Chaiya

I vaguely remember visiting this little curry restaurant when I first came to Okayama, and I remember that the food was good and the atmosphere pleasant. Nearly 20 years later and nothing has changed; it’s still one of the best curry restaurants in town.

Chaiya’s signature dishes are Indian-style curry and Indonesian-style fried rice, and chai and lassi drinks. You can also get a wide variety of side dishes, salads, and desserts; the menu is a full three pages. My favorite entree is the Coconut Shrimp Curry.

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Coconut & Shrimp Curry / Mango Lassi

All entrees come with a serving of yellow rice and a small side salad. The salad vegetables are super-fresh lettuce, a slice of tomato, sliced cucumber, parboiled carrot, and saffron-boiled potato; the dressing is a plain yogurt, which I admit sounds strange, but it actually very good in its simplicity.

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Oops! I ate the tomato…

The Indonesian-style Nasi Goreng (friend rice) looks like this:

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This dish is my friend’s favorite; I am in love with the Coconut Shrimp Curry, but I will have to try the Nasi Goreng sometime, because it does look really delicious.

For dessert we had a banana fritter and coconut pies, which we shared. Both were good but we agreed that the banana fritter was better.

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Banana fritter with yogurt

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Coconut pies

The restaurant is located on a backstreet near Okayama University; the interior is natural and cozy, and the wood floors and furniture give it a very welcoming feel. There is a good selection of magazines (in Japanese), which is nice for people who want to relax for a while. It was great to rediscover this place (thanks to my friend!) after so many years.

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In addition to having lunch / coffee ・chai / dessert, etc, Chaiya offers a small selection of teas, breads, and spices for sale.

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Chaiya was recently featured in this local publication, which highlights area restaurants and cafes that have been in business and have been popular / well-loved for more than 30 years (Chaiya has been in business for 36 years, since 1979, in case you were wondering).

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+ What I like about this place: Great food, inviting atmosphere, has a “hidey-hole” feel, loads of free parking, loads of menu selections–this makes me want to come back again and try something different next time.

What I don’t like about this place: no separate areas for smokers & non-smokers, staff could be a bit friendlier.

Homepage: n/a

Facebook: n/a

Address: 岡山市北区津島南1-6-17  /  Okayama-shi, Kita-ku Tsushima Minami 1-6-17

Tel: 086-255-1915

Hours: 9:00am~10:30pm; closed Fridays

Map:

https://goo.gl/maps/pfZyR

Dates visited: September 19, 2013 & February 16, 2015

Yuichiro’s Coffee Roastary

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Fresh.

That is the one word, the only word you need to know about this place.

Technically, this place, like many others, is not a cafe. It is a coffee roastery and tasting room. It’s unusual in that the owner keeps no stock of roasted coffee ready to sell: all coffee is roasted in small batches and upon order only.

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Centerpiece of unroasted coffee beans

On the day that we went, my friends made reservations for us to try several coffees and to learn how to make a good cup of coffee using the cone drip method.

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We were taught how to calculate and measure out the beans, how to grind them, and how to fit the filter into the cone so that no gap remains between the cone and filter. Then we learned how to steam the grounds and pour hot water over them to yield a delicious cup of coffee. The freshness of the ground beans resulted in a heady aroma, and the grounds looked fluffy and light in the paper cone, something which I’d never seen before.

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I usually take my coffee with a bit of cream or milk to dull the acidity, but Yuichiro’s coffee is best enjoyed plain. Pictured above right is a cup of his house blend, Tsubaki. Mild and delicious.

Along with the coffee workshop, my friends ordered a small lunch for us. We were served salad with slices of French bread toast (to be dipped in olive oil), and a wonderful dish of Chicken Cacciatore.

DSC_1000  Fresh green salad with French bread toasts

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Chicken Cacciatore: mild flavors of virgin olive oil and red wine

Our meal wrapped up with a sampling of Geisha coffee from Panama. It was served in tall champagne flutes, for a touch of elegance. At 2,800 Yen per cup, and served with handmade fudge and freshly roasted almonds and cashews, it was quite a treat and the perfect end to a meal. It had a rich, fruity taste that paired well with the chocolate and nuts.

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We not only had a great time, but also learned a lot about something we drink everyday but actually don’t know much about. This is a really elegant little place hidden in the backstreets of Tamano. The building is the family’s antique home that has been renovated in a modern, comfortable space, and the owner is friendly, personable, and really knows his stuff. He loves what he does and it shows. I will definitely be going back to learn more.

