Asia

Birthplace of ‘mix juice’ gets new lease on life

OSAKA — A menu staple of coffee shops in the Kansai region is “mix juice,” a beverage made of various kinds of fruits. The drink originated in the Shinsekai downtown area in southern Osaka.

Sennariya Coffee, a long-established coffee shop where the juice was born, closed its doors once, but a fan of the store took it over and revived it. The shop now attracts people longing for the nostalgic taste of the juice.

The cafe in Naniwa Ward is located on Shinsekai’s busy Janjan Yokocho alley, which bustles with kushikatsu (deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables) restaurants, go salons and other shops.

Inside, the brown-themed, retro-looking coffee shop is brimming with couples and families chatting over mix juice.

Banana, apple, yellow peach and mikan orange are mixed with milk and ice cubes in a blender. The texture is so thick that a straw put into the juice can stand straight, and it looks just like a smoothie.

“The flavors of apple and banana are rich, but refreshing, too. It’s a perfect drink for hot summers,” said Emi Minami, 37, who lives near the cafe.

Sennariya originally was a fruit shop, founded in 1948 by Ichiro Tsunekawa. Back then, shortly after the end of World War II, fruit was a luxury item, and mix juice was devised so that any unsold fruit would not go to waste. The juice quickly became popular for its savory taste of ripened fruits, and the shop turned into a cafe in 1960.

Mix juice has since spread to other cafes, and each shop has concocted its own recipe.

Marufuku Coffee, which was founded in Osaka in 1934 and now has shops in the Kansai and Tokyo metropolitan areas, has had mix juice on its menu since around 1950. Its juice is milk- and sugar-free, leaving only the tastes of fruit. Umeda Mix Juice near Hankyu Osaka-umeda Station’s ticket gate sells komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) juice along with its signature drink of mikan orange and yellow peach.

Osaka-based companies rely on mix juice’s product appeal. Torikizoku Holdings Co., a major tavern chain, has had mix juice on its menu since 2005.

“The orders [of mix juice] in Kansai are double those in the Kanto and Tokai regions, and it sells more than oolong tea,” a spokesperson for the chain said.

Beverage maker Japan Sangaria Beverage Co. sells mix juice in plastic bottles and cans in vending machines and at supermarkets.

Sennariya closed in the summer of 2016. At that time, the alley was busy partly with an increasing number of visitors to Japan. But, the shop’s third-generation owner, Toyoko Tsunekawa, 79, had fallen ill.

Katsuhito Shiratsuki, 55, the current Sennariya owner, stopped by at the cafe, learned about the store’s closure and decided to take it over himself. Shiratsuki grew up in nearby Abeno Ward, and the taste of Sennariya’s mix juice brings back memories of coming to the cafe with his parents. He worked for a TV production company and had no experience running a restaurant, but recalled, “It was too sad to lose this shop. So, I thought I’d take the plunge to take it over.”

He reached out to Tsunekawa’s eldest son and decided to rent the store to reopen it. Sennariya’s mix juice recipe listed the ingredients, but did not specify the exact amounts. Shiratsuki visited more than 20 other coffee shops to compare the drinks, while adjusting the flavors based on the Sennariya recipe.

The shop reopened the following year, in May 2017, with support from Osaka-based restaurant producing company LIFEstyle Inc.

Shiratsuki got a thumbs-up for the taste of his juice from an elderly customer who said, “This is it!” Sennariya once again became crowded with regulars and tourists.

Like other restaurants, the cafe was forced to close temporarily during the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, Sennariya branched out to open in Kawasaki in August 2020 and in Osaka’s Umeda district in May this year. “I’ll make mix juice into a world-famous Osaka specialty like okonomiyaki or takoyaki and pass it on to the next generation,” Shiratsuki said.

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