Catherine Alexander: Bazaar Café

For my CIP I chose to volunteer at the Bazaar Café. Bazaar Café, in the way it functions, the Bazaar Café is much like any other café; however, it does have a few special traits that set it apart. One thing about the Bazaar Café that differs from the average café in that many of the workers there are volunteers. In addition to this, the café also actively participates in the Kyoto community to spread acceptance and has a policy of openness toward all races, nationalities, and religions.

Through my experience at the Bazaar Café, I feel I learned a lot about group work and work relationships in Japanese culture. In the kitchen, there are few set roles, and teamwork flows almost naturally. Everyone is attentive to the simultaneous tasks around them, so they know when and where to step in and help without being asked. Not having to ask for help prevents the feeling of placing a burden on others, which is something that seems to be avoided in Japanese culture. Also, whenever someone fills in a helping role, for instance, drying dishes, the one they are helping will almost always reply to this action with the set phrase “onegaishimasu” or “arigatou gozaimasu”. These set phrases serve as simple but meaningful ways to express thanks as well as smooth and efficient transitions into group tasks. On top of this, these phrases are used without connection to age or rank, therefore they also simplify complexities of hierarchy and honorifics in the Japanese language and make teamwork easier. Overall, through my experience as a volunteer, I feel like I was able to see how aspects of Japanese culture carried over into a work group environment in the Bazaar Café Kitchen.

In regards to entering a new community like Bazaar Café, one important thing I would stress is observing and learning from those around you. There are things you are expected to do or know that you won’t be told directly, as they are already obvious to the members of the culture or community. Being able to adapt is a huge part of your CIP.

4 thoughts on “Catherine Alexander: Bazaar Café

  1. Hi Caite, your experience sounds so cool! Whereas my CIP was really divided by age group, I find it really interesting that you didn`t have to observe rules of hierarchy and all the issues that come along with that. I was curious to ask, did you work outside of the kitchen as well? If so were there any particular reactions you received from Japanese customers as a foreigner working in a café?

    • Thanks for the comment Guy! I didn’t take orders or anything, but I did deliver food and clear tables. Sometimes customers expressed surprise at being served by a foreigner or by my Japanese, but they never directly asked me questions or anything. There were a couple times when I heard whispers of “gaikokujin” when I turned back to the kitchen, but that’s about it.

  2. Hey Caite, great blog entry! It does seem like you and Alejandro had a good time volunteering at Bazaar Cafe. 🙂 I remember you mentioning there were a couple of parties/social gatherings as well, do you think those helped you adapt to the community at all?

    • Hey Grace, thanks for commenting!
      There were a few Charity events and such that Bazaar Cafe participated in. I attended an International Health Festival that Bazaar Cafe catered at one of the ward offices in Kyoto. Just being asked to attend made me feel like a part of the cafe’s community, but actually participating helped me get to know more about the other workers and volunteers as people. So yes, they definitely helped me adapt!