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Services include sales (including special gift boxes), tastings, and workshops. Everything is by reservation only. Workshops are taught in Japanese.

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Coffees available for roasting include selections from Indonesia, Panama, the U.S.A., Jamaica, Ethiopia, Brazil, El Salvador, Peru, Tanzania, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala.

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Roast almonds & cashews

+ What I liked about this place: Emphasis on superior quality. Excellent product and friendly, excellent service. The beautiful interior is a mix of contemporary with antique accessories, East and West.

– What I didn’t like about this place: Nothing. A bit pricey but absolutely worth it!

Homepage: http://yuichiroscoffee.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YUiCHiROSCOFFEEROASTARY

Address: 〒706-0011  岡山県玉野市宇野4丁目13-11 /  706-0011 Okayama Prefecture, Tamano-shi, Uno 4 Chome 13-11

Tel:  090-5267-2136     Fax: 0863-31-5789

Email: yuichiroscofee@icloud.com

Hours: 12:00 ~ evening. (no set holidays).  Tastings 3x/day: 13:00~, 15:00~, 18:00~ (on days when no workshops are held); please call or email for reservations.

Map: 

 Date visited: February 19, 2015

Balloom

If you know me, you know that I really love donuts.  My business partner & I had a meeting today at a cafe that specializes in tofu donuts, and I confess that I was thinking, “Ah, tofu donuts…probably not so good.”  WRONG. These are the best tofu donuts I have ever had. In fact, they are some of the best donuts I’ve had.  Period.

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Balloom is a small cafe on the west side of JR Okayama station; it’s owned & run by two entrepreneuring sisters who grew up in a tofu-making family (hence the tofu-rich menu).  The cafe is small but elegantly stylish 2-storey building that is decorated with a SoHo feel: dark-wood antique furniture mixed with a few newer, artsy pieces, glittery lights, and rich jewel-toned walls make for a stimulating yet very relaxed atmosphere.

I absolutely adore this light fixture, which hangs in the stairwell between the first and second floors. It’s a wire fixture adorned with little colorful birds.

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As we were there at tea time, we just had a cup of tea and a donut each. What a treat! The tea was served in generously-sized footed cups. The tofu donuts look plain, but were oh-so-fabulous. Even though the donuts are made with no sugar, eggs, or milk, they were remarkably sweet, soft, and fluffy. I also ordered a few for take-out, because I knew my family would also enjoy them (they did!).

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The dishware is all from New York; it’s probably difficult to see in the photo, but the donut plate is adorned with a New York-themed design.

The lunch menu features selections such as a specially-made curry with rice, seasonal quiche, tofu ‘donburi’, tofu lasagna, a green smoothie made with soy milk from the family tofu shop, a fruit tart, and a few other select items. The cafe turns into a bar with a completely different menu at 6:00pm.

Next time I visit, I’m going to have the quiche lunch! With a tofu donut or two for dessert, of course.

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+ What I like about this cafe:   Elegant decor, menu featuring a few well-thought out & high quality items, friendly staff, owners that take pride in their product and enjoy sharing it with customers, easy access from the station.

What I don’t like about this cafe:   Not much! No dedicated parking but it’s in the city center so that can’t really be expected.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/balloom.NY/timeline

Address:  〒700-0024 岡山市北区駅元町21-13 /  Okayama-shi, Kita-ku, Ekimoto-cho 21-13

Tel: 086-250-7363 / Mobile: 080-6263-7377

E-mail: yamamoto@otoufu.com

Date visited: January 15, 2015

Tereya Cafe

If you like antiques, great food, and arts & crafts, Tereya Cafe is the place for you. Located on the main road in Ushimado, Okayama, this cafe is exactly the kind of place I’d choose to open if I ever get my own cafe.

Tereya Cafe is operated by American-born Teresa Stockwell, and her Japanese husband.  The building is actually an antique Japanese house; the house has not been renoved, so it has a very homey, warm feel to it.

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The menu features curry and baked desserts.

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Note, the curry is really great handmade curry (not Japanese curry, but more authentic Thai-style curry).  Being a freak (yes, that’s right) for anything coconut, I opted for the Coconut Curry despite Teresa’s having warned me that it is quite spicy.

DSC_4248The portions were large; the curry was served accompanied with a fragrant, saffron rice. And yes, it was spicy. As the day was really chilly, spicy curry really hit the spot. My colleagues order the vegetable curry, which was probably considerably less spicy.

