When I initially decided to watch this series, I did so due to the cultural elements that caught my attention in the PV that I had seen. The sweeping cherry blossoms in the breeze; the sophisticated looking men wearing yukata; the vibrancy of the special sweets and savoury entrees; and all of the smiling faces. Truth be told, I did not expect much else from the anime aside from the superficial satiation of a Japanophile’s adoration for the country. Yet, Rokuhōdō Yotsuiro Biyori ended up surprising me with it’s soft depth. There are two things that Japanese people value above all else: tradition and family. That is the essence of this anime. We see these things separately, such as via the café itself—the employees, the customers, the setting and ambiance—and then as a complement to each other; showcasing how one very much goes hand-in-hand with the other to create a multi-dimensional identity that is uniquely Japanese.
Tradition is encapsulated in every part of Rokuhōdō, from the walkway leading to the building, to the finer details of dining such as utensils and plates, to the very individuals who keep the place running day after day, season after season, and finally, the scrumptious dishes and desserts.
The anime uses an abundance of natural lighting techniques to illustrate the interior of the café as a veranda of sorts; a place to sit in relaxation and drink tea while catching up with loved ones. The colour palettes utilise vibrant splashes of greens, pinks, and browns to highlight the garden, the natural finish of the bamboo floors and wooden tables and chairs, as well as the traditional panes and sliding doors. The pathway leading from the street to the café is lined with towering bamboo stalks and faded grey to white pebbled footpath with cherry blossom trees just outside the building. These are reminiscent of Japanese Zen gardens, showcasing the tranquillity of discipline and calm, which are two factors that have been vital to Japan’s national identity dating back to as early as the Muromachi era.
Then we have the uniforms that the men wear that is of simple dark blue colour and delicate stitching, adding a bit of texture to their appearances, and is finished off with modest sandals. When the men interact with their customers, they are considerate and mindful of nearly every movement. The greetings and morsels of small talk are reminiscent of speaking with an old acquaintance. Respect is always depicted via bowing and careful placement of their hands. Regardless of this practise, they never appear stiff or mechanical in nature. They’re always quite genuine and cordial.
Through these interactions, and those of the customers that frequent Rokuhōdō we see the second vital facet: family. The vast majority of the visitors to the café are regulars. When they come to Rokuhōdō, they arrive seeking a sense of solace or escape from the realities of their busy lives, such as work and school. Other people go searching for a way to fill an empty void of loneliness or even the wondrous ease that can only be found in nostalgia. There are meaningful conversations between the patrons and the owners, or chats between the various clientele themselves. People will speak to strangers about the food they’re eating and that will lead to exchanging stories, or they bring their crush to the café knowing that the owners will take care to help them along, particularly when nervousness or anxiety starts to arise. The whole ambiance is that of a large extended family; people you can turn to for support in times of success or sadness.
Growing up in my house, no matter how busy my brother or my friends became with work and school, or life in general, we always made time to share at least one to two meals together out of the week. We’d put everything aside for a few hours of chit-chat and updates, share in the cooking and swapping of old family recipes, sitting down to eat mouth-watering meals, and basking in the moment of the people around us. That is exactly what Rokuhōdō means to the people who go there and for the men who run it. There really isn’t a better symbol for family out there aside from this sense of camaraderie, compassion, and trust.
We also see family values in the owners who all live together under one roof. They share their joy, sorrow, and everything in-between equally as one simply family. Each member underwent a specific obstacle that they had to learn to overcome on their own, and those crossroads all eventually led them to the café, where they found a permanent home. They brought their individual traditions with them to help create a foundation of new and old.
The barista, Gregorio Valentino, was a delinquent in his home country of Italy. He was very lonely and felt abandoned, which caused him to act out in disruptive and damaging ways. One evening he ended up at a local café. The barista saw something in this young, punk kid and took him under his tutelage. The old man showed him the tradition of brewing a proper, cup of espresso using a machine and techniques that were becoming outdated. Through this apprenticeship, Gregorio learned something important about his culture and also found a father-figure, a family to call his own. This is an excellent example of how tradition and family go together.
Another example can be found in Kyōsui Tōgoku, Rokuhōdō’s owner’s grandson. Growing up, his grandfather taught him the history of the café and what went into establishing it. He taught Kyōsui how to make the perfect cup of Japanese green tea, proper Japanese mannerisms and etiquette, as well as few recipes that have sentimentality to many patrons. Through this act of learning recipes and brewing practises, his grandfather taught him important cultural and ethnical traditions while building a deep-rooted bond of family and togetherness. This adds tremendous amounts of emotion and meaning to his life at Rokuhōdō.
There are other smaller details that help to emphasise the beauty of tradition within Rokuhōdō Yotsuiro Biyori such as the contrast of the seasons. Spring with its charming cherry blossom always leads to the wilting of petals and dying of greenery during winter. Everything dies and grows again because nothing is permanent; the world is everchanging. This is a key precept in Buddhism, which has been in Japan since the Yamato era. Musically you can expect to hear a decent company of the shamisen and koto with more modern flavours of the flute, violin and occasional pianoforte. Family wise, we see Kyōsui struggle with an estranged relationship with a sibling that buffers the focus of tradition and family that is heavily depicted through the series.
Rokuhōdō Yotsuiro Biyori is a beautiful series but it’s not without its shortcomings. The challenges that Kyōsui faces with his estranged sibling did not provide a significant contribution to the narrative as a whole, and probably should have been omitted. Additionally, aside from that aspect, there is no other real, cohesive sense of a plot.
Regardless of those minor flaws, I still found it to be wholesome and endearing; a great slice-of-life anime for individuals in search of a show that can give them pleasant, positive vibes. There is wonderful camaraderie, exquisite Japanese cuisine and cultural traits, light-hearted moments of humour, and a pleasant musical score. Additionally, there is also an adorable feline owned by Kyōsui whom he loves to take hilarious photos of. I would recommend this anime to people who are in the market for a simple series that doesn’t require a hefty emotional or intellectual investment yet are still curious to see bits of Japan with a more culturally traditional lens.