I have this video in an open browser tab on my phone. I’ve had it open for weeks. I watch it from time to time when I want a peaceful moment.
The video documents a café owner making coffee and preparing an order of pizza toast. It’s simple, minimal, and quiet. The pizza toast is just what you think it is. It’s white bread (the whitest) toasted with tomato sauce, cheese, and some various pizza toppings. It’s like something you’d make for a 9 year old who has had a bad day. It’s something you’d make for yourself at midnight when no one is looking.
I learned about this video from a podcast. The video is a sort of bonus episode companion to this publishing project, Kissa by Kissa. The book documents a long (very long, almost 1000km long) hike through the Japanese countryside along an ancient highway. Along the way the author, Craig Mod, stops in for toast at these small cafés called kissaten or kissa for short.
Kissa are mid-century modern cafés strewn about rural and suburban Japan. They were once very popular but are now waning as the owners age and their children move to big cities for big opportunities.
This subject is laser targeted to my sensibilities. Mid-century style? Coffee? Toast? All in Japan? Hook it too my veins.
Kissa by Kissa sat in the online shopping cart for about a week. I felt guilty for wanting a $95 book. It’s not even a very big book. I gave in and clicked “check out” and in a surprisingly short time, this book arrived at my door, from Japan, in a big yellow DHL van.
The book itself is an art object. Beautifully printed and bound in cloth covered, silk-screened, semi-hardback binding. It feels good and looks vaguely academic. Like maybe a textbook for a seminar class you take in the last semester of your senior year. I was reluctant to crack the binding so I could actually read it.
In his book, Craig Mod writes about how he came to live in Japan, and why he feels at home in a place he’ll never fit in. He writes about his walks and the inspiration for this particular walk, which forms the backbone of the book. He talks about pizza toast and how it was comfort food for him as a young man in Japan who was still scared of local cuisine.
The book is a series of vignettes centered around a kissa. He might meet the owner, or some locals. Each vignette is accompanied by one or two photos of the Kissa, its patrons, or their food. Each kissa gets a hero photo showing the main entrance. Many photos capture a tiny corner of the coffee shop showing the detail of a chair or a vase perfectly placed on a window sill.
His writing style is matter-of-fact yet rich. He provides the critical details. He’s unafraid to stop writing when the story is done. It’s unexpectedly present and real. The stories of toast and wise-ass farmers are beautiful They make me jealous of his experience and make me yearn to travel and explore.
I have a recurring memory of a memory. I recall sitting on the commuter train from Tacoma to Seattle. The train is stopped. It’s raining. Looking out the window, rainwater has pooled along the tracks making a tiny pond in the big, chunky gravel supporting the railroad ties. Rain drops make ripples in the water. It’s a small moment of beauty surrounded by mundane and ugly. I think “I will probably forget this moment” and I realize I have thought this before, many times, and I have forgotten those moments. Now I remember the moment of remembering I forgot.
Kissa by Kissa is a book of beautiful small moments like the ones I forgot