Coffee Life in Japan

Coffee Life in Japan

Coffee Life in Japan

Coffee Life in Japan

Synopsis

This fascinating book--part ethnography, part memoir--traces Japan's vibrant café society over one hundred and thirty years. Merry White traces Japan's coffee craze from the turn of the twentieth century, when Japan helped to launch the Brazilian coffee industry, to the present day, as uniquely Japanese ways with coffee surface in Europe and America. White's book takes up themes as diverse as gender, privacy, perfectionism, and urbanism. She shows how coffee and coffee spaces have been central to the formation of Japanese notions about the uses of public space, social change, modernity, and pleasure. White describes how the café in Japan, from its start in 1888, has been a place to encounter new ideas and experiments in thought, behavior, sexuality , dress, and taste. It is where a person can be socially, artistically, or philosophically engaged or politically vocal. It is also, importantly, an urban oasis, where one can be private in public.

Excerpt

As Japan emerged from postwar reconstruction into the “economic miracle,” I went to Tokyo for the first time. I was very young, I had my first passport, and Japan was my first foreign country. I took my first flight to get there. In the 1960s you might still see dirt roads and radish patches in what are now ultramodern parts of the city. You could still roam backstreets without risk of annihilation by cars or motorcycles, and houses were built low and open—when the amado shutter-doors came down in the morning, neighbors could watch over one another easily, children could play, and old people could sit in the sun or mend clothing or shuck beans in the quiet lanes. But traffic and unfamiliar goods and people were beginning to penetrate these premodern villagelike spaces. The Olympic Games of 1964 brought the construction of new subway lines, new public sports pavilions, luxury air-conditioned hotels, and the city began to lose its neighborhood boundedness as unbounded economic energy pulled people into public spaces where they shopped, walked, and consumed. One such space, the coffeehouse, had become popular at least fifty years before but restored its function as a social place after the war in a flurry of new and older forms, antedating the arrival of American café styles by at least four decades.

Then as now, my primary place of residence in Japan was a café, a place of respite and refueling and, as we will see, many other functions. Then it might have been the Vienna, a four-story velvet extravaganza, where kaffee Wien was served with Mozart amid gilt chairs and filigreed balconies, or it might have been a neighborhood café, redolent of male friendship, old cigarettes, and smelly feet. But the café memory from . . .

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