is the mere tip of an ambition-filled iceberg formed by a small but constantly growing group of people actively seeking ways to lessen their impact on the environment. Taking drastic steps — the most drastic, perhaps, being one man’s move from cosmopolitan Tokyo to homestead in countryside Fukui, thus bringing this project to life — Tenohana Cafe is just a small piece of the group’s larger enterprise, something they call Houeijuku.
Houeijuku, so named for being located within the grounds of an old private school, is comprised of Tenohana Cafe, a tiny backyard brewery simply called Biiru Kobou (Beer Workshop), a chicken coop, farm fields, a small store filled with locally-sourced handmade snacks and sundries, and what will soon be a community performance space where the close-knit neighborhood of Old Miyama Town can enjoy live music, share stories, and sing the night away under the stars.
Ask Mr. Tanizaki, the leader of the group, what prompted such a major lifestyle change, and he’ll tell you about the impact Sawako Ariyoshi’s novel Fukugo Osen (The Complex Contamination) had on him. After reading it, and discovering the terrible consequences being caused by various forms of pollution, he knew that he had to take steps to make his ecological footprint smaller. He and his fellow supporters/members of Houeijuku are all people who feel they have recognized problems inherent to the current structure of society, and have therefore changed their focus and goals toward low-impact self-sufficiency.
Not long after moving to Old Miyama Town, Mr. Tanizaki and his then-small crew were able to learn a lot, and quickly, from their fantastically friendly, experienced, and helpful new neighbors. They learned how to farm, where to find and how to use edible mountain vegetables, how to preserve harvested food for winter, and so much more. In spring they grow and gather domestic and wild edibles; In summer they fish the local rivers; in fall they gather mushrooms. Through methods like these the group is now proudly able to say that sixty percent of the food they make, serve customers, and eat is homegrown.
Tenohana Cafe is open on weekends and holidays only, and offers its guests freshly baked bread from its wood-fired oven, organic coffee, organic popcorn, and a variety of other delicious treats and meals, all homemade, all made with environmental impact and thankfulness to the plants and animals that made the meal possible in mind.
The cafe itself is nestled inside a rustically gorgeous Japanese-style schoolhouse-turned-farmhouse, and is filled wall-to-wall with books and pamphlets covering almost any and every subject and interest. Order any beverage from the cafe’s uniquely presented menu, and you will soon be sipping from a beautifully detailed teacup, glass goblet, wine flute, or some other inspiring work of art. Guests are welcome, and even encouraged, to take their time, chat, relax, read, make friends with the family cat, go outside and play with the dog or chickens (which, by the way, are allowed to freely and happily wander around the property) and basically become part of the family for however long they decide to visit.
If you come for a coffee and a chat, no reservation is required. However, if you are interested in trying one of Houeijuku’s full course meals, participating in one of their many homesteading-related workshops, or staying the night, you will have to make your plans known in advance. Either way, Houeijuku, Tenohana Cafe, the surrounding neighborhood, and its people are very much worth a visit.