For my CIP this semester I’ve been working at the Bazaar Café, a mere 5-minute walk from the Doshisha Campus. The cafe’s main goal is internationalism and the food they serve changes depending on the day and who is cooking. I often go on Saturdays where the main dish is Thai. My job mainly consists of working in the back of the restaurant with the rest of the staff, preparing meals for customers as the orders come in, bringing customers their food when it’s ready, making coffee and other beverages, and washing dishes. While not your typical CIP experience, working at the café has taught me many things including what it’s like to work in Japan, the importance of customer service, how to follow directions quickly and efficiently, and perhaps most importantly, understanding the “rhythm” of the kitchen well enough to make it run smoothly. There was no more satisfying feeling than finishing a lunch service where every order has gone from the kitchen to the customer swiftly and without a hitch (although this is often rarely the case).
Having worked in food service before, I started my CIP with the expectation that the experience would be similar to back at home. What I’ve realized is that working in a kitchen in Japan can be seen as a microcosm of the country itself. It’s amazing how from only working in a café once a week for three months I’ve learned most of the stock phrases of the formal language that anyone working a part-time job in Japan must use. I’ve learned how to cook some traditional Japanese as well as Thai dishes (all of which we volunteers get for free. Definitely a perk!). I’ve learned that especially when it comes to food, aesthetics as just as important as the taste itself.
The people who work at Bazaar Café have so much pride in what they’re doing, and that feeling is contagious. Food and drink are truly cross-cultural. And by the end of a service, no matter what language we speak (English, Brazilian, Thai, Japanese) after all the stress and group work, mix ups in the kitchen and good food, we all seem to understand each other that much more for having gotten through it together.
What a great post! I’ve loved seeing how Japanese cuisine often values aesthetics and value, like you said. What kind of food service did you work in before? I’m sure language was a barrier, but did you find yourself connecting more intimately with your co-workers as a result?
The summer before last I worked in a Dairy Queen, which was a very different experience from Bazaar Cafe. In fast food it’s all about speed, and it doesn’t really matter how messy everything looks. In the Bazaar Cafe, they spent a painstaking amount of time making sure that the food and the way it was presented was as near perfect as possible. At first, I was frustrated that my coworkers would just let the orders pile up as they spent what seemed like a waste of time on just one order. But after I stopped to take a deep breath and realized how each customer was more important than the speed in which their food was delivered, my time there became much less stressful. It was in these moments that I was able to create meaningful relationships and practice my Japanese with the customers.
Wow, you should have talk about that in the Postwar class, that would be a great topic. But anyway, it’s a great article and I wish I can also have the same experience and learn something about the formal language they use.