The Higashi-Nagasaki stop on the Seibu Line in Tokyo is a peaceful bedroom community. In the mornings, its narrow streets flow with brightly outfitted children in tiny hats and tall socks. Housewives in aprons and plastic slippers carry reusable bags to the vegetable stands. Workers race past you, ding-dinging their bicycle bells.
It’s a lovely place to live (or look at through the train window). But let’s be honest—if you were to call your friends and say, “let’s meet up in Higashi-Nagasaki this Saturday,” they would probably say, “wait . . . why?”
Or at least they would have before Mia Mia came along.
To say that Mia Mia (pronounced my-a, my-a) is a coffee shop is to miss the point a little, although its coffee is delicious. Founders Vaughan (who moved to Tokyo 15 years ago from Melbourne Australia) and Rie (a Japan native) built Mia Mia as a place for intentional diversity, cultural and artistic exchange, music, and most of all community.
In the Wada Wurrung language of the aboriginal people of Victoria, a “mia mia” is a hut built as a gathering place for family, friends, and passersby. By choosing this name for their space, Vaughan and Rie pay heed to the idea that shelter is not just a roof over your head but a place for vital human connection, where innovation and even revolution can happen.
When Mia Mia first opened 3 years ago with its rarefied atmosphere inside and little garden and lending library out front, we imagine that the locals must have been a little surprised. But probably not as surprised as they were when commuters started flocking to the Higashi-Nagasaki stop from all over Tokyo. Now Mia Mia is neighbor to Vaughan and Rie’s gallery I AM, which allows them to showcase works by their favorite artists, and other fun new shops and restaurants that have popped up in the neighborhood.
We caught up with Vaughan over the summer to chat and learn a bit more about what its like to be an adventurer in Tokyo. (See interview below.)
Battenwear: Where do you guys live? Tell us about your daily commute.
Vaughan: Sendagaya has been home for almost 10 years now. The best thing is how quiet it is considering it’s a stone throw from basically anywhere in Tokyo. I use the train everyday! I always carry the same things - my diary, the latest edition of Monocle magazine, textbooks for my classes at Bunka Fashion College, and a lot of paperwork… my bag is usually very heavy.
Battenwear: Do you travel a lot? What was your last trip? And what are your travel essentials?
Vaughan: My wife and I travel a lot within Japan - I hold lots of pop-up events with my brand Coffee Time With Vaughan, and my wife does lectures regarding architecture and city planning. The last trip we went on was to Gifu. We loved the Media Cosmos library. It has incredible architecture, and it was so good to see the library really being used by the community. My travel essentials? Easy! I just need to know a couple of the best local coffee shops. I head there first and get to know the baristas. Then they recommend where to go and what to do. Good baristas know everything about their town!!
Battenwear: What was the best meal you had recently?
Vaughan: The best handmade pasta and french fries in the world are at CADOTA in Higashi Nagasaki. Everyone is falling in love with owner/chef Arai-san!
Battenwear: What is the last book you really enjoyed reading?
Vaughan: A friend who really understands what Rie and I are trying to do at MIA MIA passed me Ray Oldenburg’s book Celebrating the Third Place a while back. A lot of people want to make a place like MIA MIA - I usually tell them to start off by reading this book!
Battenwear: What you’re doing is of course, very hip and cool. So, we want to know what’s on the other side of the coin? What does Rie make fun of you for?
Vaughan: I’m not really a typical Aussie guy who likes outdoors, camping, or fast cars. I’m usually spending time at museums, kissaten, and department stores on the fashion floors, or the food emporiums in the basement. She likes to make fun of me about that sometimes!
Thank you, Vaughan and Rie for creating such a cool space and inviting us into your world!