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Coffee Life in Japan

Coffee Life in Japan

Merry White
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Coffee Life in Japan
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95248-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Coffee in Public: Cafés in Urban Japan
    (pp. 1-18)

    It is 6:30 in the morning on a Tokyo Saturday in a café near a subway entrance in a commercial and entertainment district. The visitor is up early, having flown across too many time zones the day before, and has been out for a walk. People emerging from the subway for a day of work are in the café too, sleepily drinking their first cup of coffee. In the same coffeehouse there are disheveled young people in club gear, blearily having a coffee for the road before they creep down the stairs into the subway to go home. The café...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Japan’s Cafés: Coffee and the Counterintuitive
    (pp. 19-41)

    Japanese cafés offer correctives to received knowledge of the directions of modernity and globalization. What we learn in Japan about the uses of the café may be both similar to and at odds with our understandings of café society and globalization elsewhere, and what we imagine of Japan’s public society and beverage consumption may prove to be different from our suppositions. There are four basic surprises in the stories. To begin with, the fact that Japan is a coffee-drinking society comes as a surprise to those who think tea is the predominant beverage. That Japan is now the third largest...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Modernity and the Passion Factory
    (pp. 42-65)

    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 wordasobi, with its meanings of freedom and suspension of cultural responsibilities. In play...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Masters of Their Universes: Performing Perfection
    (pp. 66-88)

    The master looks around to be sure no customer is present and lifts his pant leg to the knee. The purplish web of bulging varicose veins speaks his pain. Why this café owner and coffee connoisseur reveals his suffering to me is not to make me feel sorry for him or see him as a hero, but rather to prove that he does the job right, in his terms. Not every good master has his measure of success, and he would prefer not to have such wounds incurred in service to it.Kodawari, the desired quality of focus and perfection-seeking,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Japan’s Liquid Power
    (pp. 89-107)

    Jaime van Schyndel practices Japanese coffee at Barismo in Arlington, Massachusetts. He is intrigued with Japanese roasting methods, with the meticulousness of “polishing” the beans down to a singular flavor. He says that what people call “finickiness” is tied to real quality, a quality he attempts in his own roasting. The technology of coffee in Japan, he says, engages the hand and mind skills of the maker, rather than giving priority to automation and standardization. He has two roasting machines modeled after the Japanese Fuji Royal roaster, made and customized for him in Taiwan. Coffee gear from Japan—including home...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Making Coffee Japanese: Taste in the Contemporary Café
    (pp. 108-126)

    At Lush Life, a small jazzkissatenin Kyoto, the master makes the coffee—only one kind of bean, one cup at a time—while his wife makes the day’s curry. There are few choices. As a guest, you simply receive the dark brew and the dark stew, and relax gratefully as you listen to Brubeck or Miles or Billy Strayhorn—again, for the most part, what the master has chosen. Taste is about trust in such places; you come without demands and none are placed on you. The anxiety of choosing the right thing is notably missing. You have...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Urban Public Culture: Webs, Grids, and Third Places in Japanese Cities
    (pp. 127-156)

    A city person may live in a quiet suburban margin and work in the teeming center, traversing several realms in a day. The conventional contrast, between tight-knit older neighborhoods and the loneliness of the urban crowd, does not fully describe this person’s journey. Leaving an intimate family scene in the morning, walking a back-alley walk to the station, boarding a crowded but anonymous train, and arriving at an intensely active workplace: within an hour or so a person can pass through four or more kinds of social space, some with jarring impact, some with more benign forms of proximity.


  12. CHAPTER 8 Knowing Your Place
    (pp. 157-172)

    Along a small canal in the northern part of Kyoto, near a big art school, is a gallery café called Rihou. A remodeled older house with a vaulted ceiling and elegant modern wood furnishings, this gallery serves only one coffee a day; when he can get them, the owner prefers Ethiopian beans. There are quiet tables on the first floor and above, a gallery where rising artists show their work in well-publicized exhibitions. The owner, a connoisseur of coffee and art, keeps beautiful art books available for customers’ perusal. Very seldom do people convene here, but everyone who comes seems...

  13. Appendix: Visits to Cafés, an Unreliable Guide
    (pp. 173-178)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 179-192)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-204)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 205-206)
  17. Index
    (pp. 207-222)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-223)