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Open a coffee shop in Japan?

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  • Open a coffee shop in Japan?

    I've had a long-time dream of moving to Japan and carving out a niche for myself there. I'm very much the globetrotter, adventure-seeking, artsy, childlike idealist type, and I have a dream for myself in Japan:

    I envision myself coming and teaching English for some startup capital for a couple years, then opening my own coffee house in Japan. I would want it to be a very cozy place, with comfy sofas, funky paintings, a doodle wall, jazz playing, and books to read. Coffee, tea, beer, and simple food. Not something institutionalized like starbucks at all.
    I would want to have events there, such as multilingual poetry readings, amateur musicians, and indie film screenings. I'm a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy stories, both books and comics, so I could also organize meetings for other people interested in those sorts of things. I'd gladly put up flyers for proactive and progressive community movements and organizations, and want to promote the place as a bastion of true internationalism and creative imagination. If it flew, I feel such an enterprise would be a great way to tap into Japan's funky subculture side and rich modern mythology, which is the part about the country I like best.

    I'm a very frugal person who likes to live simply. I do not drink, gamble, wear name brands, or pay for sex. Saving money has never been hard for me -- I have never been in debt, and have paid for some amazingly expensive things cash upfront. I speak Japanese decently (and English and Mandarin fluently, FWIW), and have some contacts in Japan who could vouch for me and offer me support. I'm a 23 year old white American, who has plenty of experience living and traveling abroad, including in Japan. I have a bachelor's degree from an American university.

    Do you think this dream is worth pursuing? Do you think I could be able to find local people supportive of my place -- neighborly neighbors and a good base of patrons? What would be your recommendations? At the risk of inviting spam, I'll offer my e-mail address to anyone who wants to contact me:

    currently in Taiwan, previously in 9 other countries, into Japan, not sure if he'll ever live in the USA again.

  • #2
    Re: Open a coffee shop in Japan?

    It's nice to have a dream.

    Better learn the reality of life in Japan first before deciding to invest in it.
    In the middle of recessions, this is the type of activity that gets cut first. You will be surprised about how few proactive and progressive community movements and organisations there are.

    But there are some places similar to this, I know of at least 3-4 in Tokyo/ Kanagawa area, but they are not frequented so much by locals. They make little money. Sort of havens for outsiders in the eyes of community.

    Would advise you to come to Japan first, have a look around, see how the businesses and society work, and what they need, how much money you can really save, and how much money you really need, and then decide if you want to pursue such a scheme.


    • #3
      Re: Open a coffee shop in Japan?

      I have seen a show, with a similar topic on japanese TV recently. they were comparing different cafe/bar styles and try to find the reason why some are succesful and others are not.

      very important, as TH already mentioned, a reality check - you can also say some marketing basics: find your target group, look how much they can pay or willing to pay, ... the biggest mistake is to have a (dream) concept, which you try to press into reality. be flexible and keep your eyes open. they showed several bars in the program, which I thought were very cool - but they failed because they simply ignored above facts.

      I think the idea of a cafe is nice !!! good luck


      • #4
        Re: Open a coffee shop in Japan?

        TH: I understand where you're coming from, but I'm not quite so cynical. There are proactive and progressive associations in Tokyo, such as the aptly names TokyoProgressive and the Peace Boat Foundation. There are citizens groups I've read about on webpages. UNICEF and Amnesty and their ilk are represented well in Japan. They'd all have a space for a poster on my corkboard.

        Can you name some of the 3-4 places you've been to? I'd like to pay them a visit first thing I get to Tokyo. I find your assessment of this kind of establishment kind of dismal -- I've seen plenty of mention of bohemian-type districts in big cities in Japan. Just read Tokion magazine or one of its ilk. You can't tell me there's no one in Japan who'd go for a cafe that appealed to the young, nerdy, fantasy and sci-fi reading crowd. You can't tell me there are no struggling musicians and filmmakers who would die for a chace at a gig anywhere. This is a major world city we're talking about, with all types of people. I think advertising and promoting my joint in the right circles would be the key.

        I understand very well that I need to do some marketing research. Thanks to you and Ivan for your pointers on this -- I admit this is a subject I need to read more on. In the meantime, I think a year or two working ESL or another McJob in Japan would give me plenty of time to suss up the scene, conduct some surveys, and ask for some local opinion.

        I promise you a free cup of joe if and when my place opens.



        • #5
          Re: Open a coffee shop in Japan?

          David - there groups in Japan, you can find them in "Japanese - Working for a Better World", but most are either company sponsored, or composed of bored housewives who chat and make resolutions and do nothing. I've been to them!

          Being represented in Japan and doing something ar not the same. GreenPeace have a lovely new office in Shinjuku, and spent all their money and peoples' contributions on it - lots of PCs, nice furniture and cubicles, and all they do is translate what Greenpeace abroad does! All initiatives in Japan have been conducted by overseas GPers. We no longer waste our money on them. AI not much better I am afraid - have also experienced their efforts.

          UNICEF and anyone related to the UN in Japan are riding a gravy train! They do not wish to disturb their status quo, or threaten their expenses and subsidies. The Japanese government loves them as a sign that they care!

          Bohemian districts/ places to go - try Nishi-ogikubo, Kichijoji and Ogikubo, down the Chuo-line; Omotesando, Aoyama and Harajuku; Kanagawa - Kamiooka, Kanazawa Bunko, lots of them about; regret names escape me as we no longer live there. Osaka - Shinsaibashi/ America Mura, Yotsubashisuji, plenty there too.

          The people who write in magazines and on the web are enthusiasts, but often their descriptions do not match the reality of the places they have been to.

          As I mentioned, there are places like you aspire to, but they do not make much money, probably because their clientele also have little money; and due to clannish nature of Japanese society, regular types with more money do not go there, they do not feel comfortable. If you want to do it, go ahead, there will always be some customers, but make sure you have done the maths first.

          Good luck



          • #6
            Re: Open a coffee shop in Japan?

            Write up a business plan and GO FOR IT!!!

            Even if you fail, the learning experience will have been well worth the effort you put into your dream. And then, you'll be a helluva a lot more prepared when you start up your second venture. GO FOR IT!!!