Voices
in
Japan

have your say

Why are there so few open-air cafes in Japanese cities?

26 Comments

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

26 Comments
Login to comment

Because there yatais and beer gardens.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I always wondered that myself. I thought though with the extreme heat and humidity in the summer, people didn't want to sit outdoors to eat and drink. Or it could just be a lack of space.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Where there is space, i.e. outside of Tokyo, there are outdoor cafés. One in my neighborhood is designated as the smoking area but the rest are open to intelligent people. All have patio umbrellas and a couple have signs that say "Watch out for tombi. They'll steal your food." If JT would get out of town once in awhile, they might realize Tokyo is not the only place in Japan.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Why?

Because of the stink of traffic fumes.

Because of the incredible heat and humidity caused by hot, humid air expelled from millions of air conditioners.

Because, where the air is really polluted, there is no shadow. Sitting under an umbrella or awning doesn't make it any cooler.

Because of crows who would steal your food or worse still, poop on it.

And guys with hidden cameras in their shoes taking upskirt photographs :)

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Berie has agreat list. I would only add one other thing -- Because of the cost of real estate. How can you justify the extra expense for space that would only be useable about four months a year -- October/November and April/May?

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Lack of space?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There's a lot more than there used to be.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Japanese just aren't used to enjoying the outdoors for the most part I find.

I live in the sticks so have a bit a space(like all my neighbours) BUT the wife( I am teaching her haha) enjoy BBQ(more than 1-2 a summer!) & I often spark up a little campfire a couple times a week & sit outside enjoying a couple cold ones with the dog & cats & some munchies, soooooooooooo relaxing meanwhile everyone else is inside doing god know what but its likely boring.

J-folks learn to enjoy life MORE, it includes sitting outside & we can do it from May to Nov...........SWEET!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Why? 'Cause the open space is stolen by selfish smokers, making it uninhabitable for the really smart and cool people--the rest of us. Even Starbucks fails on this one.

2 ( +5 / -2 )

Bertie has most of the reasons although he expresses the situation mildly.

Add the noise of the traffic in the big cities, the lack of anything green and/or pleasant to look at, the narrowness of the sidewalks/pavements, and in country areas the serious mosquito problems for most of the summer and autumn/fall.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Because the auto traffic is horrible.

Urban planners in Japan could learn from planners around the world in the livable streets movement, who have been working to create safer, more vibrant cities by reclaiming space used exclusively by cars and re-allocating that space to people.

For example, in cities like NYC, SF and Portland car parking space is being used for pop-up parks and cafe space.

"Instead of storing private vehicles on the public space, we're storing private tables."

http://www.portlandmercury.com/BlogtownPDX/archives/2012/08/31/with-street-seats-city-turns-public-parking-spots-into-private-cafes

There isn`t a lack of space but a lack of willpower, in downtown Yokohama for example, the biggest eyesores, by far, are the large parking lots interspersed throughout the city. In every city, there is a tremendous amount of valuable city land(public space!) like this that could be put to much better use.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Sitting in a cafe (or outside) requires a lifestyle outlook that the Japanese don't have. Most cafés crush people into seats meant for children so that a cup of coffee can be 300 yen. That is not conducive to relaxation.....

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Smokers and sound trucks would have a lot to do with it. But the season would be short. In Honshu, the heat keeps people indoors for half the year; in Hokkaido its the cold for the other half.

There is one Starbucks I know with patio seating and it's pleasant in summer but there are hazards: until the smoking ban kicked in last summer it was a cancer-shop. The sound trucks and other promotions blare past. Even the street has loudspeakers with annoying safety announcements using children's voices. If you're trying to get closer to nature, you might end up even further away from it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Ive been to a couple out of the big cities. Very pleasant having a beer by the river or lake, but the mozzies munch you from late afternoon

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There are many if you can get beyond the borders of Tokyo but it reminds me of those in France and Italy where you pay one charge to stand at the bar, another higher charge to sit down inside and even higher charge to sit outside, and don't forget the tip too!

And those Amsterdam brown cafes are another world...

At least here, there's only one charge.

My favourite area in our city, Kobe is down in the harbour watching the tourists and ships, sun setting or full moon coming up with a coffee of cold glass of Guinness without a care or thought in the world.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Because outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants are not a natural part of Japanese culture. It is not abou smoking (surely better outside than in),car fumes or space. You do not get these issues in the countryside yet there are very few outdoor eating and drinking areas.

Japanese prefer inside to outside for that sort of thing. I remeber one's incredularity in Europe on finding out that the tables inside a cafe were cheaper than those on the terrace outside. He thought it should be the way round.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

How can you justify the extra expense for space that would only be useable about four months a year -- October/November and April/May?

But that space isn't only useable then.Outdoor heaters and blankets, fans in the summer. I'd certainly go to a cafe and sit outside if these were options - IF they banned smoking. Agree with the comments here. Starbucks outdoor seating is a great idea but not when it is where everyone is puffing on cancer sticks. Drives me nuts that it's banned inside but not out.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I really think that there is no custom of eating in public outdoors, except on certain designated occasions (cherry blossom parties, sports days, etc) or places (riverside "kawadoko" dining in Kyoto). People dislike being observed eating. Personally I appreciate that I don't have to walk down the street and come face-to-face with people wolfing down hamburgers and donuts as they walk, or clutching huge bags of chips, or slurping from gigantic soda bottles ... sometimes all three at once?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I think part of the reason is that Japanese women generally don't like sitting outside in the sun.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

there are open terraces everywhere - just need to look around -

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Maybe because of zoning, mendokusai attitude, or just shio ga nai.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

How can you justify the extra expense for space that would only be useable about four months a year -- October/November and April/May?

