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October 2, 2009

Welcome to the Ogori Mystery Café — Formerly of Kashiwa, Japan

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Long story short: "At this café, you get what the person before you ordered, the next person gets what you ordered."

Excerpts:

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We sat down to catch a break.

A few seconds later, I heard some halting English coming from my left.

"Hello! Please come here!"

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The cashier fumbled for the right words. "Please... buy something!"

OK, this was confusing, because up until this point nobody in Japan had ever outright asked — let alone strongly suggested — I buy anything, ever.

While I was a little uncomfortable, I didn't want to be rude. I grabbed a café menu, quickly translated some Katakana (you'll get surprisingly far in Japan by learning this phonetic alphabet!), and found something I kind-of almost... but not really... wanted.

"I'll take an orange juice, please," I explained, in poor Japanese.

"Hai!," was the eager response.

A few moments later, I picked up my orange juice.

Except it wasn't an orange juice.

It was an apple drink called "Appletizer," some weird candy, and a little card.

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Yeah. Now I was confused.

The guys behind the counter and I immediately launched into a humorous, protracted, Englishanese attempt to understand what the hell just happened. Through judicious fumbling, and after a lot of precise hand-waving and mangled pronouns, it turned out to be something like this:

At this café, you get what the person before you ordered. The next person gets what you ordered.

Welcome to the Ogori Café!

As I sat down to enjoy my surprise Appletizer, loving this insane idea and wondering what would happen if you tried it in America, a Japanese woman approached the cafe. Since she could actually speak Japanese, she could read the large sign at the front and, fortunately or unfortunately, got advance warning of what she was in for. Before making a final decision on what to order, she quietly snuck up to me to try to ask me what I had ordered, knowing that it would be her unwavering refreshment destiny. The staff put a quick stop to her trickery, and I didn't answer.

Of course, regardless of what she ordered, she got the orange juice I ordered a few minutes earlier. But here's one of the moments that make this experiment cool: she actually chose orange juice, just like I did. So she got what she wanted. Ogori Café synchronicity!

Before we left, there was one last thing that had to be done.

Mike went up to the cafe, slapped down a couple thousand yen (~$25), and ordered a little bit of everything: some ice cream, some snacks, some candy, some drinks — a Japanese horn-of-mysterious-plenty intentionally set up as a shocking surprise for the next lucky customer. (After his order, Mike received a single iced coffee.)

As we walked away from the cafe, with just the right amount of delay, we heard an extremely excited "Arigato goazimasu!! Thank you so much!!" yelled in our direction, from an ecstatic mom and her equally excited young son. They truly appreciated the surprise.

It was so worth it.

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For the record, here are the rules of the Ogori Café:

  1. Let's treat the next person. What to treat them with? It's your choice.
  2. Even if it's a group of friends or a family, please form a single-file line. Also, you can't buy twice in a row.
  3. Please enjoy what you get, even if you hate it. (If you really, really hate it, let's quietly give it to another while saying, "It's my treat…")
  4. Let's say "Thank You! (Gochihosama)" if you find the person with your Ogori Café card.
  5. We can't issue a receipt.

The Ogori Café was an unforgettable travel moment, and an idea that has stuck with me: It was a complete surprise in our day. It encouraged communication between total strangers or, in this case, members of the Kashiwa community and a couple of weird guys from Oregon. It forced one to "let go," just for a brief moment, of the total control we're so used to exerting through commerce. It led you to taste something new, that you might not normally have ordered. It was a delight.

Then... as quickly as it appeared, the Ogori cafe was gone.

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[via Adam P. Knave who wrote, "How cool! I really do wish we could try this here. I would go all the time just to order things for other people as a surprise. Best idea EVER!"

October 2, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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