Tracy Le: Bazaar Cafe

Volunteering at Bazaar Cafe has been one of my favorite things to do here in Kyoto. Every Friday I go to the cafe and help out in the kitchen or as a waitress.

It has truly been an eye-opening experience for me in many ways. For the precise reason that most of the staff at the cafe are volunteers and they come from different countries in the world that Bazaar Cafe is a strange and refreshing experience. On one hand, the working environment is very Japanese – the manager is Japanese, the customers are Japanese – you have to be polite, efficient and attentive; but on the other hand, everyone in the kitchen is speaking a mixture of Japanese and English and other languages and offering unique cultural tidbits at every turn of conversation. The staff have been some of the warmest people I’ve met in Japan. It’s fascinating to hear them speak about why in Japan, or what they think of Japan; their experiences, from common or bizarre, give a glimpse into the Japan from the perspectives of minority peoples, and lets us see the lives of people we would usually not encounter everyday. That, underneath the idea of homogeneity so heralded of Japan’s society, there are many unique lives quietly transforming social boundaries and ideas.

Even on the customer’s side, many are Doshisha’s students and professors and/or regulars and friends of the manager. They, too, have been engaging and interesting people. Some have come talked to me out of genuine interest in foreign students and workers in Japan. It’s a comforting experience.

All in all, I’ve had an amazing time at the quaint little cafe by Doshisha. I try and go there at least once a week, twice if I have time, and I really recommend it as the food’s great and it has a good ambiance for studying or chatting.

5 thoughts on “Tracy Le: Bazaar Cafe

  1. Wow, this seems like a really interesting way to get a lot of exposure to a hidden part of Japanese culture foreign student don’t really get to see, and it seems like you’re having an awesome experience.

    At least at Brandeis, a huge part of college culture consists of going to the cafe, getting a coffee, schmoozing, and maybe homework if you’re lucky. Although I’m curious, do you find that the cafe culture here, even when mixed with all the intercultural dialogue, is at all similar to the cafes and coffee shops by US colleges?

    • I don’t think it’s as common here to go to a cafe to do work as a student. Most customers come in to meet with someone and talk over drinks. I don’t know if that’s just this cafe or cafes in Japan in general actually. But it’s really fun.

  2. Tracey, great blog! Being able to work at the restaurant seems like a very unique experience. Did you have to speak keigo with the customers?

    • Coffee shop phrases like お待たせしました、ごゆっくりどうぞ, haha.

  3. Sounds like an awesome chance to have a Japanese experience with a more global twist–what kinds of people and stories did you encounter? Did you meet anyone that particularly sticks in your memory?