Alejandro Ruizesparaza: Bazaar Cafe

When I first joined the Bazaar Café, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was originally drawn to the idea working in a café for the sake of exposure to part time life in Japan. I wanted to use keigo, see how people interact behind-the-scenes of a restaurant and try something new. Admittedly, the prospect of a free lunch was also a lovely addendum. But when I first walked in to ask for a position, found out that one of the two managers (and my main source of contact) is Brazilian, the staff consists of immigrants from all over, and the café is a hub for discussing social and health issues, I realized the experience was going to be much more interesting than what I pictured.

Bazaar Café is only a couple of minutes away from Doshisha University and open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Each day has a specific regional cuisine dependent on the people cooking that day. I worked on Thursdays, when we would normally prepare Brazilian food. My usual job consisted of washing dishes, helping set lunches on trays and delivering meals to guests. Each Thursday was also a chance to get to know the other workers a bit better and learning how to flow as a group. Early on, I definitely felt like more of a disturbance than anything. But being with the group longer established a sense of unity. Though during work we were focused, at lunch-time we all came together and discussed whatever random topic came up.

My biggest impressions of Bazaar Café, however, actually came from outside of normal working hours. I was invited to help out at a party for some theology students and missionaries interested in the café’s purpose of highlighting social issues. Another time I helped out at a health festival focused on sexual health and STD awareness. Through those experiences I learned that the café had some rather ambitious goals but strove to establish a safe space for those sorts of topics. Through talking to staff I also realized how rare it is to have spaces like that in Japan. But if the home-like café setting and warm atmosphere isn’t convincing, the actions of the workers definitely are.

As my time is coming to an end here in Japan, I find myself sad to soon leave my new friends among the staff. As a final act of warmth, they’ve told me to come in the day before I leave for a Christmas party that will double as a Sayonara party for me. At only a semester, the time at the café was relatively short-lived. But I’m happy to say the experiences and what they had me think about are likely to be long-lasting.

Thank you Bazaar Café!

4 thoughts on “Alejandro Ruizesparaza: Bazaar Cafe

  1. It’s so great to see that you had a great time with your CIP! I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Bazarr Cafe became a place where slightly taboo-ish topics could be discussed without any worries. But do you think they accomplished this because of the diverse staff? Do you think this same result could have been produced if the staff members were all Japanese?

    • I definitely think that the staff diversity contributed to the discussion. By being from out of the country they all had that in common. I think that it’s possible with a fully Japanese staff, but less likely. Just look at how rare it is to hear these talks in daily life, you know?

  2. Woww, Alejandro, this is super cool! I’ll definitely check out Bazaar cafe this Thursday for lunch. I took a class called “Citizen Artist” before and our final project was to create a safe environment for dining hall staff and custodians to talk freely and build a closer connection between student and staff. I was so surprised to see that similar philosophy is also practiced in Japan. However, at the end of our project, we met a problem that the topic moved from talking about concerns to solving the problem of concerns. The desire of calling an action rises up but it is actually out of organizer’s ability and control. Do you think at the stage of act, whether organizers who create the safe space for talking freely should keep supporting the talk since it’s the desire of the participants, or should stop participants’ talk since the topic of calling for action is not safe for protecting the integrity of the “safe free talk environment”?

    • That’s definitely a difficult question to answer! In my own opinion, I highly value free spaces that encourage talking freely. So, with that bias noted, I’ll have to agree more with the former rather than the latter.