While searching for a CIP, I was recommended Bazaar Café by an alumna. It seemed to tick all the boxes: people-focused, near to campus, and intentionally inclusive. Actually volunteering there proved all those things true. My volunteer time comes after the lunch rush, so I’ve seen a whopping six orders leave the kitchen during my time at Bazaar Café. This is not, in fact, a bad thing: I have more time to talk to and get to know my co-volunteers. On my first day, everyone introduced themselves to me with varying levels of additional info about where they’re from, their relationship with the café, and so on. I was wringing my hands over remembering all the names and not forgetting keigo, but I’ve found that it’s no problem.
Maybe it sounds a bit strange to say some of my best memories so far involve me halfway to my elbows in dishwater. Maybe it’s even stranger if I say that washing dishes was part of the fun. But it’s the truth! The conversations I’ve had over the sink at Bazaar have ranged from heartbreaking to uplifting to hilarious. Through my fellow volunteers I have learned about the state of queer persons in Japan and the infrastructure for mental healthcare. One of my co-volunteers feels that Japanese media tends to “other” queer persons quite brazenly. I’m certain that mindset is common in the States, too, but according to that person, the opinion that sexual and gender minorities are fundamentally different from the rest of society is normal even among younger people. For persons with mental illnesses or disabilities, support varies. There is a solid effort being made to integrate the disabled into society by finding them meaningful work opportunities. However, social stigma around mental health issues like depression as well as addictions is still far too high. While learning about these sorts of differences can be somewhat disheartening, such insights into Japanese society are valuable in better understanding the country I am in and whether I would choose to live here long-term.
Aside from the big stuff, there were plenty of smaller day-to-day things I learned to. Regarding politeness, for example, on my second day, I was struggling to speak in keigo when someone told me just to chill out. That is not to say that speech registers are not important — there’s a time and a place for keigo, but it’s not to people you work alongside every week and come to regard as friends. Of course, I’ll still use polite form with certain stock phrases, but for the most part I am learning to match the speech register of my partner (no thanks to my textbook!). For cultivating personal relationships, going with the flow will take you a long way.
Bazaar Café is always one of the highlights of my week, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go there for my CIP. Whether or not it’s my official CIP next semester, you can bet I’ll be there often!
Sounds like it was a worthwhile experience! And Christine Leeさん would be proud of you for sure, seeing that you are carrying on the Swat legacy at Bazaar Cafe! Although you weren’t doing much of the prepping and mostly the dishes, I still think that your experience speaking with your co-workers and seeing just how important a place like Bazaar Cafe is for social minorities is nothing less than valuable. Glad to see that you had fun, and I hope that you continue to visit the cafe next semester, even if you don’t work there! よく出来ました！
Thanks, Adam! I wonder if Christine will read this… I mentioned her to some other volunteers and they would say, “We miss Lee-chan!” She definitely seems to have made an impression on them. I hope I did, too!
Glad to see that you had a great time at the Bazaar Café! Just like you, I also spent most of my time washing dishes in the Bazaar Café and had some great conversations there. I met not only Japanese but also Thai and Koreans there, and it was great fun to talk with them about their own experiences, or just to talk about food in our own countries. I also enjoyed the staff lunch (for free!) when the customers’ lunch time was over-it made me feel like I was really part of the Cafe. Did you participate in any activities held by the Cafe? I remember that there was a barbecue party or something held there during a weekend, but unluckily I was not able to go. I believe there will also be similar activities in the future, so whether or not you still choose Bazaar Café as your CIP next semester, make sure you visit there from time to time and have fun!
Ooh, that free staff lunch was always a treat, wasn’t it? Conversations over Thursday Thai food were really good for bonding with the Bazaar community. Unfortunately, I didn’t participate in any events either. However, there is a year-end party of sorts coming up. Hopefully I’ll make it!
Even if you didn’t spend a lot of time with those overwhelming 6 customers, it sounds like you had really meaningful conversations with your co-workers! Do you think it is difficult to have these types of conversations outside of spaces like Bazaar Cafe, or to put it differently, would you hear the same questions about mental health, acceptance of queer persons, etc. asked to other university students or Japanese friends? Honestly, I have been surprised by the openness/willingness of my Japanese friends to discuss a wide variety of “taboo” or highly-stigmatized topics, with many conversations happening when I had just met them (in a school setting). But after all of these conversations, my friends tell me that these discussions rarely happen and they are not sure why no one normally brings up these topics (since they believe it would be helpful to do so and are willing to talk about it). This is frustrating to hear since (obviously) no social change happens without discussion!
I think what I’m trying to say is that although the current state of minorities in Japan does seem disheartening on many fronts, I am hopeful that conversations such as the ones you have at Bazaar Cafe are taking place everywhere and help to slowly expand people’s perspectives.
That’s a great question, Gita. I’d agree with you on that point — these sorts of discussions aren’t often carried out in public. Similar to “safe space” public forums at my home institution, Bazaar strives to foster an inclusive environment that survives because of (not despite!) being outside the mainstream. The intentional inclusion of people with minority identities empowers them to claim them and acknowledge the role it plays in their lives. As a result, conversations about those identities are welcome at the Cafe and help us better understand ourselves and each other. This sounds a lot like an advertisement, but I just have a bad habit of speaking in platitudes. In essence, I think cultivating a space for open dialogue will lead to it, regardless of cultural heritage or locale. But outside of such spaces, these kinds of conversations are often unwelcome or make people uncomfortable; the Japanese friends I’ve made so far haven’t talked much about social minorities at all. I wonder if Doshisha or other universities try to create welcome environments for discussion about such things…