From reading to conversation —you can enjoy everything here, with coffee!

Have you ever heard of “KAFFEEHAUS”, located next to Nogawa Park (about a 10-minute walk from TUFS)? We are starting a new series which features nice restaurants near TUFS. For the first article in the series, TUFS Today interviewed Ms. Birgit Zorb Serizawa, the owner of KAFFEEHAUS, about the warm atmosphere of the café. Ms. Birgit opened “KAFFEEHAUS” in June 2020, a place where people can borrow books for free and enjoy conversation with each other. How did she deal with the Coronavirus and what has become of her place? We asked her about her points in creating this nice space.

Interviewer
  • Sawa Yamaguchi, 2nd year Polish student, Faculty of Language and Culture.
  • Nodoka Nakaya, 4th year Portuguese student/ Latin American Region, Faculty of School of International and Area Studies.
    (These are the student interviewers from the Public Relations Management Office)

——Hello. I have been looking forward to today’s interview very much. I read your interview in the Japan Times in 2012, and according to the article, you had been organizing a volunteer book-lending community service at the Momijigaoka Cultural Center in Fuchu City since 2006, and now you are lending books at your café.  There was no mention of this café in the article, so when did the café open?

Thank you for finding this café. I’ve been involved with books for a long time, and I’ve been running a lending library as a community service project called “Book Ideas” for 15 years. At the cultural center we could not store our books, thus, we looked for a ‘permanent’ home for our library, so I decided on this space here. The concept of the café came from the “Book Ideas”. I opened the café in June last year. I thought that serving coffee and cookies is nicer than only lending books, because people can enjoy conversation, so I decided to start a café as well. We were actually supposed to open in May, but it got delayed a bit due to the Corona situation.

——So, you opened café under the Coronavirus… How have you been doing business so far?

It is really difficult, because I am still learning to run a cafe, and it is difficult because one always worries about our visitors’ health. Even though I’m not doing it as a business only, there are still difficulties……Although most of the customers are Japanese, most of them switch to English when I greet them with “good afternoon” in English. I was surprised! Sometimes, other kind customers would help us by translating. I can understand easy Japanese, thus, the language barrier is not so hard. However, it is still difficult to remember the faces of people, because everybody is wearing masks. There was a time when I said, “Nice to meet you,” he replied, “I’ve been here before!” And today, it took me a while to realize that you had been here before……

——I see, when people wear masks, it creates some barrier in communication. I think the interior of the café is wonderful, what is the concept of the café?

First of all, we made it barrier-free. We installed a ramp and made the restroom wider so that people with wheelchairs can easily visit here. I think my experience as a teacher of children with disabilities helped me in designing this space. There are no pillars on the first floor, instead there is a heating/cooling system that works as a room divider at the same time. The cacti in the garden are completely my husband’s hobby (laughs).

——How nice! You have a lot of wonderful ideas. I’m especially attracted to the books on the walls. How many books do you currently have in the café? How did the number of books increase?

First of all, there are books that I have been collecting all over the world, for example Zimbabwe and……There are also books that have been donated to us. My daughter grew up reading most of these books here. Some of the books were bought at used book sales for as little as 100 yen held at various international schools and charity bazaars at churches.  Some of the books here are ‘very well used’, and are also rare. Also, even if people don’t know each other, they can start a conversation over a book, which is something I really wanted. In other words, each book has its own story.

——There are books in various languages other than English, and it seems that students of TUFS can enjoy studying here. If people want to borrow books, how we do it? Please briefly tell me the procedure.

There is a handmade library card in a pocket attached to the inside cover of the book. The first time you borrow a book, you have to register your name and other details, but the next time you borrow a book, you just write your name and the date you borrowed it on the card. If you would like, I will add you to the mailing list to inform you about our events and business days. You can borrow as many books as you want, as long as books don’t break your bag (laughing). Please come and return them within a month. When you return the books, you are welcome to put them in the blue box outside the entrance door, you don’t need to ask me or come into the café.

——Thank you very much. You have events at the café. What kind of things have you held?

There’s a music event this Sunday (*November 28, 2021). Previously, I’ve held pottery and paper crafting events for adults and children. Events for children are popular, especially reading picture books is such a rare treat. The events are held in English with Japanese translation, as necessary, and we get a mix of Japanese people and international families.  I have also had events with speakers on particular themes. One time, the theme was Zen. Some time ago, I held an event titled “Let’s talk about Christmas,” pointing out that culture differs depending on the country and region, whether it’s Christmas in America, Japan, Russia, or Germany. What the speaker wants to talk about and what the audience wants to hear does not always match. At Discussion Circle, an event held once a month, we talk about various topics such as Death, Global Warming, etc. for which I prepare notes and send them out to participants before the meeting. Time for holding events is limited, and it can be a challenge to organize. Under the corona situation, we also need to take care of social distancing, but I love organizing events.

——I see, it’s difficult to keep balance between the work of preparation, the interest of the speakers, and the satisfaction of the people who come on that day.

Speaking of balance, it is also difficult to balance the atmosphere of the café. I want people to be able to spend their time here as they like, but it’s a challenge sometimes. For example, there are those who want to chat and those who want to study quietly. There is a mother who wants to let her baby play without worrying about the kid’s crying, and there may be those who do not like the sound of crying babies. It is inevitably difficult for these people to be comfortable in the same space. One time, a group of students were studying quietly when people came in and started a loud conversation. Then the students quickly put on their earphones. It made me feel a little uneasy…… The comfort of all people is hard to manage at times, and the right answer changes from time to time.

——Some people, like me, can concentrate on studying better when someone is talking, so I’m sure you’ll be fine (laughs)! Now, I’m sure that some people who want to come to the store and not very good at English. Do you have any last message for the people who would like to come to your store?

You don’t have to speak English, you can order by pointing at the menu, and you don’t have to talk with me! You can read your own books or the books here, play the board games in the café, or talk with other people in Japanese or English or both, sometimes in yet another language depending on who happens to be present. I try to create a comfortable space, and I hope you will meet new people and communities here.

Afterword
Can you imagine the warm atmosphere of “KAFFEEHAUS” and Ms. Birgit?
I think most students go home directly from Tama Station, but if you go for a walk in Nogawa Park, please stop by. There are many attractions to “KAFFEEHAUS” that I could not introduce here, such as the cactus in the garden and the terrace seats. After the interview, I was talking with another customer. We ended up exchanging our contact information and becoming friends, because we share the same academic interests. This café gives people many things.
Interviewer: Nodoka Nakaya (4th year Portuguese student/ Latin American Region, Faculty of School of International and Area Studies)

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