Michael Tayag: Volunteering at Bazaar Cafe

For my CIP, I volunteered at Bazaar Cafe, about a three-minute walk from Doshisha Imadegawa campus, on Thursdays, Fridays, and on a couple special occasions. By volunteering at Bazaar Cafe, I was able to glean some interesting insights into Japanese society, culture, and communication.

One of the most obvious things that sets Bazaar Cafe apart from other cafes is the fact that it is staffed primarily by minorities and volunteers. My co-workers were immigrants, sexual minorities, recovering and former alcoholics, and people with developmental disorders, all of whom Bazaar Cafe offered a community space and a chance to work for a salary. Talking to these people made more concrete the discrimination they face, their hardships in finding work, and, for some, the need to conquer cultural and language barriers. Having said that, their work at Bazaar Cafe illustrates that various kinds of minorities can be productive workers, support one another, and form strong ties with the local community. For example, through one of the Filipina volunteers at Bazaar, I was introduced to the larger Filipino community in Kyoto, whose meetings and events I have attended almost every week.

With respect to communication in the context of volunteering/working at a cafe, I found that Japan is actually quite similar to the United States. For instance, it is considered common sense and courtesy in both cultures to say “excuse me” when going around someone, or “sorry” when you have bumped into your co-worker. Further, I got free food for lunch during volunteering (as did the others), and I usually waited to be offered food instead of asking for it directly. Basically, in terms of interacting with other people, I think I acted the same way at Bazaar Cafe that I would have in a similar establishment in America. One notable difference I did notice, though, was that the native Japanese have a greater sense of status and age. While the other foreigners with whom I worked never deliberately varied their levels of politeness, the Japanese workers and volunteers used different language when talking to me, as opposed to our supervisor. Working with foreigners allowed me to compare the language patterns of native and non-native Japanese speakers.

All in all, working in a cafe allowed me to have real conversations with real people in the real world. And though CIP was sometimes an added stress at the end of the school week, I definitely appreciated this opportunity!

6 thoughts on “Michael Tayag: Volunteering at Bazaar Cafe

  1. Wow, I didn’t even know something like this existed. Volunteering at this place seems like a super rare opportunity. Never hearing about those people who deviate from the norm, I feel like we’re always given this image of Japan as a pristine country, which is, of course, untrue, yet really easy to fall for. I’m kind of jealous that you’re getting a window into the truer Japan and digging deeper than the surface. Now that you’ve made me aware of the cafe’s existence, I really want to check it out sometime.

    • Yeah, Japan is definitely a little different from America (and especially our state, CA!), where there is no doubt about the visibility of immigrants and other minority groups.

      Please go and check it out! It’s literally a 3-5 minute walk from campus! It’s open on Thursday-Saturday, and I’d be happy to give you directions if you want to catch a break from finals week :).

  2. This is really fascinating, I’d love to visit this place sometime.
    You said you really connected with the Filipino community here and you’ve been attending their meetings? Could you share a little more about your impressions of the community here and how they’ve assimilated?

    • Most of the members of the Filipino community in Kyoto are students, current/former entertainers who have married Japanese men, and the children of the latter. They usually host events every month, and previous ones have included a sports fest, a health fiesta, and a singing competition, all of which were open to Japanese, Filipinos, and other foreigners. As you can tell, these events are all social, and unlike the Filipino communities in America (and Nagoya!), I don’t really see a political voice. I think there’s still a ways to go before the Filipino community here has acculturated to the point of wielding social and political influence, even with issues directly affecting them and other minorities.

  3. In our weekly CIP discussions, I had been hearing you talk about “washing dishes” every week, and, as unglamorous as it had been sounding, it seems like you got a lot out of this experience!

    I am really glad we went here and got to experience this place as a class! I remember you saying a few things about the people we interacted with, but did you get particularly close to anyone there?

    What kinds of lunches did you enjoy :D?

    • Yeah, I did! As I mentioned just a little, I was able to meet someone at Bazaar Cafe (an “aunt” figure maybe?) that introduced me to the wider Filipino community in Kyoto. We’ve kept in touch pretty regularly these past three months.

      I think I mentioned this in class, but not in my blog post: We got free food during volunteering! The dishes were usually other volunteers’ personal recipes and were different from the dishes on the menu. I think my favorite that comes to mind right now was Brazilian pizza :D.