Fuelled by the growing popularity of nearby resorts, the town of Taki in Japan’s Mie prefecture is undergoing a development boom. Operated by rice-koji maker Uonuma Jozo, a flagship café is the latest — and possibly the most elegant — new commercial space to join a wave of new shopping malls and high-end stores.
Designed by Atsushi Suzuki of Transit Branding Studio, with lighting by Mizuki Matsuura, the café specializes in Amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink made with koji mold) as well as other koji products.
The café’s materials, colours and forms were inspired by the heat generated through koji fermentation, as well as the traditional architecture and heavy snowfalls of Uonuma (the company’s hometown in northern Japan). During the process of making koji, heat is released when microorganisms consume organic matter, while the rice itself also has to be warmed up at an exact temperature for eight hours for a perfect brew.
Organized around a central L-shaped bench — imitating the high foundations of Uonuma’s traditional architecture — the 70-square-metre space shirks conventional café tables in favour of small, round surfaces. Discretely attached to the bottom of the bench, the delicate side tables seem to float across the room. Above, a canopy-like light fixture bathes the space in warm light, mimicking the rosy glow of a radiator.
The warm-toned red plaster flooring adds to the cosy ambiance. Behind the central seating module, a counter (made from the same material as the floors) also melds with its surroundings. Even the elegantly sparse display shelves scattered along the walls offer subtler variations on the monochrome hues that define the café.
According to the designers, the terracotta-like tone also emphasizes the “ruddy light that reflects off the faces of people in the café” — giving patrons a flushed appearance, as though they had been spending time in the sweltering heat of an Amazake factory.
What makes this exercise in homogeneity successful without seeming claustrophobic might be the addition of floor-to-ceiling windows on each wall — though the overall impression may be of intense warmth, the room is never stifling. Viewed from outside, the pink light fixture, which was intentionally lowered to eye level, creates an inviting contrast with the building’s grey exterior.
In the resort town of Taki, a specialty Amazake shop takes its design cues from the koji fermentation process.