This fascinating book—part ethnography, part memoir—traces Japan’s vibrant café society over one hundred and thirty years. Merry White traces Japan’s coffee craze from the turn of the twentieth century, when Japan helped to launch the Brazilian coffee industry, to the present day, as uniquely Japanese ways with coffee surface in Europe and America. White’s book takes up themes as diverse as gender, privacy, perfectionism, and urbanism. She shows how coffee and coffee spaces have been central to the formation of Japanese notions about the uses of public space, social change, modernity, and pleasure. White describes how the café in Japan, from its start in 1888, has been a place to encounter new ideas and experiments in thought, behavior, sexuality , dress, and taste. It is where a person can be socially, artistically, or philosophically engaged or politically vocal. It is also, importantly, an urban oasis, where one can be private in public.
1. Coffee in Public: Cafe´s in Urban Japan
2. Japan’s Cafe´s: Coffee and the Counterintuitive
3. Modernity and the Passion Factory
4. Masters of Their Universes: Performing Perfection
5. Japan’s Liquid Power
6. Making Coffee Japanese: Taste in the Contemporary Cafe´
7. Urban Public Culture: Webs, Grids, and Third Places in Japanese Cities
8. Knowing Your Place
Appendix: Visits to Cafe´s, an Unreliable Guide
Merry White is Professor of Anthropology at Boston University and is the author of many books, including Perfectly Japanese: Making Families in an Era of Upheaval (UC Press) and The Japanese Overseas.
“Cafes are where change happens and people feel most themselves. In this surprising book we see how Japan came of age in the café—where women became free, where people jazz and poetry could reign. And, of course, where coffee is at its perfectionist best. Always a congenial companion and teacher, Merry White shows us a whole society in a beautifully made cup.” —Corby Kummer, The Atlantic
“Merry White's book is vital reading for anyone interested in culture and coffee, which has a surprising and surprisingly long history in Japan. Tracing the evolving role of the country's cafes, and taking us on armchair visits to some of the best, White makes us want to board a plane immediately to sample a cup brewed with ‘kodawari,’ a passion bordering on obsession. “ —Devra First, The Boston Globe
"Coffee Life in Japan features highly engaging history and ethnographic detail on coffee culture in Japan. Many readers will delight in reading this work. White provides an affectionate, deeply felt, well reasoned book on coffee, cafes, and urban spaces in Japan."—Christine Yano, author of Airborne Dreams: "Nisei" Stewardesses and Pan American World Airways
"Combining unmistakable relish for the subject with decades of academic expertise, Merry White skillfully demonstrates that the café, not the teahouse, is a core space in urban Japanese life. Her portrait of their endurance, proliferation, and diversity aptly illustrates how coffee drinking establishments accommodate social and personal needs, catering to a range of tastes and functions. It is a lovely and important book not only about the history and meanings of Japan’s liquid mojo, but also about the creation of new urban spaces for privacy and sociality." —Laura Miller, author of Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics
ASFS Book Award, Association for the Study of Food and Society
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