The curry was also served with a side salad.

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I confess, this looks like “just a salad”. But, the vegetables were super-fresh; the tomato was excellently sweet despite it currently being winter; and the potato salad was perfect. The whole thing was drizzled in olive oil with a sprinkling of sea salt–so very Ushimado.

After our meal, we couldn’t resist dessert–after all, it was Teresa’s baked goods that greeted us when we first arrived:

DSC_4254It’s hard to see from my poorly-taken photograph, but an array of handmade cakes and pies are lined up on the kitchen counter. The only problem was deciding what to get, because frankly, everything looked equally delicious.

In the end, I got the Apple Cinnamon cake:

DSC_4249Yum. Soft cake filled with chunks of cinnamoned apple, and topped with a light sugar glaze and sliced almonds.

My friend Judith got the Apple Pie with a dollop of whipped cream on the side:

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You just can’t go wrong with good ol’ apple pie.

Our colleague Kaz got the Ushimado Honey Cake:

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Even though the honey cake looks the plainest, it was my favorite (yes, we traded bites!). It had an earthly, whole-grain goodness that the honey accented nicely.

Teresa and her husband also display and sell an array of arts & crafts in their cafe, including handmade greeting cards and postcards, accessories, hand-blown glass, and pottery.  Additionally, they also host live music performances. For more information / updates on events, check out the Tereya Cafe blog and /or Facebook page (links below).

If you’re driving through Ushimado and need a great meal or just a place to relax, look for the Tereya Cafe signboard.

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Next time I visit, I’ll be sure to a) bring more money to buy crafts; and b) plan to spend more time there!

+ What I liked about this cafe:  Great food and desserts; large portions; eclectic mix of arts, crafts, antique / vintage Japanese and Western furniture make for a great atmosphere.

What I didn’t like about this cafe:  Nothing, absolutely nothing. My only regrets are that we didn’t have more time to enjoy coffee and conversation with the proprietors and that I didn’t bring more money to buy craft items.

Blog link: http://tere-ya.at.webry.info/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tereyacafe

Address:  〒701-4302  岡山県瀬戸内市牛窓町牛窓4178   /   Okayama-ken, Setouchi-shi, Ushimado-cho, Ushimado 4178

Tel: 0869-34-5397
Hours: 11:30~18:00 (Sat. & Sun. until 20:00); Closed on Tuesdays
E-mail address:  teresa@amethyst.memail.jp

Map: http://yahoo.jp/cfxNz7

Date visited: February 13, 2014

Neighbor Coffee Company

“Cool!” and “Yum!” sum up my experience at Neighbor Coffee Company, a sweet little cafe located just at the entrance to the up-and-coming “Jeans Street” designer shopping area of Kojima, Kurashiki-shi.

I first learned of Neighbor Coffee Company from Luc Gougeon’s blog.  You can read his review here: http://foodietopography.net/neighbor-coffee-company/   As a prelude, Luc’s photos of the shop are really nice–much nicer than mine, in fact, and he obviously knows much more about coffee than I do.

Neighbor Coffee Company is located in central Kojima, on the north side of the Shimin Koryu Center (which used to be the Seto Ohashi Bridge Museum).  It’s on the second floor of a corner building and is accessed by a really narrow circular staircase.  The cafe doesn’t really stand out when you’re looking at it from the street.

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Once you’re inside the cafe, it looks totally different.

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The cafe is bright, spacious, and modern but feels very relaxing and inviting.  I love the mix of concrete, glass, metal, and wood; the simple lines of everything blend well to great effect.  The concrete flooring has a “reclaimed” feel that is inviting.  The two main walls are made mostly of glass, and even though the view isn’t especially great, the effect still has that “wow” factor.

At the counter, I was greeted with this sight:

DSC_1963Look at those gorgeous doughnuts, arranged “just so” in their individual paper cups and sparkling like gems in the showcase.  I was visiting with a friend, who ordered a Wild Blueberry doughnut and a Mango juice.  I chose an Organic Sugar doughnut and a White Chocolate Iced Latte.

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I am a freak for white chocolate and forgot that I don’t really like sweetened coffee, and this was pretty sweet.  However, it was still really good because the underlying coffee was good–rich and smooth.  It had obviously been properly made.  The Mason jar-esque mugs were pretty cute too.

