Cafes

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt

    Reporter

    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Naoyuki Takai

    Main guest

    An economics journalist and business consultant, Naoyuki Takai started taking a serious interest in Japan's cafe culture in 2007 and has since written extensively on the subject, publishing a number of books. He was born in Nagoya, a city known for its love of kissaten.

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May 2, 2017

Cafes

*You will leave the NHK website.

When this writer first arrived in Japan in 1981, the sheer number of kissaten ("drink tea shops") was stunning.

Back then many cafes had game consoles built into the tables (arcade cocktail cabinets). But there were various other types to choose from: some cafes would focus on a special way of making coffee, others would be devoted to jazz or classical music, yet others would appeal to fans of manga, and so on. There were also cafes in department stores and near smart residential areas that were frequented by customers who wanted to chat with friends about a child's education, or simply to gossip. In each case, the user would instantly perceive what each cafe had to offer, and react accordingly.

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At many kissaten, great care is taken with the preparation of each cup of coffee.

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Meticulous attention is paid to each detail.

It wasn't so long ago that many kissaten were havens for smokers, and breakfast "morning sets" featuring ultra-thick fluffy toast and a boiled egg were ubiquitous. While you can still find cafes like that, mainstream consumer preferences have moved on.

These days there are cafes that roast their own coffee beans, and cafes where you can be sure to get good access to the internet. In addition to owl cafes, there are places where you can pet a cat, a reptile, or a hedgehog, and then there are super-specialized establishments such as the cafe visited by Matt Alt that is dedicated to the theme of tranquility.

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Peter Barakan chats with guest Naoyuki Takai in a kissaten whose customers enjoy listening to classical music.

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Matt enjoys a tranquil moment in a kissaten designed for that purpose.

"Big Coffee," meanwhile, is continuing to enjoy its day in the sun. But anyone familiar with the famous names in global cafe culture will soon observe that in Japan, customers use these spaces, too, for specific purposes. One especially common activity is revision for upcoming exams.

Just yesterday, this writer noted a relatively unusual sight in a Japanese cafe: two men playing cards, using tokens to "gamble" with. Will cafes for the playing of card games emerge in the months ahead? In the constantly evolving and highly diverse kissaten eco-system, it is impossible to predict what the next boom will be.

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The main draw in this kissaten, meanwhile, is a chat with the good-humored "master."

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High-quality china is one feature of many traditional cafes.

*You will leave the NHK website.