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.