The doughnuts were AWESOME.  Yes, they were more expensive than the 100 Yen donuts from Mr. Donut or Krispy Kreme but they were really worth their price.  My friend and I traded bites, and even though the Organic Sugar doughnut was really great, the Wild Blueberry was even better!  If you go to Neighbor, you should definitely try the Wild Blueberry doughnut.

Here’s a photo of the full counter:

DSC_1968Unfortunately, the really cute guy who made my coffee was bending down when I snapped this shot.

Even though Neighbor Coffee Company markets their own coffee, they told me that they buy their beans already roasted from their supplier, who they did not want to reveal.

Even though we were in the cafe for a couple of hours, there was only one other customer on a late Sunday morning.  I’m surprised that such a great place isn’t busy all the time.

Outdoor seating is also available (see Luc’s blog, above, for a photo).

+ What I liked about this shop:  Awesome interior, nice service, fabulous doughnuts and coffee.

– What I didn’t like about this shop:  Not much.  No dedicated parking available, but there are two pay parking lots across the street.

Neighbor Coffee Company also offers sandwiches as well as a wide array of coffee and juice beverages, but it was impossible to get a shot of the menu without glare from the glass frame.  For menu information, etc. see the website and / or Facebook page, both listed below.  The website is minimal, but the Facebook page has nice some photos.

Website:  http://neighbor-coffee.com/index.html

Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/NeighborCoffeeCompany

Address:  岡山県倉敷市児島味野2-2-39 2F  Okayama-ken, Kurashiki-shi, Kojima, Ajino 2-2-39  2F

Tel:  086-472-5183

Hours:  8:00 – 20:00  Closed on Thursdays

Map:

(*NOTE* : This map shows that the coffee shop is mid-block, but actually it is on the corner)

Date visited:  July 28, 2013

Cannery Row

What’s up with all these all-you-can-eat luncheries in Japan at the moment?  This is another one of those places, but a very pleasant way to spend a lunch hour (or two).

My friend introduced this restaurant to me.  We went as a fairly large group consisting of 3 adults and 4 children; even without a reservation, we were seated promptly.  That being said, I think this place is probably really full during the proper lunch hour.  We went a little bit later than the lunch rush.

The restaurant is situated in the western portion of Okayama city.  It’s a fairly small, one-story building surrounded by tall buildings.

DSC_1825From the parking lot, it looks like a slightly weedy oasis.

Here is a shot of the entrance:

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You can barely see the entrance for all the olive trees, potted plants, and herbs and shrubs lining the path.

Once inside the door, you can’t help but notice the dessert case:

Cannery Row dessert case

Look at those gorgeous cakes and tarts!!!

The menu consists mostly of pastas and pizzas; the prices fall into the range of 1,350~1,450 Yen, and this includes the all-you-can-eat buffet, salad bar, and the drink bar.  I ordered a bacon, tomato, and basil pizza to share with my son, but I didn’t take a photo because it had been delivered to the table while I was a the buffet, and he ate a good portion of it before I got back.  The pizza was thin crust and was really good; it looked as if it had been baked in a proper pizza oven.  The buffet consists mostly of appetizers and various salads, but also included a curry pilaf, chilled corn potage, and really good focaccia bread.

DSC_1829The salad bar was incredibly basic: just salad greens, grated carrot, sliced onion, purple cabbage, two dressings, croutons & bacon bit toppings.  Those pretty yellow peppers and bottles of vinegar and oil are just for decoration.  The best part of the salad bar?–the HUGE wheel of cheese!  That cheese was awesome and would make anything taste great.  This was an instance of “simple is best”.

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After lunch, we chose to have dessert.  You can’t just order one dessert; you have to order three!  You get three small desserts for 280 Yen, which is a really good deal.  The waitress brings a dessert cart around and plates up your desserts as you order them.

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Here are a few close-ups of our desserts with descriptions:

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(Left to right) My son ordered a slice of mango tart, a slice of white peach tart, and a slice of cheesecake.

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(Front to back) I also ordered a slice of mango tart, a slice of zuccotto, and a red berry triffle.

All I can say is YUM!!!  Thank goodness, my son couldn’t eat all of his dessert so I got to try to cheesecake and the white peach tart as well.  Everything was outrageously good.  The zuccotto was especially good–it was filled with fresh whipped cream blended with flaked chocolate, walnuts, and rum.

I couldn’t really get a good photo of the seating area because there were just too many people in the restaurant, but it was done in an “Italian country” theme: stucco walls, calico tablecloths, and Italian foodstuffs decorating the plate racks that went around the restaurant.  Even the bathrooms were tastefully done; I love the combination of pink walls, turquoise blue trim, and terra cotta tiles.

