Cafe Culture
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Written by Lauren Goschnick   

Cafe Culture

Cafe Culture

Cafés have provided a relaxed atmosphere where people can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and a light meal or snack for many years. In Japan a number of interesting and innovative choices are available to the café-goer who may get more than the coffee and cake they bargained for.

‘Concept Cafes’ are a growing trend in Japan, they aim to meet the needs of customers in new ways. Some concept cafes are encouraging a relaxing and therapeutic atmosphere while others offer a space to undertake a favourite hobby with like-minded people.

Café Slow is located in Tokyo’s Kokubunji district and offers patrons a chance to relax and reflect by candlelight. Every Friday night is ‘café in the dark’ night, lights are turned off and candles are lit on every table, while soft soothing live music plays in the background. Café Slow encourages patrons to take it easy and be at one with nature. Using candles instead of electricity aims to promote environmental consciousness and the café only serves organic food, further instilling the idea of an environmentally responsible lifestyle.

‘Picture Book Cafes’ are becoming a popular destination for Japanese women wanting something a little bit different. These cafes resemble bookstores with walls covered in shelves of books. At Ehon House in Tokyo’s Mejiro district you can choose from over 4000 picture books from all over the world while sipping your cup of tea.

If you wanted a little more interaction you could sign up for a craft class at a café like Tabela in Shibuya City. Tabela offers classes in sewing and crochet once a month. The women dominated classes are usually filled to capacity and most participants return every month forming hobby groups with like-minded café-goers.

While Café Slow, Ehon House and Tabela are relatively new, unusual café’s have existed in Japan for some time. Themed cafes have really gained momentum since 1998 when the first Maid Café opened in Toyko. Maid Cafes cater to Japan’s manga and anime fans. Attractive young women dressed in frilly French maid cosplay outfits greet customers in what look like otherwise ordinary cafes. Maid Cafes are usually for the benefit of ‘otaku’ that is obsessive (and usually male) fans or ‘geeks’ of anime and manga who lack social skills. The maids are subservient and aim to soften any social obligations an otaku might have to deal with. Maids often coddle otaku, giving them a hug or tending to their messy eating habits.

Following the success of Maid Cafes in Tokyo’s Akihabara district other suitably weird cafes and restaurants have opened. Patisserie Swallowtail is a Butler Café, a female alternative to the male fantasy world of the Maid Café. Female otaku are waited on by immaculate, English-like butlers ready to greet them with such sayings as ‘welcome home, Madam’.

Other themed cafes in Japan include the Vampire Café. Complete with crucifix croutons and coffin shaped food, the décor of this café is grand and largely red, black and candlelit with coffins. On entering the café you will walk through a hallway with a floor covered with images of blood platelets.

If you are feeling a little more masochistic you might like to visit the prison café and eat your meal behind bars. The prison aesthetic appears a little more on the sadistic side with x-ray images displayed on a screen and medical drips in the ‘cells’. Lets hope the waiters don’t act as prison guards!



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