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Guess Where I'm Going, Again

For those readers who aren't already aware, tomorrow I'm flying back to Japan. This past spring I applied for and was awarded the Robert C Bates Fellowship for Summer Research from Yale, and I'll be using the next six weeks to conduct anthropological research for my senior thesis in East Asian Studies.

Explaining that I'm conducting research is the simple part. The more difficult part is my attempt to explain exactly what I'm researching. The short answer is that I'm going to be studying independent coffee shops and the role they play as a "third space" in the lives of their customers. Do people use them as social escapes? Or social spaces? Do people prefer to come in groups, or by themselves?How are coffee shops different than other "third spaces"? More specifically, I want to see if men view and use coffee shops differently than women do. (And given the rather distinct divides in social expectations for men and women contrasted with the continuing changes in the workforce as women marry later in life) I have a strong hunch that there will be some differences.) I'll be in two cities, Kanazawa (as I have been for the past two summers) and Tokyo for a total of six weeks. I'll be visiting many different coffee shops acting as a customer, an observer, and an interviewer. I'll make notes of my own impressions, of who visits and what they do there as well as conduct interviews, hand out questionnaires, and generally enjoy the coffee. The coffee could end up being an issue, though. Japan doesn't have decaf coffee and, well, I'm almost exclusively caffeine-free.

These are my biggest research questions:

Research Goals
1.     Why do customers come to coffee shops?
2.     When do these customers come, and what do they do there? Does the time of day impact what demographic is visiting?
3.     Is there a significant difference in why men and women come to coffee shops? In what they do there? In how they view the shop’s role in their lives?
4.     Do the goals of the people who own and work at the shops line up with how customers want to or end up using the space?
5.     How does the role of coffee shops compare to that of other “third spaces” in Japan? What makes the experience at a coffee shop meaningful?

6.     How might Japan’s changing social situation (aging, fewer full-time jobs for those in their 20s etc.) affect the role that coffee shops play as “third spaces” in people’s lives? 

The other question I'm often asked is "why coffee?" Many people know that I spent a lot of time in coffee shops last summer both as a place to relax and as a source for inexpensive food. Occasionally I introduced coworkers to some of my favorite spaces. One day I was having lunch with an older, male coworker and in the middle of our conversation he told me, explicitly, that he "didn't suit this sort of space" and that "he was more suited to a bar". I found this curious--aren't coffee shops in the US fairly asexual spaces?--but looking around it did feel that the majority of the customers in the space were female. On future trips to other cafes as well, women did seem to outnumber men. So this research is also an opportunity for me to validate that statement, or disprove it.

I'm looking forward to meeting up with old friends (and staying with old host families!), making new ones, drinking lots of coffee, and learning some new things. Thanks for deciding to follow along with me!


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