Manga maids need not apply: Japan’s high-end concept cafés come of age
January 23rd, 2012
02:30 PM ET
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You’d like a teenage girl to serve you tea while dressed in a cutesy maid outfit? You got it. You want to dine on a gurney in an Alcatraz ER-themed restaurant or eat burgers surrounded by life-size anime characters? No problem. Just get yourself to Tokyo, the city seemingly teaming with 24-hour cartoon craziness and the embodiment of "wacky Japan."

But away from these Japanese stereotypes, there is a growing scene of altogether more grown-up concept cafés fusing areas to eat and drink with spaces for business meetings and relaxation.

Called “third spaces” (home and office are the other two), these hybrid cafés are aiming to sate the need of a busy, trend-hungry population with a one-stop shop for work and play.

The newest and most eye-catching of these is in a hip neighborhood close to the shopping and nightlife mecca of Shibuya. Called the Daikanyama T-Site, it has three interlinked, two-story buildings that mix up a Starbucks, a convenience store, a book and record shop and chic café into something the architects hope is one seamless experience. Visitors can wander through the aisles of books and vintage records (the catalogue is searchable through iPads) with a coffee in hand before taking a seat in the lounge-cum-restaurant to read or chat.

With a decidedly up-market, relaxed vibe, it has been a hit since it opened, attracting a clientele ranging from young families to creatives having brainstorming meetings. There’s also been a focus on making it attractive to an older generation with the record and bookstore employing older experts with specific knowledge of genres to advice customers.

Japan’s great acceptance for new concepts and trends is one reason for the success of Daikanyama and other “third spaces,” believes Darrell Nelson, a Tokyo-based trend consultant with CScout Japan. But another is the need for a generation that grew up with 24-hour manga and internet cafés to find places to do business.

“They are looking for somewhere more suitable to be able to do business on the move, particularly those in the creative or freelance sectors,” he suggests.

“The way that business is done online today also means that no longer do people have to be tied to an office, which in Tokyo can be prohibitively expensive.”

Aside from adventures in the third dimension, new concept places to eat and drink are emerging all the time in Tokyo, often from unlikely sources. From a company that makes weighing scales and other medical equipment comes a restaurant that is part health food store, part doctor’s clinic.

At Tanita Shokudo customers first visit the glass-walled consultation room next to the food counter and fill out a nutrition questionnaire. A diet from the restaurant is then prescribed along with advice like how long food should be chewed to get the maximum nutrition. Table-top scales also ensure the correct amount of food is eaten.

It might sound nuts to some, but it’s expected to be a hit.

“Japan does well with these concepts because people are open to, and expect, new things, but also because Japan just really loves food and the rituals that surround it,” says Michael Keferl, CEO of CScout Japan.

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Filed under: Bite • Feature • Japan • Japan Eats • Travel


soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Joe meat

    In La Canyada spelling ? years ago there was a tai restaurant called The Poo Ping Palace no kidding...

    January 25, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
  2. mizh

    Gotta love those wacky Japanese.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • SvenKalBayan

      Japanese culture is so unique, exquisite and detailed I think. I love them.

      January 26, 2012 at 6:27 am |
    • Gravy

      Japanese are innovative, interesting, and unpredictable. Gotta love 'em.

      January 30, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Gravy

      Japanese are innovating and interesting people.

      January 30, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  3. victor

    The first sentence of this article just shows what is wrong with Japan...I once knew a cop from Wakiki who used to patrol the ladies of the night – who were mostly Caucasion – and he said they only solicited Japanese business men because they were the best customers. My friends...Japanese culture is very wack...and if you don't believe it read the first paragraph of this article again. Count me out on this one.

    January 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Jake

      Some people, like me, enjoy this "wack" culture. It's actually pretty great and cosplay cafes are like Hooters Japan style; except you won't know what's going on if you don't like manga or anime.

      January 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  4. kauma

    "lounge-come-restaurant?" Please...proofread!

    January 24, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Thread Nazi

      The, um, correct word for that usage gets the rest of us moderated. Hopefully that's why "come" was used instead.

      January 24, 2012 at 11:43 am |
      • kauma

        Oh...got it. Thanks. Perhaps the writer should have used "lounge/restaurant" instead?

        January 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
      • Sweetenedtea

        Yes, but it's *wrong*. It's not a question of finding a more acceptable word - the word used just wasn't the right word and doesn't mean the same thing.

        In any event, the writer also gets "advice" and "advise" mixed up, so I suspect this wasn't a deliberate substitution but an actual error.

        January 24, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
      • postmodern

        It's not wrong; it's Latin. The word means "with."

        January 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Guest

      Id never eat at a come restaurant but Id make a great chef

      January 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • writechic

      Cringe! I'll add that one to my collection of news-worthy typos. Is this site posting a job for a proof reader?

      January 25, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  5. elizabeth

    Daikanyama sounds like it would be a huge hit just about anywhere with a fairly well-educated population with a little disposable income. Can we have one in my city soon?

    January 24, 2012 at 4:38 am |
    • MEOOHMY

      Sounds more like our local Borders – before they went out of business

      January 24, 2012 at 10:23 am |
      • ComesWithTheFall

        Closing of Borders was the most tragic tales to date. I loved that store more than anything. It wasn't uppity B&N and tragically hispter Starbucks. It was contemporary well balanced Borders. Not since MediaPlay's closing have I been so upset.

        January 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
      • Zsa Zsa

        I bought a wig once that came with a fall, Dahling.

        January 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  6. Mike

    A teenage Japanese girl serving me tea in a skimpy maid outfit actually sounds really great.

    January 24, 2012 at 3:45 am |
  7. AinJ

    What is the cafe in the photo?

    January 24, 2012 at 1:54 am |
  8. Fluux

    Looks as exciting as wet cardboard.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • elizabeth

      Sometimes the point is NOT excitement, but instead is relaxation, mellowing out, or just having a place to gather. Consider the size of the Japanese home (tiny) in comparison to the U.S. behemoth, and you might get the idea.

      January 24, 2012 at 4:41 am |
  9. Clive Gordon

    The "Fukushima Fez".

    January 23, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  10. t3chsupport

    At the angle the photo was taken, it looks like that lady is wearing a glowing hat.

    January 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • CN Red

      Haha! Good observation. Glowing lamp shade like hats. I think you are on to something there.

      January 23, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • joe

      She had a bright idea.

      January 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
      • CN Red

        Priceless! Thanks for the great laugh!

        January 24, 2012 at 7:15 am |
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