No, I don’t mean you should ask yourself whether or not it is technically possible for you to work in Japan (after jumping through a series of hoops of various sizes and filling in an array of forms), but rather I mean that you should stop and ask yourself, ‘is Japan right for me?’.
If you decided to walk down the long winding path towards employment in Japan, make no mistake there will be many obstacles and challenges along the way. It will not be an easy path, and to keep ones ‘eye on the prize’ may test your resolve on more than one occasion. Therefore supposing upon running this gauntlet and then after reaching your destination you find that the reality is not what you expected, well (apart from wasting vast amounts of time and money) the disappointment would be immense.
So before we go ahead let’s take a few minutes out to step back and say
What do avocados, rabbits, and British Rock all have in common? Well, not that much actually, unless you want to take into account the morbid fact that Percin, a fungicidal toxin found in avocados, is in fact deadly poisonous to rabbits, or the fact that Led Zeppelin have a rare live LP from 1969 called ‘Dancing Avocado’.
But who cares? The fact is that USAGI, located halfway between Shibuya and Omotesandō just off Aoyama-Dori, binds these three things together and somehow makes it seem like the most natural thing in the world. Make no mistakes, this place is as about as quirky as they come and that is exactly what I love about it. It even has its own theme song.
Turn off the main road and find its Ivy covered façade, littered with mismatched pots and an assortment of rabbit statues, then walk through it’s the doors and you will find yourself in a parallel, albeit cozy and homely, dimension where British rock and memorabilia from yesteryear blends seamlessly into a love of rabbits and avocado accompanied food.
Head out from Harajuku station, battle past the crowds, crepes and touts on Takeshita Street, ignore the multitude of designer and fast fashion chain stores clinging to Meiji Dori and head straight for the backstreets of Harajuku – ‘Ura-Harajuku’. The real beating heart of this area, here you will find a plethora of small independent boutiques and generally quirky stores sprouting from every side of maize like back streets. Whilst not completely unknown to tourists, the local crowd you will find here are somewhat different to that of the more popular (and busier) spots in Harajuku. It feels more real.
In the middle of all this, down a side alley and on the corner of a quiet street you will find ‘Hola’, an Okinawan themed taco café – not a bunch of words you often find together in the same sentence, but all the better for it.
If there was ever a god, treacle sponge puddings are surely proof that he in fact exists , and at the same time seems to have a penchant for home baking – for how else could such a delight to the tongue have made its way into the world? The treacle sponge pudding has no qualms about being a simple desert, essentially just a ball of sponge wallowing in syrup. Juxtaposed against the French dacquoise or the mille feuilles, art forms in themselves requiring patience and skill, the sponge pudding epitomizes that very British way of ‘lumping’ separate things together and hoping for the best. Which (as with battered deep-fried mars bars, One Direction and The UK Independence party) can sometimes can go horribly wrong, but at other times (as with Fish and Chips,The Beatles and Monty Python) hits the nail straight on the head.
Welcome to our new corner, a place to wind down and forget all about trains, technology and the toils of a hectic week as I take you to a small corner of Japan, for some coffee, and maybe even a bite to eat.
To me the greatest Cafés can almost be living works of art. The smells, whether it be from the ageing pine of the floorboards, the unmistakable scent of well-aged tatami mats, the aromas of the food piling out of the kitchen and of course, freshly brewed coffee. These buildings, sometimes decrepit and sometimes as if almost frozen in time, spill with character, warmth and history. This is where I like to sit and watch the world go by, and these are the places around Japan that I want to introduce to you too.
So let us begin with the first, ‘Kayaba Coffee’ in Yanaka, Tokyo.
First things first, if you have never been to Yanaka just get off the train and go exploring. It is one of those rare gems in a city like Tokyo, an area steeped in history and endowed with countless historic temples; it never seems to garner the same kind of attention like the ‘old-Japan’ seeking tourist hot spot that is Asakusa. But this is what makes it great. Yanaka is Edo. You don’t even need a map, just take a walk down any side street and you are bound to come across a temple with some kind of historic importance. And one of the best things, there are no tourists in floppy hats and knee high sock/sandal combinations with camera lenses protruding from their chests like a scene from Alien. Well, maybe only the occasional few.
Basically, Yanaka is that wonderful of a topic that it deserves a post all of its own, for another time.
Within the midst of all that history stands the Café, “Kayaba Coffee”.
I can always recall one of my earliest childhood memories of my “awakening” to Japan as a “modern country”, and not just as a land of the rising sun full of ninjas and samurai (TV can be a convincing media).
I was born and raised in the small town of Wednesbury in the UK. A village for most of its existence, when the Industrial revolution picked nearby Birmingham up and propelled it to Industrial “workshop of the world” Wednesbury was swept along in the pandemonium. Soon the banks of canals filled with barges laden fresh with coal for Birmingham’s roaring industries; brimmed to the edge with factories, workshops and steel mills – the modern age had arrived for this small town.
But history was not to be kind to Wednesbury. As fast as Industry had giveth life to the town it took it away. Post-war, as in other areas, British industrial output crumbled under the weight of cheaper foreign imports and factory closures, mass unemployment and mass unenjoyment soon followed. However as soon as the 90s began where once stood steel mills now stood shops, as the old abandoned land which once rang day and night to the sound hammers pounding steel now thronged with the crowds of Middle-England – row upon row of cars filled to impossibility with flat pack furniture and kitchen fittings crawling along the asphalt.
But that’s a story for another time, so let’s return to that 12 year old wide-eyed Wednesbury child – the most exotic thing in his life being an Indian curry. I clearly remember my father telling me about how his friend has been to Japan only to return flabbergasted, astounded by its neon metropolis and futurisms.
“Everything they have is at least 10 years advanced of anything we have over here”
That was it. That was all I needed. Japan from that point on cemented itself into my mind as certain kind of futuristic utopia. Everyday chores need not trouble, as your trusty robot would carry out those tasks. The flow of information is electronically controlled as everyday devices and appliances speak with each other to optimise your daily routines for maximised – Japanese style – efficiency. The age of men was over.
When I first met Japan, it was love at first sight. We would spend all day, every day, together. Each day spent with her produced a plethora of experiences – new, and exciting. I looked into Japan’s eyes and I saw the world in a new and exciting light, bursting with possibilities, and 24/7 convenience stores. Together we would try new foods, explore new places, concepts, ideas. Days turned into weeks turned into months, but for me and Japan time seemed to stand still, as gazing into each other’s eyes the hustle and bustle of life passed around us.
I loved Japan and Japan seemed to love me. I would leave my home to be with Japan, throwing everything away I knew to devote my life to her.