Cannery Row bathroomOn the way out, I spotted another huge wheel of cheese:   DSC_1841It turns out that this was a fake one used for display, but I asked the waitress how much the wheel on the salad bar cost; she said it cost upwards of 200,000 Yen (that’s over $2,000 U.S. dollars, folks!)!

I asked her if the desserts were made on-site, which she confirmed.  The desserts were so pretty that I couldn’t resist taking another shot of them.

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+ What I liked about this restaurant:  Excellent desserts; good service; good food; cute interior; good children’s menu (the children’s menu consisted of the buffett and drink bar for 500 Yen, but they can also share an entree with an adult) .

What I didn’t like about this restaurant:  Somewhat cramped seating (tables were too close to the wall, making it hard to get in and out); narrow paths around the buffet areas; really loud music that made conversation difficult.

Address: キャナリィ・ロウ岡山西店  岡山県岡山市問屋町4丁目102 Cannery Row West Japan, Okayama-ken, Okayama-shi, Toiyacho 4-chome 102

Tel:  086-243-0708

Website:  http://www.canneryrow.co.jp/ (in Japanese, but includes no information about this franchaise of restaurants or the menus)

Date visited:  July 25, 2013

Cafe di Espresso

Located *inside* the  combined book store and CD / DVD / comic rental shop TSUTAYA in Tamano-shi, this cafe appears to be a Starbucks-wannabe.  They have a similar style of decor, and similar menu offerings.  Still, since we’re unlikely to get a Starbucks in Tamano-shi anytime soon, Cafe di Espresso isn’t a bad runner-up.

The store can be accessed from inside the TSUTAYA shop or from the street.  Here’s what the entrance from the TSUTAYA side looks like:

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Since the cafe is connected to the shop, I understand that TSUTAYA has a real need to protect their merchandise from shoplifting, but the magnetic gates are really ugly and detract from the atmosphere.

You can see what the store looks like from the street side on the website (see link below).  It’s also not very attractive, but again I understand that they’re limited by the TSUTAYA building.

Once you’re past the ugly magnetic gates, the interior is actually nice.  Here are some shots of the counter and the main room:

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See what I mean about it being Starbuck-y?   Still, Cafe di Espresso has more open floor space than Starbucks does (at least the ones in Japan–they are so overstuffed with cushy chairs that it’s difficult to nagivate the room), and I like that they are attached to a book store.  The smoking section is completely walled off from the non-smoking section, which is also a big plus.  Cafe di Espresso also provides a nice selection of current magazines (in Japanese, of course), in case you didn’t buy anything at TSUTAYA.

Cafe di Espresso is a subsidary of the Kohikan chain of cafes.

Cafe di Espresso must do pretty decent business; everytime I pass by, there are always a good number of people inside, and the snack and dessert case is always nearly empty.  Unlike Starbucks, Cafe di Espresso usually only has 1 or 2 people on staff, so the person taking your order is the person who also makes your drink.   It’s not a chain-production kind of place, even though it does obviously fall into the “fast food” category.

They are currently running a Hawaiian Cafe Fair, which runs through September 3rd, 2013.

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I ordered the Coconut Coffee Frosty, and my sons each got a Strawberry Frosty (not on the Hawaiian menu, obviously, but also a seasonal drink).

DSC_1678The Coconut Coffee Frosty was a good treat, but there wasn’t much coconut about it other than the toasted bits on top of all that darn whipped cream.  It would have been nice if it had included (and maybe it did but I couldn’t tell) some coconut-flavored syrup.  The boys’ Strawberry Frosties were REALLY good–I highly recommend these if you can get one before they stop serving them.

+ What I like about this cafe:  Service was friendly but not over-the-top, large drink selection, ok to bring your kids to this cafe, open feel of the interior, Wi-Fi available.

– What I didn’t like about this cafe:  Chain store, but hey, I knew that before I went in.

Address:  〒706-0011 岡山県玉野市宇野1-11-1 TSUTAYA玉野店内 1F Okayama-ken, Tamano-shi, Uno 1-11-1, Tsutaya Tamano 1F

Tel:  0863-33-6266

Hours:  Everyday 9:00am to 11:00pm; open year-round

Website:  http://www.ufs.co.jp/shop-search/shop_id/294

Map:

Date visited:  July 19, 2013