This past weekend, I decided it was time to go cafe searching!
I recently bought a book in Japanese (with furigana in it too, so I don’t have to look up kanji the long way), and I wanted to read it somewhere nice that wasn’t just my apartment. I love my apartment, but I can start to feel cooped up when I don’t go out. I think this is because, even though it has a large door that’s made of glass and slides open, the glass is clouded up for privacy–you get some light, but you can’t see in or out of it. For this reason, the first month or so I was here I just left the blinds closed because I forgot I had a window^^;
There seem to be lots of cafes in Iwakuni right near the station, so I visited some of their websites (via Google maps) and narrowed it down to just cafes where I thought I could comfortably sit down and read, and I decided on this one! It’s called Kingetsudo, and you can see more pictures of the inside here on their website. I love the plants they have growing down the front of it! It looks so cool!
I went in the late afternoon on Saturday, and I was the only customer for most of the time. I wasn’t really sure what to do when I came in, so I asked the lady working there if this was the sort of place where you can sit down and eat, just to make sure. I got to pick my seat, so I sat down by the window, and ordered a waffle and green tea latte. I opened my book and read while I waited. (The lighting in this picture makes it seem like it was sunny out, but it was actually quite cloudy.) The lights above the tables on the side (and mine) were off, maybe to save electricity since no one was there. There was classical music playing in the background, and it was relaxing and nice. Two thumbs up!
I was prepared to order whatever, but what I really wanted was just a nice place to read my book. I’m not sure exactly what was going on in my head, but I think it was something like, since I’m planning on being here for a while to read and don’t know if that’s what people usually do at cafes here, then I should order more to justify it (haha), instead of just getting an iced coffee or something. Cafes aren’t cheap, and I spent a total of ￥1100, which is a little over $11, on the waffle and drink together. I think I was there for an hour and a half or so.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to find certain “atmospheres” (雰囲気) in Japan. I want to find a cafe or public place where I feel comfortable bringing along my laptop or a book and staying there for a few hours, but I haven’t found anything like that yet. When I was studying abroad in Tokyo, I didn’t find anything like that, either (not that I knew where to look or was trying very hard). When I was researching cafes, I found a forum that was used by people living on the Iwakuni American base, and someone was saying that there isn’t anything like the “Starbucks atmosphere” he was looking for/wanted…something like the campus Starbucks at UCI, where coffee and conversation are a part of why you go, but staying a while and studying or doing research are important, too.
This isn’t to say that Japan doesn’t have public places where you can “read freely”! There’s a library near my house, I saw people reading books and comics all the time on trains in Tokyo, and if you go to a Book-Off (a used book chain) anywhere, you fill find it crowded with people standing and reading all the books for free, haha. However, I want to find somewhere to read that isn’t my apartment, a library, or a train, where I can just sit down and drink a latte that I order and not have to wonder if this is a public space that is intended for that or not. Sometimes, I feel like cafes here are just meant for going together with a friend and having a conversation (only), although I’m willing to change this opinion once I explore some more!
I remember having a conversation with someone here about Korea, and she said, “Isn’t Korea kind of like Europe?” and I laughed and asked her how that could be, because even though I have never been to Europe, Korea (Seoul) did not feel like “Europe” to me at ALL. She said, because the windows of the cafes are big, so it feels like Europe, and that Japanese cafes and restaurants aren’t like that–that sometimes, you can’t even tell they’re there from the street. I agree that cafes in Korea seemed a lot bigger, and seemed to be of the type where you could order, do your own thing for a long time, and leave. Also, fairly large (or at least “normal-sized,” to an American) cafes were easy to find in Seoul. Then again, I’m not in a comparable place, like Tokyo, right now…but even different Starbucks stores in Tokyo seemed smaller and full of people, and I never studied for my classes there. I think the free wireless situation might have something to do with this, too–there wasn’t much free wireless in Tokyo, but I’ve been told that Seoul has wifi everywhere. It’s kind of lame to bring your laptop with you to a cafe if there’s no internet there, maybe?
I think this particular cafe was a good choice for bringing a book and reading, though, because it was a little separated from the main street, and wasn’t crowded–an older man came in later, too, and sat down and was reading his newspaper. Since the cafe is big, you don’t feel like you’re taking up another customer’s spot if you stay for a long time, and the seating areas are off to the side of the main entrance, so reading seems acceptable enough. This cafe also has a longer table in the middle that they advertise as being able to be used for holding meetings. However, since it was my first time to this place, and since I wasn’t sure if that kind of “Starbucks atmosphere” is very common in Japan or acceptable at this particular cafe, I was a little nervous, although I still enjoyed myself. You don’t know if you don’t go and try, right?
This is just how I feel right now, but I am going to keep inquiring of people and see what I can find, because there is a possibility that I’m just overthinking things. It might be that I’m just looking in the wrong places, and it might also be that I won’t find what I’m looking for unless I go to Hiroshima or another big city. I’m not limited to cafes in looking for a nice place to sip my latte and read my book. If there’s another context for it, then I’d like to find that context and settle into a new routine.