The Coffee Shops of Japan
August 27, 2010
With Japan rated as the third largest coffee consumer in the world, it comes as no surprise that coffee shops (kissatens) abound, with Tokyo alone home to over ten thousand. Shops come in all sizes and styles, but the smaller versions usually include only a counter and a few tables that are often sole proprietorships run by a husband and wife team who are helped by a part time waitress. These establishments also often double as a small restaurant which offer sandwiches or a light meal during lunchtime. For breakfast a “morning set” is often available which usually consists of juice, coffee, eggs and toast. These mom and pop businesses are gradually being replaced by the bigger chain shops such as Detour, Tully’s, and Starbucks, which offer over the counter coffee, more spacious seating arrangements, and in the case of Starbucks a no smoking environment. This has proven to be a big selling point in a nation that currently has very few restrictions in regard to smoking in public restaurants and bars.
Others have striven to develop a unique theme to distinguish themselves from the competition. Music coffee shops for example featuring jazz, classical, or rock, have always been a favorite hangout for the younger crowd since their inception in the early 1960’s. Less mainstream but proving to be quite popular are the manga (comic book) coffee shops that have sprung up in recent years in Tokyo. Coffee is served gratuitously, and the customer pays only for the duration of time spent reading the thousands of manga provided on library type shelves lining the room. On a similar theme, “Maid Kissa” Coffee shops feature beautiful young waitresses donned in maid costumes that resemble characters from famous Japanese comics. As the customer enters the premise he or she is greeted by an alluring “welcome home my master”. In addition to the verbal role play offered, maids pour coffee and tea for patrons, or engage in a game of cards upon request. Many of these coffee shops are decorated in the style of an English Mansion to simulate feelings of truly being “master of the house”. Some shops are subtly veering from the coffee shop image by referring to their place of business as cafes, often reflecting the owners personal taste in interior design and music, and emphasizing a European atmosphere where home style food and a great cup of coffee can still be enjoyed.
Despite the various themes employed by owners to attract customers, the main feature of the menu is still coffee. For purists looking for an exotic blend or a special roasting method, a growing number of shops are now offering patrons fresh ground coffee using in house percolating techniques they hope will lure customers away from the instant coffee shop franchises that have come to dominate the market in recent years. Whether you’re searching for a temporary sanctuary from the clamor of the city, or a quick pick me up first thing in the morning, coffee shops in Japan have something for everyone.