Calm in the dark

Café in Tokyo of­fers can­dle-lit quiet in neon jun­gle.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - By HARUMI OZAWA

AMID the hec­tic neon sprawl of Tokyo, the world’s largest megac­ity, a rene­gade band of slow-lif­ers is buck­ing the trend with a rad­i­cal idea – em­brac­ing the sound of si­lence by can­dle light.

The Café Slow is a pocket of sooth­ing dark­ness in the midst of greater Tokyo, an ur­ban ex­panse of over 30 mil­lion that buzzes 24 hours a day and glows brightly even when viewed from space.

It also hopes to be a cen­tre for an al­ter­na­tive life­style that cel­e­brates or­ganic food, fair trade and other prin­ci­ples of a life in har­mony with the planet.

The café’s founder, At­sushi Yosh­ioka, 63, looks with some pity at the mil­lions of suit­clad “salary­men” who day af­ter day crowd out the city’s spaghetti-bowl sub­way sys­tem. He knows, be­cause he was one of them.

“I was such a fast per­son for such a long time,” says Yosh­ioka, chat­ting in his café, where the flick­er­ing light of hon­ey­comb wax can­dles lit up a rus­tic in­te­rior fash­ioned from re­cy­cled tim­ber.

“I kept mov­ing in and out, chang­ing place 20 times, be­cause I al­ways wanted a big­ger place, a more con­ve­nient place,” he says of his 30-year in­ter­na­tional ca­reer. “I had more money, but I was also spend­ing it a lot faster.”

Since he ended his ca­reer as a bu­reau­crat with the UN ed­u­ca­tional and cul­tural agency Unesco, “I haven’t worn a tie once,” he says. “I no longer squeeze my­self into packed rush hour trains ei­ther.”

Yosh­ioka is a mem­ber of the Tokyo Sloth Club, founded in 1999, al­most a decade af­ter Ja­pan’s “bub­ble era” of spec­tac­u­lar growth ended in a stock and prop­erty crash that rang in a pe­riod of rel­a­tive stag­na­tion, and Café Slow is an off­shoot of the move­ment.

“The club was cre­ated to pro­pose a life­style like that of the sloth,” says its gen­eral di­rec­tor Naoko Baba.

“Sloths may have an im­age of be­ing lag­gards in evo­lu­tion. But they have sur­vived the law of the jun­gle. They live in a tree and eat the leaves while nur­tur­ing the tree with their drop­pings. This is very wise eco­log­i­cally.

“You don’t need to be strong to sur­vive. This may give us a clue to solv­ing many prob­lems that our so­ci­ety now faces.”

Mo­ti­vated by the same go-slow phi­los­o­phy, Yosh­ioka in 2001 started his weekly “café in the dark” nights, where pa­trons un­plug the elec­tric­ity and in­stead sit, talk and re­lax in the warm glow of can­dles, to pi­ano mu­sic.

“Our civil­i­sa­tion has desperately tried to re­move the dark­ness by turn­ing the lights on all over,” he says. “But when you sit in the dark, you feel the seren­ity of night, ap­pre­ci­ate the sun­light (of day­time), and open your­self up to com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

Yosh­ioka says that in to­day’s Ja­pan, many mile­stone events such as births, mar­riages and deaths – which once bonded lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties – are now man­aged by busi­ness en­ti­ties such as big ho­tels and hos­pi­tals.

“I want to re­con­nect peo­ple’s bonds in the slow move­ment,” Yosh­ioka says.

The idea for the café in the dark was born, he said, af­ter for­mer US pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2001 re­jected the Ky­oto Pro­to­col on fight­ing man-made cli­mate change.

It was fol­lowed by sim­i­lar global move­ments, such as the World Wildlife Fund’s “Earth Hour” which started in 2007, where build­ings in cities around the world turn off all elec­tric­ity for 60 min­utes.

At Yosh­ioka’s slow café, the menu lists or­ganic and lo­cal food, as well as im­ported prod­ucts pur­chased through “fair trade” sys­tems that aim to pro­tect de­vel­op­ing-world pro­duc­ers from cor­po­rate ex­ploita­tion.

“We also try to rely less on petroleum prod­ucts and nu­clear en­ergy,” by try­ing to use as lit­tle elec­tric­ity as pos­si­ble at all times, says Yosh­ioka.

What started off as an odd­ity has drawn many fol­low­ers in Ja­pan, where young or­ganic farm­ers have started by­pass­ing large food re­tail­ers, and where en­thu­si­asm has grown for ac­tiv­i­ties such as week­end and rooftop farm­ing.

“When I started the café, peo­ple laughed at me and called me a slacker,” Yosh­ioka says. “But I now see many young peo­ple, es­pe­cially young moth­ers with ba­bies, gather here and re­lax. A lot more peo­ple want a life­style like this.” – AFP

Quiet moment: A cus­tomer savour­ing a drink at the Café Slow in Tokyo. Ridiculed as a slacker when At­sushi Yosh­ioka started his slow café a decade ago, he now finds many young peo­ple gath­er­ing at his place to re­lax.

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