Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Subterranean Coffee Shop on a Hot Day

On a brutally hot day last week, when I found myself on the Marunouchi Line en route to Shinjuku with a few hours to kill before an evening appointment, what I wanted more than anything was to stay out of the heat.  Normally, I don't like being cut off from daylight in the daytime, but on this day, daylight was connected with the concept of being outside, and being outside meant suffering in high humidity heat - heat that killed some and caused heat stroke in many others.  So as the train approached Shinjuku, I thought "How can I most speedily get to an inexpensive air-conditioned coffee shop in Shinjuku without going outside...." and the best option appeared to be to find one underground.  I was already on the subway, so I just needed to stay underground.
Exiting the Marunouchi Line, I went over to an underground mall that I've briefly gone into from time to time over the past three decades, but never wanted to spend much time in, as I've always preferred to be outside.  But not this day!  Never had the thought of being deep underground (it's two levels down) felt so good!  First I found an inexpensive coffee shop and bought an ice coffee there for Y200.  I sat at a counter facing the window, and watched people walking by in the subterranean passageway (tunnel really).  I had some work-related text to work on, so I pulled that out and got a little work done while fighting off sleep (I'd only slept for two hours the night before).  I was there for about 45 minutes, but it was very crowded and noisy there, so I decided to get out of that space and do something else.

Leaving the coffee shop, I did a leisurely stroll through the rest of the dual-tunnel area (with shops on both sides).  I noticed there were more restaurants down there than I had realized, but they all seemed to have nothing cheaper than about Y1,200, which was slightly more than I wanted to spend.  I also wasn't overly enthusiastic with how they looked inside... but then I came across a classy looking coffee shop, and they had a good-looking pasta dish in the display window for Y800 and the atmosphere inside looked really nice.

So, in I went, and it really was a nice, relaxed atmosphere, with comfortably chilled air (perfect after rolling my sleeves back down).  The pasta dish was good (eaten while a beautiful young woman sitting at the next table ate some kind of snack she had brought in while she slowly drank the ice coffee she had ordered and worked on her schedule (going back and forth between a thick schedule book and her smartphone).  After the pasta, I ordered a slice of cheesecake, which was kind of disappointing.  it had plastic wrapping on the side (indicating it was delivered to the store that way after being made elsewhere) and it was overly sweet.  Also they never refilled my water glass.  (It occurred to me that they may have been miffed by my not having ordered a drink?)

One other comment about the shop.  Nearly all the other customers were women, including a pair who initially sat to my left (the snack-eating woman was on my right), who were doing an interesting trick I've observed several Chinese people doing over the last couple of years.  It goes like this.  A Chinese person is talking to someone (in person, or on the phone) in Chinese and as you come near and begin to think "Ah... that's not a local - that's a Chinese visitor..." they say some things in (properly pronounced) Japanese and you (the first time it happens anyway) think "Oh!  I guess I misheard them!  They're Japanese after all!".  But if you stay in the vicinity, they eventually go back - at a slightly lower volume - to Chinese and by tuning into the slightly disturbed radio waves in the air you begin to get a clear picture of what's happening and why.  It's quite clever really - and works amazingly well, unless the people nearby are being more perceptive and tuning in more carefully than most people do.

Oops... sidetracked by the stealth Chinese women!  Back to what I wanted to say about the shop having mostly women customers.  Sitting there quietly, hand-writing some things, and looking around a little from time-to-time, I could feel a kind of nearly-all female atmosphere, and by the time I left, I was beginning to feel like I didn't belong in the space.  Not strongly so, but I did imagine/think/sense that the women around me would be more comfortable with the male at my table (me) not there (particularly when the two Chinese women left and a pair of local women sat down in their place who appeared to be in female-only mode).  It was a nice and interesting experience, but probably wouldn't be if I went there too often.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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