Located near the iconic and world-famous red (vermillion-colored) torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Vermillion Cafe. has a unique history that inspired its creation. Recently, we had the wonderful opportunity to interview Miwa Kimura, the co-founder, and ask her about her amazing coffee shops. Take a look!
Could you please introduce yourself and share a little about the different shops that Vermillion owns?
My name is Miwa Kimura. My husband, Shigeo, and I started the first Vermillion coffee shop in his home town of Fushimi Inari, where his parents run a 100 year-old tea house up on Inariyama called Yakurikitei. From there, we have expanded our business and currently operate four shops which are all located closely in the area of Fushimi Inari, Kyoto.
– Yakurikitei (Tea house)
– Vermillion – espresso bar & info. (Coffee stand)
– Vermillion – cafe. (Cafe)
– SHU. by Vermillion (Gift shop)
How did the company of Vermillion start and how did it become the company it is today with four different locations throughout Fushimi Inari?
The original shop in our company, Yakurikitei, opened over 100 years ago. Exact dates are unknown, but 9 generations ago, a member of the Kimura family started a shop to sell necessary goods to visitors and worshippers of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This is the head shrine of over 30,000 inari shrines across the country. Over the years, Yakurikitei Tea House has provided offerings, food, and accommodations to those who visited the Shrine from all over Japan. In more modern days, religious visitors began to come less and less and the business faced difficulties.
However, in the last decade, with the rise of international tourism to Japan, the number of visitors has grown dramatically and now Fushimi Inari has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. Just before this dramatic increase in business, the 9th generation Kimura, Shigeo Kimura, who had spent 18 years in Australia, decided to return to his hometown in 2012 and open his own cafe in Fushimi Inari. Together, we opened Vermillion – espresso bar & info. in 2013, followed by Vermillion – cafe. in 2016, and SHU. by Vermillion in 2019. While keeping the original family business of Yakurikitei, we expanded the business to focus more on providing services to international visitors.
The Vermillion – Cafe. is amazing! Can you explain the idea and history behind it?
Thank you! We are always delighted to hear comments from our customers about their experience visiting the cafe during their trip to Kyoto.
My husband and I met in Melbourne, Australia. Back then we were both in different professions, but we knew that someday we would return to his hometown in order to take over his family business like he always wanted. We were not sure when that would be, but the time soon came for a career change for both of us. With hopes to open our own cafe in Melbourne, we spent a lot of time thinking, researching, and learning about the cafe business. In fact, we almost purchased a small cafe business, but it turned out to be fake in the end. That’s when we made the decision to move back to Kyoto and open our own cafe from scratch.
The thought of returning to Japan was greatly influenced by some of our Australian friends who had visited Kyoto and Japan previously. They told Shigeo how special it would be to have a hometown like Kyoto where everything is so unique and historical and that they wondered why we were still living in Melbourne. It certainly made us feel confident enough to bring a Melbourne cafe to Fushimi Inari where 10 years ago there were no Starbucks, no English speaking cafes, and no espresso based coffee.
We purchased a small espresso machine and started serving coffee at the tea house on the top of Inariyama. We only sold around 20 cups a day at most while preparing for the opening of our first shop, Vermillion – espresso bar & info. near the JR Inari Station.
Our concept for Vermillion is Coffee, Culture, and Communication.The idea for Vermillion – espresso bar & info is a combination of a coffee stand and an information centre. Travelling in a country far away from home is exciting, but it can be quite stressful as well. We wanted to offer coffee with a familiar taste to the overseas tourists (not a dark roasted pour-over coffee that was common and the seemingly only choice in Japanese cafes then). We also wanted to provide Wi-Fi, display travel books, listen to and speak with the customers in English, answer any questions they had, and give them some tips when it comes to visiting and eating during their stay in Kyoto.
Our second shop, which is now the main cafe, Vermillion – cafe., had the same concept but allowed us to achieve much more of what we wanted to do, serving Aussie breakfast and brunch, as well as providing more seats in a relaxing environment. The view from the terrace seats that overlook the pond and the shrine’s leafy yard is always full of colors to enjoy. We didn’t intentionally create this colorful sight, but it has quickly become something that catches peoples eyes. In fact, people will walk straight onto the terrace with a sense of curiosity just to see the natural view. Lastly, diversity is the key to our cafe. Not only are our customers mainly visitors from overseas, but our staff members are also from diverse backgrounds. Our kitchen manager was trained in New Zealand before returning to Japan with her Indian husband, some of our baristas have experience working overseas, and some staff were originally from different countries. We also believe the diversity has helped us to grow because it allows us to have a better understanding of the customers that visit. This helps us to continue to provide excellent services while also helping nearby shops when they need assistance in communicating in English with their customers.
