CHAPTER 3
Modernity and
the Passion Factory

By the turn of the twentieth century, being in a café in Japan was an act of outright modernity. As Elise Tipton notes, the café was the very site and generator of the modern.1 You entered a café as an act of personal choice, to be with and observe modern people. It was (and to some extent still is) a ludic space, a space of free play or a place where you were free to define yourself. You went there to “play” as in the Japanese word asobi, with its meanings of freedom and suspension of cultural responsibilities. In play you can engage new things “playfully,” without the responsibility of a larger, more authoritative undertaking.

A café was a veritable stage set for novel performances. It was a shape-shifter or a neutral space where the atmosphere and fittings, and thus the experience, could change often. It was where you could escape the norms of cultural and social obligation; you could go there to be somewhere or nowhere. The contrast between who you were expected to be at home and work and the new more fluid and individualist ideas of social and personal identity was so great that it could be said to necessitate this new place as a bridge between them. Instead of becoming (as at home or work) what the place demanded, you could become there what the space permitted. Those most under the scrutiny of cultural correctness, middle-class women, might find cafés particularly rewarding.

Women, as we have seen, had entered some public realms already and were notably ready for the freedoms of the café. Indeed, one sign of a modern place was the presence of women as customers, and not only as

-42-

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