Photo by © Grape This cafe prohibits talking, allowing visitors to slip into another world 2020-02-28 Fri 2020-02-28 Fri With the strange rule of “no talking” and an interior that makes you feel like you’ve taken a step back in time, the R-Za Reading Cafe in Koenji is a shop bursting with individuality that sets it apart from other cafes. We talked to the owner of the cafe, Mr. Watanabe, about his reasons for choosing such strict rules and unique interior. Cafe Rule: No Talking Photo: © Grape Co. Just 4 minutes walk down the shopping street outside of Koenji Station’s South exit, the retro-looking entrance of R-Za Reading Cafe beckoned us in. Near the door, at the bottom of the stairs a piece of paper reads: “The R-Za Reading Cafe is a cafe where you can enjoy silence, so we ask you to politely refrain from talking, even in a whisper or small voice when entering the building. Thank you very much.” Photo: © Grape Co. We’ve never heard of a cafe that asks its customers to completely refrain from talking before, and we were intrigued to find out more. When ordering, we were allowed to speak in a whisper, making the whole situation feel as if we were telling a secret story to the staff. As the main feature of the cafe, the silence leaves a curious feeling. A conversation notebook is provided Photo: © Grape Co. Speaking out loud may be prohibited, but that doesn’t mean customers cannot communicate, as we found a “handwriting book” prepared at the table where two people sit. Peering into the notebook, we found previous conversations from past customers. Conversations are completely different when written down in a public notebook than what you would expect from social media on a mobile or computer screen. With some things obviously better left unsaid, or unwritten in this case, looking through the notebook left us feeling like we we're peeping into the lives of others. Photo: © Grape Co. Background of the “no talking” rule “I thought it would be nice to have a quiet space in the city where you can read a book while drinking tea surrounded by trees.” Mr. Watanabe told us that he used to enjoy going to a cottage in the forest to read books during his holidays. He decided to recreate his passion and to share it with others by opening up the refreshing and relaxing space at R-Za Reading Cafe. Although the “no talking” rule is the main trait of the cafe, new visitors to the store aren’t often aware. There are various reactions to the unexpected rules, with some people laughing while others leave the store. Despite some negative reactions, Mr. Watanabe explains his reasoning why he decided to test the rule through trial and error, “I want you to relax your senses and switch off your feelings.” By spending time in the cafe, we glimpsed Mr Watanabe’s love of spending time in a slow and refreshing way. Creating an Otherworldly Store Photo: © Grape Co. Aside from the “no talking” rule, the interior of the shop is another of its most interesting features. Mr. Watanabe, who previously worked as a manager for a mobile store and cafe, said: “Unrealistic space is one of the concepts.” He continued, “I wanted to make the shop as I liked.” The interior of the store, which is described by customers as “looking like a Mr.piece”, is full of individuality, as if it came straight out of Mr. Watanabe’s head. Inside the Cafe Hidden dioramas tucked away inside secret drawers Photo: © Grape Co. Hidden inside one of the drawers at the table, we found a miniature model of a landscape, which Mr. Watanabe made himself. No one seat in the store is the same, with the drawers each having different featured dioramas. An aquarium which fills the room with the pleasant sound of flowing water Photo: © Grape Co. A large aquarium inside the store, is home to seven different aquatic species, and a description of each of the creatures are included at the tables. Mr. Watanabe’s personal collection Photo: © Grape Co. A collection of matches and stamps belonging to Mr. Watanabe are displayed in a glass case near the kitchen. Highlights near the ceiling Photo: © Grape Co. Photo: © Grape Co. Fancy stained glass decorate the windows near the ceiling, adding a western feeling to the peaceful atmosphere. Varying genres of books fill the bookshelves along the wall Photo: © Grape Co. In addition to the collections of animals, stained glass and small models, the shop is filled to the brim with various genres of books. Amongst the shelves, you can find photo books, art books, picture books and short stories. Photo: © Grape Co. Mr. Watanabe has his own favourite book which he recommended to us, Alfie and the Ferryboat by Charles Keeping. The story centers on a small boy called Alfie and a former sailor, uncle Banti who take a ferry boat to the other side of the world. When you visit the store, why not give the story a read? Photo: © Grape Co. Discovery in a small place Photo: © Grape Co. Tucked away behind some books on one of the shelves we made a discovery of a small figure of the famous Taishō era writer, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. One of the many charms of the R-Za Reading Cafe is finding many such unexpected discoveries. Inspiration behind the interior of the store When we asked what was behind Mr. Watanabe’s inspiration of the store interior, he told us, “I like old churches and elementary schools, and I felt inspired by that”. With the creaky floorboards, and the antiques that fill up the old western-style building, we could see what Mr. Watanabe was hinting at. Visitors of all kinds are welcome at the store Mr. Watanabe told us that the store has a wide reception window, so that people of all ages and generations can comfortably enjoy the cafe. “The cafe is open until around 22:00 every day, and so there are many different visitors depending on the time of day. However, the majority of visitors to the store are Junior high school students and seniors.” With the long opening hours, and the relaxing atmosphere, the R-Za Reading Cafe is enjoyed by many people. If you are feeling tired with your everyday life, why not come visit the store along with your favourite book? If you spend a little bit of your free time in another world, you will reap the benefits of relaxation, and tell yourself “I’ll do my best tomorrow!” Name: R-Za Reading Cafe Address: 3-57-6 Koenji Minami, Suginami-ku 03-3312-7941 Weekdays: 13:30 - 22:30 Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays: 12:00 - 22:30 Closed on Mondays and holidays Website By - Connie Sceaphierde. 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