Tucked away in a quiet corner of Shibuya is a little secret hideout called North Village Books & Shisha. If not for the vinyl shops and grafitti that drew me into the little street branching off Inokashira Dori, I would have missed this little gem of a café.
Once you step into the little street, chokeful of indie little shops from fine dining restaurants to artisan cafes to skaters’ shops, look for the sign of North Village Books and Shisha, at the dead-end of an even smaller street. Next to the sign is a humongous hookah pipe, so it should be easy to spot.
Entering the café, the first thing you notice is the towering Elvis Presley statue holding a hookah with the pipe draping over his shoulder. Another quirky emblem of the North Village shisha culture is probably the cockroach-man on the wall. If you’re like me, you’ll probably need a closer look to realize that it isn’t a man but a cockroach-man. Even though a little disturbing, I was reminded of Gregor Samsa, the character for Kafka’s famous piece, The Metamorphosis. Perhaps it was a fan tribute to the book: Shisha away your stress from the metamorphosis, Gregor!
As its name suggests, the concept of North Village Books & Shisha is a chill-out place where you can smoke shisha as well as read. Take your pick from the shelves stacked with manga and picture-books, which are mainly travel-themed. These visually appealing books are great even for non-Japanese speakers. There is also free Wi-Fi provided at the café, making it doubly inviting on top of its cosy and hippie atmosphere.
At this point, some of you may be wondering what shisha is. Shisha is sweet tobacco roasted with charcoal and passed through water before being inhaled. It is believed to come from the Middle East, but recently it can be found in most countries. In Japan, shisha is still something relatively unknown. Admittedly, there have been reports that shisha is unhealthier than normal tobacco. As for me, I only do shisha probably once a year, so I just take it as a special occasion to chill out. North Village offered that little space to enjoy shisha away from the stressful buzz of Shibuya. In any case, if you’re worried about the health problems related to shisha, do it at your own risk.
The North Village menu is in both English and Japanese and they offer a wide variety of flavours—some pretty exotic ones. Our first choice, Chai Latte, was unfortunately not available, so we decided on Wild Mango. The price for the shisha is a reasonable ¥1000, to be shared with maximum 2 people. To be frank, the Wild Mango we had did not have a distinctively mango flavour, but it was still fruity and nice-smelling nonetheless.
The service we experienced at North Village was quick and never intrusive. In the beginning, it was amusing to observe the staff setting up our shisha with a vacuum cleaner to make the “sucking” process faster. Trust the Japanese to come up with the most efficient way to do everything! Additionally, the staff serving us spoke really good English.
Just sitting on the couch, passing the shisha back and forth, Hannah and I had an awesomely laid-back afternoon. We also loved the music selection in the café, a mix of indie English music and Japanese pop. Good music, shisha, and books make North Village a great place to rest your legs after all that shopping and sightseeing.