Every so often, time permitting, I will leave the day job to sit at a local chain cafe around the corner from the office I work. While I do earn the majority of my paycheque in a classroom, a large part of my day involves writing reports and providing information to various people in the region. Thanks to an odd confluence of technical proficiency with technical occlusion, I'm able to do the vast majority of my non-classroom duties from just about anywhere in the world. For all my rages with the employer, my unique role within the company affords a little flexibility from time to time. So here I am today, a little less than an hour away from a meeting with HQ, sitting at a shop that is the ultimate expression of life in Nagoya: Komeda Coffee.
According to a plaque on the wall, this particular location was opened a few months after I was born and, outside of the air conditioner and touch-screen register at the counter, very little seems to have changed. The chairs are a signature design that I've only ever seen at Komeda. Red and functional, the seats all carry the signature look of wear from years of use. Despite the mandatory separation of smoking and non-smoking sections, the smell of tobacco permeates the air and contributes to the establishment's appearance of being a place for weary people to simply disappear for a while. Businessmen snooze in their booths, laptops open and cold coffee forgotten in front of them. The vast majority of screens showing either a colourful spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or the landing page of Yahoo! Japan. Students from some of the many colleges in the area come and go, some intent on studying their books while others study their friends.
Standing back and looking at the entire scene before me, this is exactly what I see when thinking about the industrial city of Nagoya. This part of the country is practically financed entirely by the auto industry and nothing is done quickly. Business deals are the formalisation of hundreds or thousands of decisions. Decisions require a great amount of data. Data is recorded into Excel regardless of how appropriate the tool might be, and data takes a long time to collect. There are most certainly times when people must rush to meet various deadlines ... but not here. People come here, to this particular Komeda to disappear. People come here to shut the world out for thirty minutes to an hour. To collect their thoughts before returning once again to the world outside.
This is the same reason I am here today. The offensive burn of cigarette smoke in my nose is not enough to keep me away from the escape I feel soon after walking through the twin doors at the front of the shop. There are better, cleaner, newer cafes that serve better, cheaper, smoother coffee in the neighbourhood, of course, and I frequent those places quite often, too. But there's something interesting about this place that brings me back every so often when I'm just looking for an escape from the everyday.