The Genteel
October 27, 2020

Best Kept Secrets

Cocongo in Tokyo. Photograph by Haydee Kobe.
Cocongo's first floor.
Photograph by Haydee Kobe.

Tokyo holds the daunting title of being among the most populous cities in the world. Its narrow roads teem with pedestrians, bicycles and automobiles that compete for space. The streets defy logic and are arranged to resemble an urban maze.

Among these obstacles and distractions, the charming Cocongo can easily be missed in an otherwise insignificant passageway. The restaurant is a designer's dream; the space defies any design classification, and embodies a visual complexity that combines diverse styles and cultures. This dream world of modernist primitivism is the result of the wanderlust attitude of its owners, Chie and Makoto Kobayashi.

Cocongo sits in the outskirts of Harajuku, within walking distance from the venerated Meiji Jingu Shrine. Visitors are greeted at the entrance by "Mexico," a taxidermy calf adorned with beaded necklaces. This sets the tone for the stimulating design inside.

The name Cocongo was inspired by a play on words to recreate sound and rhythm. This type of offbeat and carefree attitude has been the core inspiration for the concept of the restaurant, which also credits design influences by architects Le Corbusier and Carlo Mollino, as well as modernist sculptors Isamu Noguchi and Henry Moore.

Chie and Makoto Kobayashi.
Photograph by Haydee Kobe.

The creative power couple behind the restaurant is the Kobayashis: Chie, a retired textile designer, and Makoto, an interior designer and visual artist. Their impressive design background spans over 50 years and has allowed the couple to develop and refine a unique visual aesthetic and language. As such, their restaurant, Cocongo, has become a beautifully-curated visual diary of their diverse inspirations, travels and passion for art.

The eternal theme of nature versus chaos divides the aesthetic between the two levels of the restaurant. The first floor is inspired by nature, and uses a combination of natural materials and textures that contrast modern elements like metal, glass and abstract sculptures. Taxidermy animals nestled among tribal objects of various origins define the space, along with modernist lighting fixtures, abstract paintings and curved hardwood organic furniture. The first floor also houses a small kitchen, hidden from view, and a tiny garden oasis. It offers the perfect place to retreat and enjoy a good book, or to meditate amongst beautiful greenery and a large taxidermy peacock.

Cocongo's second floor.
Photograph by Haydee Kobe.

The second floor offers a plethora of images and objects that peacefully co-exist and bring balance to its chaotic environment. Although the space on this level is smaller, the close quarters still allow for a large family-style table, where one is welcome to eat, sip a drink, study or conduct meetings. The Kobayashis' workspace and gallery are also on the second floor, separated by a glass wall but open to customers. Those wanting to exhibit or sell their wares in this space are welcome to use it for a fee.

All of the used and recycled furniture, objects and fixtures found on both floors have been collected and purchased in Japan and around the world. The end result is an eclectic assortment that crosses cultures and design disciplines; a collection that is both arresting and inspirational.

It is no wonder then, that Cocongo's regular customers include those who work in the fashion, art, music and advertising industries. They visit the place for inspiration, and of course, the tasty and simple meals. The menu features accessible Asian style street-foods such as hainanese chicken rice, tom yum soup and a traveller's curry, which combines Indian and Thai ingredients. Specialty drinks include Vietnamese coffee, Mexican chocolate, tea and beer.

Hours: Summer 11:30-20:00 / Winter 11:30-19:00

Train: JR Harajuku station or Chiyoda Line, Meiji-Jingumae station

2-31-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

Tokyo, Japan 150-0001

Tel 03-34758980



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