Every Thursday afternoon I volunteer at Bazaar Cafe, a small local restaurant that’s barely a 5 minute walk away from Doshisha. From reading past students’ blog posts and the restaurant’s website, I figured this would be a good choice for a CIP since I have a lot of interest in community work and the restaurant’s goal is something that really speaks to me. The restaurant’s mission is essentially to provide a place for anyone and everyone to enjoy, regardless of age, nationality, sexuality etc. Not only that, but they also provide work opportunities for people who may otherwise have difficulty finding jobs due to a number of societal restrictions.
As a volunteer, I help wash dishes, prepare meals, and other kitchen related tasks that need to be taken care of. I would say that most weeks I go in knowing what’s expected of me and am able to carry out most tasks with ease. But every once in a while, people use the cafe as a spot to hold various kinds of meetings. What I think is really amazing about this is that the owners are incredibly open and encouraging of us learning more about their community, so often times they’ll invite me to sit in on some of the meetings that are happening. The first time this happened, there was a small group of former drug addicts who were working to help clean up and rework the garden in front of the cafe and I was able to listen to a little bit of their planning.
Going into this CIP, I thought I knew what to expect—I figured most of my coworkers would be kind and interesting, but at the end of the day, it’s a job and there’s an aspect of diligence involved. To some degree, I even expected to experience what I would have thought was typical Japanese “work culture.” But from the day that I inquired about volunteering until now, I’ve found that everyone is treated like family—the kindness and geniality that was shown to me from the beginning took me aback, but I am grateful to spend time with a community like this. I definitely wasn’t expecting to get to be a part of such an open-minded group of people during my time here in Japan, and that is in part due to my own misconceptions of Japanese society. Of course there are kind and accepting individuals in Japan, but I didn’t think I would discover a whole community this quickly.
For anyone who looking for something casual, but incredibly worthwhile, I would suggest volunteering here! You get to interact with such a wide range of individuals, there’s a lot of opportunity for conversation practice, and you get to eat good food.
This seems like a really good opportunity to interact with all different types of people – each with unique experiences to share! I imagine hearing some of the stories from former drug addicts might be depressing. Did you feel well-equipped enough with your language ability to be able to have conversations about such difficult subjects?
For the most part, I never had any major language issues–whenever something came up that I didn’t understand, I would ask for clarification. And often times, people that I was talking to would anticipate certain words that I probably wouldn’t understand, and would go out of their way to explain in simple terms.
It seems like you really found a community of people you enjoy spending time with and generally support. That’s amazing! I’m curious about the setup of the cafe. Is everyone a volunteer outside the owners? Or do volunteers handle more basic tasks? You mentioned the cafe attracts people from all walks of life, so is there an interesting element of internationality to the work, and if so, does everyone communicate in Japanese? I should stop by some time, I’d love to see how such a loving community operates!
It’s a mix of volunteers and workers, and at least when I’m there, the work that we do is pretty evenly shared. We all communicate in Japanese, but of the people from different countries that I’ve met, they often tell us about their home countries and share bits and pieces of their culture which is always really interesting.
I’m so happy that it turned out to be a worthwhile experience! I think it’s really cool that the cafe kind of acts as a safe space, but in such a casual, friendly way! Did you find the crowd especially more diverse than other places in Japan?
I would say that it was pretty diverse! Not just ethnicity/nationality-wise, but diverse in the sense that everyone has their own reason for being there and probably have had very different life experiences.