VIA is a cyclists’ café filled with references and in-jokes for the dedicated cyclist, as well as serving as a pit stop on a much longer journey. However, if you’d like to get out and see a bit more of the Japanese countryside, then this’ll be a nice day out.
VIA Opening Hours: Saturday and Sundays, 9.00a.m. to 5.00p.m.
Location:西区西遊馬3131, Saitama-shi, Saitama, Japan 331-0061
Other Info: Cash Only.
More about VIA
Light and porous, the cake fluffed up around either side of my fork, almost as if it were refusing to be parted. The cake is called hachimitsu, which roughly translates as ‘bee syrup’ but we know it as a lemon chiffon cake. I was enjoying the cake, with tea, whilst sat on the long veranda of a traditional Japanese country house. There were chunky knit cosies thrown over plastic chairs, horse stables at the opposite end of the yard and cats cuddling amongst the Tour De France coloured pillows on the wooden bench beside me. This is VIA, a lovingly-run cycle café in Saitama.
Maybe it’s because this is rural Saitama, away from the foreigners aren’t-so-uncommon-but-still-worth-staring-at attitude in Tokyo but I felt a little nervous as I pushed open the sliding doors. On the inside of the café were two gas heaters, a hand washing station with soap and moisturiser, a free water cooler with glass cups neatly piled up, and plenty of cycling magazines stacked up under the counter. It had a sort of homely, ramshackle feel to it. In different corners of the room were two fully geared Japanese men lounging on sofas, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches or cake, almost as if they were in their grandmother’s living room.
Behind the counter, a husband and wife welcomed us in English and chatted with us about where we were from and how far we’d come. We tried, and mostly failed, to respond in Japanese. To the side were t-shirt shaped biscuits with Tour de France shirts iced on them; the details tidy and irregular at the same time. They were made by the owners’ daughter. The food was all homemade and looked it: thick cuts of bread and generous helpings of cake and cream, a range of teas and, my boyfriend assures me, really good coffee.Along with the hachimitsu cake I bought Earl Grey tea and fresh chicken sandwiches.
When To Go
VIA is only open on weekends and whilst this may be disappointing to you bear in mind this is a lovingly run café for people who just love cycling. The quality of the food, the thoughtfulness of the decoration, and the suspended sense of self you receive from being sat on that veranda in the Japanese country side is something you can’t get everywhere.
VIA is conveniently placed right next to the Arakawa River as it reaches up into Saitama, and as such functions as the easiest, and most pleasant, access to it. Cycling in Tokyo can often be a stressful experience as there are just so many traffic lights and cars who see cyclists are pedestrians on wheels. Luckily though, you won’t have to spend too long on the roads as the Arakawa River stretches through Tokyo and is easily accessed in the East and the North. If not, you may have a bit of a trek. VIA can also serve as your picnic destionation, or a stopping off point on a much longer journey to Tohoku or Gunma.
The Arakawa riverscape changes dramatically as you continue along it. Starting from the harbour at Kasai Rinkai Park, and working through the very developed Skytree area, then swinging through the wards until the skyrises become smaller and smaller, eventually giving way to farmland and squat traditional Japanese homes, with sliding doors and perfectly sculpted trees. Whilst your view may depend on where you’re commuting from you’ll have an easy ride on the river. It’s tarmacked, wide and very friendly to those practising sports, as you’ll see from the many junior and senior baseball teams practising away on the weekends.
We started out a little late, and although that meant we got caught in the wind on the way back, we were treated to Mount Fuji framed by a blood orange sunset. I was enjoying myself a little too much to take a picture of it, but it made up for my cheeks feeling a little numb by that point.