What's the problem ? They use mostly spaces that can't be built in solid for security reasons. The beach, park and temple eateries don't require much maintenance when they are closed, they move away most of the equipment. The beer gardens are either building top spaces not useable otherwise, or they transform some parking/market place for the season (like behind Shin-Osaka station, they even install a sort of cage to play soccer...). And the shotengai are working year round.

.Outdoor heaters and blankets, fans in the summer.

Ridiculous waste of energy. If you can't bear the weather, go indoor. I sign all petitions to get those horrors banned in Europe.

I really think that there is no custom of eating in public outdoors

You mean in private ? Sure, no custom of eating on your veranda or in your backyard (and that was not done in Europe either until the 60's/70's). But in pre-war, the houses were opened all around half of the year, often continuing onto the patio and the so that looked like eating outdoor. And in public that's totally wa. I don't know for the rest of Japan, at least that's the traditional lifestyle of Kansai. Hanami, tsukimi, yatai... It's eating and drinking inside that is "Western style" and has been nearly forced on people to modernize the country post-war.

Urban planners in Japan could learn from planners around the world

Just what they did, but clearly authorities never liked the South Asian market image. They said that was part as the "anti-slum" policy. In 1946, over 80% of Osaka was "slum" with people eating outside and that's not that aspect that bothered them. Later, the fight against yakuza was a pretext to clear the streets (there are definitely less yatais, but less yakuza ?). And it's still the "war" as now many Osaka shitamachi bar/eateries do as if their glass wall was broken and they are opened on the street with half of the tables spilling outside. Ethnic and historical areas have to discuss very hard to not get modernized and pushed indoor. You can still see grandpas eating and drinking outside 24/24 and nearly 7/7... and I know some of them that live under perfusion permanently outdoor. You can't do that in most other countries. I don't think it's less popular with the youth. On good weather days you have to fight for picnic and bbq spots. People mostly go to the beach and events (fireworks, matsuri, outdoor shows, thema parks...) to eat while the mosquitoes eat them.

I remember one's incredularity in Europe on finding out that the tables inside a cafe were cheaper than those on the terrace outside. He thought it should be the way round.

Consumer tax is higher indoor. But well, special tourist prices are calculated differently.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I think it's a privacy thing for many Japanese people. Eating, drinking, and misbehaving with your lover or close friends are best done out of sight.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Ridiculous waste of energy. If you can't bear the weather, go indoor. I sign all petitions to get those horrors banned in Europe.

In your opinion. I found great in winter and summer so I could sit outside rather than be in.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Borscht,

If JT would get out of town once in awhile, they might realize Tokyo is not the only place in Japan.

It's a common malady with most things coming out of Tokyo, be it social, economic, or political. People living in and around the area for any appreciable time start to develop this bizarre bubble mentality in which anything and everything in the world revolves eternally around Tokyo. They simply can't fathom the idea that areas outside of the 23 Wards would be in any appreciable way different from the capital, despite the fact that they are, sometimes drastically.

There are open air cafes in the San-In region. Maybe not a plethora, but they do exist. I suspect the number one consideration for a shop owner in having an open air cafe is if the customers would actually be able to use it to any appreciable degree beyond the mild weather months of, say, April, May, September, and October.

The winters are too cold and the summers are too hot. And the rainy season makes sitting out in the open, sipping a latte, while reading your iPad a humid, wet, risky indulgence at best. Sure, one could employ heating blankets, air conditioners, and giant tarps stretching out to... err... hide the natural light... but why in the world would a shop keeper opt for those added costs for only 3 or 4 months out of the year? The added expense of electricity alone would make it unattractive. Add on the physical costs of buying all the equipment necessary to create the illusion that Japan's hot humid summers are in fact semi-temperate springtime scenes from "Heidi in the Swiss Alps", and it's clear outdoor cafes are not a good business decision unless the business in question caters to the type of clientele that doesn't mind paying 1,500~2,000 yen for an espresso.

Many small independent cafes I've seen throughout Chugoku-Chiho do take advantage of those fair-weather months, but they do so without all the frills and added expenses, taking advantage of what outdoor cafes really should be for: Nice weather. The rest of the year, everything goes back inside.

If the question is about a perceived lack of open air cafes in Tokyo, I've seen several. However, I'd expect that if the numbers are indeed low, it's probably due not only to weather considerations, but also a simple lack of available space.

As a footnote, wanting to indulge in sitting in an open-air cafe in the middle of summer with an air cooler cranked up to full nearby in order to simulate the comfort of climate controlled indoors deserves a kick in the seat of the pants. It is a horrific and unconscionable waste of energy and natural resources.

Few things anger me more than department stores and electronic stores in most major Japanese metropolitan areas leaving their front doors flung wide open in the middle of summer and/or winter, allowing cool or hot air, respectively, to leak out into the outdoors, particularly while people up in Tohoku are still cramped up in temporary housing and Japan is hemorrhaging money to pay for energy alternatives to all the shutdown nuclear reactors.

Again, the Tokyo Bubble Syndrome: If it isn't happening in Tokyo, then it isn't happening.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In Japan most people live in overcrowded cities, islands of concrete and asphalt to which there is no end, making time spent outdoors more unpleasant every year. The amount of open space is dismally small. Green belts and trees still continue to be reduced. Erecting concrete poles for utilities replace trees at a frightening pace. Even in places where there is some space for outdoor cafes and polluting motor traffic in restricted there is no comfort when the heat pumps dump their cold air in fall and winter and heat in spring and summer. Go figure.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites