Sylvia Yu: Bazaar Café

Wednesday afternoons look a little like this: I take a brisk stroll from Doshisha, walking along Karasuma before making a turn down an alleyway that eventually leads to Bazaar Café. It’s a modest place—handwritten signs and dog-eared books lined along shelves and all—with a welcoming presence (indoor slippers, greenery of the garden) and an even more welcoming staff. From my first day volunteering here and onwards, I’ve been met with a familial feel; in between washing and drying dishes and silverware, preparing meals, and serving customers, we learn bits about each other’s lives and how we spend our days. I enter Bazaar Café from the back with a lively おはようございます (which is, by the way, not exclusive to the morning!), don my apron and bandana, and slip into the kitchen where everyone is already at work. A fellow volunteer asks me what I learned in school that day as she prepares Buchimgae (Wednesday is also when Korean food is served; cuisine varies by day of the week), the manager peeks through the curtain to announce an order that has just been made and everyone answers with a resounding はい. So the afternoon goes.

Workwise, Bazaar Café isn’t particularly demanding. There are days in which business is far less busy—empty, even—that there is ample time for aimless conversation as we drink tea. To note, the people that constitute the staff of the place are certainly not one type of person; they include a mother studying sociology in a university with a family in Denmark, a girl from Germany taking a gap year to gather her Japanese roots, an elderly man who rehabilitates those with former addiction (“変なおじいさん” he dubs himself, but perhaps 優しい is more apt), to name some. And yet, despite these differences, I don’t feel a significant degree of distance with anyone; every week is, of course, an opportunity to learn subtleties of Japanese culture and vocabulary here and there (said mother studying sociology likes to quiz me as I store cups in the cabinet), but additionally grow closer to those that I work alongside. At Bazaar Café, which places an emphasis as a safe space, there is a great sense of community. We speak without filter nor fear.

That said, Bazaar Café is wonderful place to volunteer if you are seeking a chance to practice Japanese conversational skills while taking part in what feels like family. It’s got a casual atmosphere, makes a great studying spot (so friends have attested), and of course, serves good food (I can attest!). I leave a little after three with an お疲れ様です and wonder what to anticipate the following Wednesday.

6 thoughts on “Sylvia Yu: Bazaar Café

  1. This sneak peek into life at the Bazaar Café is such an endearing story! It’s interesting to read about the different types of people working at the café and I’m sure it’s even more interesting to converse with them as well. With the way you describe the environment, did it ever feel like you were volunteering or did you go to the café with a different mindset?

    • Before choosing to volunteer at Bazaar Café I did read a few of the blog posts of previous KCJS students, so I came in knowing to expect a more lax environment. That said, in addition to the easygoing days in which there wasn’t much to do, there were also days that were extremely busy with less time to chat and I constantly had something in my hands. It’s definitely still a volunteering experience! I think it’s a nice balance between work and play.

  2. Bazaar Cafe seems really intriguing! I have been to a few cafes in Kyoto and it’s interesting that comparing to cafes in US that do not generally serve meals, cafes here in Kyoto generally offer meals and dessert. But sadly not every cafe in Kyoto has wifi, so sometimes it’s hard to study in a cfae.

    • That’s something I noticed too! Students studying in cafés, or rather, staying in a café for extended periods of time seems less commonplace here than in the States; if I’m thinking of studying spots in Kyoto, McDonalds and Saizeriya come to mind but not so much the more hip & trendier alternatives.

      Visit Bazaar Café if you ever get the chance!

  3. Bazaar Cafe sounds like a wonderful place to work! How many of the volunteers are Japanese? And do you speak Japanese with the non-native volunteers?

    • The majority of the workers are Japanese, although here and there, I have met a few foreigners like me. Funnily enough, native or not, I make an effort to speak Japanese to everyone and so do the other foreigner volunteers. Obviously with the Japanese volunteers it’s their native language, but with the foreigner volunteers I think we’re all trying to better our Japanese!