Volunteering as Bazaar Cafe was a rewarding experience that allowed me to practice my Japanese, meet people, and get a glimpse of a Japanese working environment. As an attempt to integrate into a corner of Japanese society, it proved to be both fulfilling and challenging.
Bazaar Cafe is a small cafe situated in the back of a house, only a short walk from campus. The visitor passes through the side of the house into the backyard, where the cafe opens out into a garden. Becoming a volunteer was as simple as showing up one day with a friend who had already been volunteering. The work I have been doing during my weekly visits hasn’t been very rigorous, involving, essentially, translating the menu, washing dishes, and putting things in their proper place.
What I would soon find was that the atmosphere of Bazaar Cafe was extremely relaxed and casual. I only arrived at this opportunity after trying and failing to get another, at a non-profit. Whereas applying to a Japanese company had required communications in keigo and a resume in accordance with regulations, Bazaar Cafe has allowed me to experience a very different kind of Japanese-language environment. I quickly found that my use of polite (desu-masu) form was excessively formal. Having absorbed strict rules of politeness and discretion through Japanese language class, I now had to learn how to communicate in this casual environment.
While I am usually working in the back of the cafe, a recent evening of performance art brought me into contact with the customers, as I collected used cups and answered questions about the night’s performances. As most volunteers were not in attendance, it was only me, the owner, and two other employees. At the end of the performances, the organizer took a moment to thank the cafe for releasing the space, and I naturally bowed with the rest of the employees and spoke a few words about how interesting it had been. It was during this evening that I felt most integrated into the Bazaar workplace environment, and like a member of Bazaar Cafe.
I would therefore encourage students to look for a CIP not only based on the type of work, but also the environment. Although the non-profit I had initially applied to aligned more closely with my interests, the loose environment of Bazaar Cafe was ultimately a better fit and more fulfilling, even if washing dishes sounds less than exciting. Applying to the non-profit, while ultimately not successful, was also a highly instructive experience in communicating with potential employers in Japanese, and I would encourage others not to be discouraged by the idea of reaching out for opportunities in Japanese. Overall, Bazaar Cafe has been an unforgettable part of my study abroad experience.