When I think of “coffee shops”, the first thing that often comes to mind is a certain chain store that is everywhere in the world and serves frappucinos. The next thing that comes to mind is the sheer number of those and other cafes right here in Kyoto.
Did you know that as of right now, Kyoto has the largest number of Starbucks in Japan, and that’s including Tokyo? How unbelievable is that? To add to that, Kyoto is well-known for its’ incredible amount of little cafes littered throughout the city. You can’t go more than a block without finding at least one little hole-in-the-wall brick building with a sign for coffee outside it.
There are multiple kinds of cafes available, from your standard morning coffee joints to quiet book cafes to ones that change into a bar as soon as happy hour hits. The nice part of this is that if you’re in town long enough, you can start settling into a routine as to where you like to go, and on which days.
Cue “itsumo arigatou”.
This translates to, “As always, thank you”, and it’s not something that a visitor or tourist often hears unless they frequent a place every day of their trip OR visit the same place on multiple separate trips. This is a phrase reserved for people who the staff recognize, and will even start to develop a relationship with if you come often enough.
When you’re a foreigner living in this country, it can be annoying to walk into convenience stores and have the staff panic upon spotting your not-Japanese face. Having someone attempt to communicate with you in awkward, broken English because they (understandably) assume you don’t speak the lingo can create strange feelings all around, especially if you know enough Japanese to get through the usual transactions at the counter already.
So the first time I was offered an “itsumo arigatou” at a cafe in Kyoto, I felt like a new door had opened for me.
There is a cafe not too far from Teramachi street in Kyoto that I enjoy going to because, while the atmosphere is lovely and the coffee is good, what I like the most is how the staff recognizes me… and I them, to an extent. Ask me their names and I sadly draw a blank, but I can point out the owner, the guy who’s always there, the girl who is sometimes there, etc. And every time I walk in the door, the owner looks up, greets me, and will ask, “Is it just you or are your friends coming?”
And regardless of how I answer, she’ll offer me the biggest table available–whether it has seating for three people or six–and invite me to take my time. Then, once I’ve ordered and eaten, she’ll thank me with an “itsumo arigatou”.
In a country known for its “floating world” and especially a city known for how many tourists come and go, having a quiet place to come in and be recognized is especially wonderful.
Actually, I think I’m going to go there today.
Expats, where do you feel most welcome?