The popularity of Fushimi Inari from overseas tourists has brought in more domestic visitors as well. The younger generations have started to recognize Fushimi Inari and our shops through SNS, Google reviews, and TripAdvisor, even during the current downturn with COVID. They come to experience our cafe that is situated in a very traditional environment, as if they are the travellers, since it is so different from their daily lives in the modern world.
How have you combined the traditional Japanese idea of Fushimi Inari with that of a Melbourne Cafe?
In regards to a Melbourne cafe, we’ve incorporated the culture that people share over a cup of coffee. It’s part of your daily life to visit, have a little chat with the barista, and grab a coffee on the way to work. The barista always knows exactly how you like your coffee. That way, each coffee experience has a personal touch in every aspect. A cafe is a communication hub within the community: people go there, meet, and make conversation. That brings a sense of community to the area and the people. We liked that culture and wanted it to be part of our own cafe. We wanted to offer coffee similar to home for tourists (espresso based), and speak with them in English. However, the idea of being a communication hub was not new, as Yakurikitei Tea House has stood from the beginning to be exactly that. Visitors come for religious reasons, but also enjoy chatting and spending a little extra time away from their usual life back home. In this sense, all our businesses have this cohesiveness and we would like to pass it on to the future with stories of the local history and culture and that of our own.
Coffee and store design also played significant roles in making all of our ideas into reality. We wanted to keep the cafe design simple and modern contrary to the traditional Japanese environment in Fushimi Inari and also place an espresso machine where it would be very recognizable from the outside. No one had any doubt that our stores would be serving espresso coffee. We are fortunate to have met and worked with our coffee roaster, WEEKENDERS COFFEE, and the shop designer, Mr. Masayuki Yamada, who designed our cafe and gift shop. We made a trip to Melbourne prior to the opening of Vermillion – cafe. in order to share common ideas and work together closely. Without them, what we have today couldn’t have been achievable. We truly respect their professionalism.
When people come to visit the cafe, what is it you hope they experience?
We hope they can alleviate some of their stress and feel relaxed by drinking coffee, eating non-Japanese food, chatting with our staff and other people at the communal table, and just by sitting on the chair looking out at nature and listening to their surroundings. We hope to be a pit stop for them to be able continue their journey.
Also located nearby is Vermillion – Espresso Bar and Info. What is it you hope people get out of their time at this coffee pit stop?
Vermillion – espresso bar & info. is actually the first shop that Shigeo and I opened. Some customers visit us in the morning to kick start their day visiting Fushimi Inari. We chat about the area and give them recommendations, then they come back for another coffee to share their experiences after hiking Inariyama for a few hours. Even if we are too busy to have chats, most visitors will start talking with other customers, asking questions, and sharing their experiences together. We think that is something really valuable and it creates a deeper value for the cafe.
We love that your Yakuriki store is in a 100-year-old tea house that has been in the family for generations! How did this shop begin and what is the significance of its location?
Yakurikitei is located in Inariyama, about a 40 minute hike up the mountain from the main shrine of Fushimi Inari. There are thousands of vermillion-colored torii gates along the way to the top, all dedicated by individuals or business owners to show their gratitude to the god and wish for success. The Yakurikitei Tea House is in the valley surrounded by trees. It also has a small waterfall that is close to its source spring and a little stream just next to the building. The scenery is sacred and mythical with countless religious objects within the deep green mountain.
Yakuriki Shrine is one of the sub shrines in Inariyama that enshrines the deity for health, longevity, and advancement of medical technology. The religious visitors include individuals and businesses in the medical field, as well as people in the performing arts who wish to protect their throat and voice. Yakurikitei Tea House has been maintaining the shrine and its environment, providing goods for dedications and food for worshipers. In the past, when there were no trains, the tea house was also used as accommodation. It is the custom that any existing business in Inariyama can only be passed down within the family and accepted by the main shrine. No new shops are allowed to step in. That is why this business is so special and has been kept for so many generations.
What type of products are sold at 朱 SHU. by Vermillion? And do you ship internationally?
SHU. by Vermillion focuses on Japanese souvenirs and gifts and the stories contained in each item. We have a series of gift selections from simple tea towels and daily homeware items, to Japanese artisan-made crafts such as iron kettles from the northern part of Japan and handmade glassware from the east coast. Originally, I designed the Vermillion tea towel, pins, and tote bags to sell at the tea house and cafe. I also sold a few tableware items that are used at the cafe. While these items can be used at home everyday, we hope that these items remind the customer of their amazing experience in Japan. Through SHU. by Vermillion, we would also like to be a bridge between those artisans and makers of Japanese items to people from around the world.
We opened our online store in 2020 and ship internationally, but it’s only in Japanese. We are currently working on an English version for international customers that should be ready in April 2021.
When planning your next visit to Kyoto, be sure to add these amazing cafe stops by Vermillion to your list! Rest, relax and make new friends over delicious coffee. If you have any more questions or just want to check them out, take a look at the links below!