More than just a café – Café Taniwha

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 I can’t remember how exactly I stumbled upon Café Taniwha—it’s a bit off the main road, with no obvious signboard but a tiny stand-up light that shows the symbol of Maori goddess Taniwha on top—nevertheless, I am forever thankful for this accidental discovery, because for me, and I believe for a lot of people, Taniwha is much more than just a café. It’s a community center where people chat (or argue) over a glass of beer or goya-juice, study Spanish (“we are forever beginners”, a lady who has been joining the class for over 5 years said.) and practice ukulele and guitar. It also holds concerts, exhibitions and documentary viewing for anyone who wants to perform and to participate.

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 The very soul of Café Taniwha is its owners—the vibrant couple, Kuri-san and Fusa -san—who moved to Ishigaki island from Tokyo some 40 years ago, right after they graduated from the Tokyo University of Agriculture. Until today, Fusa-san still describes Kuri-san as her “best labmate” and their life now as “an extension of their agricultural experiment.”

 Sick of urban materialism, they moved to Ishigaki to lead a self-sufficient farming life. They bought a piece of land at an unthinkably cheap price, but they soon found out why: the condition for farming was far from ideal, and a single typhoon would destroy efforts of many months. Moreover, they also had a hard time being accepted into a relatively closed community doubtful of outsiders.

It might be hard to imagine now, but at that time there were only a handful of Naicha (how Okinawan call people who are originally from mainland Japan, as opposed to Shimachun, the Islanders) living on the island, and transportation to other parts of Japan is limited. But they were young, resilient, and versatile. By actively participating in the local events and helping out their neighbors’ farm, they gradually gained trust and friendship from the locals.

On their twenty-year-anniversary of setting in Ishigaki, they embarked on the journey of sailing through South Pacific Ocean, along with their three kids. They traveled in a second-hand yacht bought in New Zealand, where they encountered the Maori legendary character –the water spirit Taniwha, which became the name of their café.

Days spent on the ocean opened their eyes to the world, and thanks to this experience on the sea, they have also built a strong relationship with yacht sailing community. After their return, they decided to open a café in downtown Ishigaki that could bring all sorts of people together– Islanders, immigrants, seasonal workers, foreigners, sailors, tourists, activists, and musicians—regardless of their difference.

When the regulation for entering the port was more lenient, many International yachtsmen would contact them to arrange for their stay in Ishigaki. That’s why you’ll see many postcards and flags of yacht club around the world displayed on the wall. Although yachtsmen’s gathering is a rare scene now, you can still encounter foreigners visiting the café to seek traveling tips or simply to have a pleasant chat with the locals.

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And this is what I really love about this place—everyone seems to be accepted just the way he or she is. Not a single soul would complain about other customer practicing guitar or debating about Prime Minister Abe’s policy. Here people respect each other’s freedom to express themselves, which is a rare thing in Japan where people tend to behave in a more reserved manner in public space.

Well, the afternoons are usually very quiet, during which you may enjoy reading a book while listening to Kuri-san’s music selection, but in the evening, it turns into a vibrant place when frequent customers and accidental tourists started to show up.

For such a magical place, food is not of central importance. However, they offer good quality drinks at fairly cheap price –Goya juice made from fresh Okinawan bitter gourd(you can also mix it with Awamori, the Okinawan distilled spirit),  nice hand-drip coffee (I love how Kuri-san always lit up the gas stove with a match to boil the water), home-made curry and many hidden menus for you to discover. They also have the cutest menu hand-drawn by Kuri san’s daughter, in both Japanese and English.

If you are looking for a café to chill, Taniwha may not be a right place for you, as people here are too friendly to leave you alone. However, if you are an adventurer who is not afraid to venture into the local scene, I can’t think of a better place than this warm, lively, and occasionally a little crazy café.

Café Taniwha

Time

11:30am to at least 11pm

Closed on

Sunday & Monday

Recommendation

  • Daily Dessert set (Coffee & daily cake)
  • Herb Tea (you can ask for Moringa tea)
  • Pineapple juice/Go-ya(bitter gourd)juice
  • Curry (veggie & chicken)
  • Hot sandwich

Contact

0980-88-6352

website

http://www.cafe-taniwha.com/

Address

縄県石垣市大川188

188 Okawa, Ishigaki City

Parking

One parking lot available, please call to book

  • Cash only
  • Vegetarian menu available
  • Foreigner-friendly, English menu available
  • Piano, drums, acoustic guitar, and other music instruments available (please ask before you play)
  • Wednesday night is Spanish and Ukulele night, might get a bit crowded after 9, but you also get to meet many interesting folks.

One thought on “More than just a café – Café Taniwha

  1. Hello Chloe! I think we met one night here at Taniwha almost three years ago in September. This is a really lovely site with some great photography and your writing is wonderful too. Keep it up!

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