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Room’z: A Place for Good Coffee and Good Conversation

December 6, 2012

One fun part about living in Koga is finding the places you become a regular at. They are the places where you go to relax, eat, drink, and (in my case, at least) practice your Japanese. For me, that place is a café called Room’z, which is located right next to TES (Tuesday Elementary School). It’s owned by a husband and wife team who also run the place every day, except for Wednesdays. The café is called Room’z because the building used to be a two-story house, and just about the entire thing was converted. Therefore, there are several rooms you can choose to sit in while you’re there.

Customers have to take off their shoes when they enter the café, but slippers are provided for them to wear as they pad about. On the first floor, you can sit in a Japanese-styled room (complete with tatami mats) or a room that appears to be the old living room. They are separated by a partial wall, which makes the space nice and open. The kitchen is on the first floor, with a swinging door that you can call over into the kitchen if you need or want something. Customers can also go upstairs and sit in one of three rooms up there. Two of the three rooms have tatami mats, so you take off your slippers before entering those rooms and you sit in there in your socks. The rooms upstairs have buttons you can push that sound a bell in the kitchen so they know when you’re ready to order.

I was introduced to the café by Courteney, Eric, and Rob when I first arrived in Koga. This was the first time we got together after meeting at the farewell party of a fellow ALT. I met them at the train station and we walked together over to the café. I remember thinking to myself that it would be impossible for me to remember how to get to the café ever again! We sat upstairs on the second floor in one of the tatami rooms. This room has a こたつ (kotatsu), which is a special table with a heater attached beneath. You lay a blanket over the top of the table, and then set another tabletop over that. Then you turn on the heater and sit around the table under the blanket! It’s fantastic during the winter, since most Japanese houses don’t have central heating.

We sat around the こたつ, but didn’t turn it on since it was spring and the weather was slowly warming up. A woman came in and took our drink order and we engaged in some small talk for a short while. I learned that she was part of the pair who owned the café and that their son was going to be a fifth grader at TES, which meant that he would soon be one of my students! We exchanged the traditional saying of「よろしくお願いします」(yoroshiku onegaishimasu), which in this case gets translated into something similar to “I am in your care” or “Please take care of me.” This particular phrase is one of those phrases that can have many layers of meaning depending on the situation, which can get confusing at times!

After school started, I discovered that Room’z on my walking route to school, and since it was right next to TES I decided to stop in one day on my way home about a month after the first visit. Apparently I’m a difficult person to forget, because I was immediately recognized. I sat on the first floor near the kitchen and ordered a drink, and started talking with Yukari-san. Soon Toshio-san, her husband, came in to join the conversation and after a while Yukari-san’s mother came in to help with the shop and joined us as well. It was a lot of fun, and I ended up staying until closing time just talking with the three of them. When they found out that I walked to school from my apartment, they immediately began fussing over how I was going to get home — especially since the sun had already set and I was “carrying such heavy bags!” Yukari-san and her mother decided that they would drive me back to my apartment, and they wouldn’t take no for an answer.

The next week I stopped by again, only to see that this time Yukari-san’s mother had two friends visiting. Introductions were quickly made and I started fielding a barrage of questions about who I am and where I am from. After answering a few, I started asking my own questions and found out that the three women have been friends for over fifty years. They had a lot of fun making me guess the age of the oldest of the trio before they told me. My estimate was that she was in her late sixties, but it turns out that she’ll be turning eighty this year.

Nowadays I visit the café once a week, after I finish up at TES. Oftentimes Jess meets me there and we sit down to quickly catch up on things. I really enjoy going there, because I always meet new people (a semi-regular works at a nearby Gap and recently gave me a coupon for 40% off in the store. Score!) and talking with Yukari-san and Toshio-san is always a blast. It’s not often that I get to have conversations in Japanese with people other than my fellow teachers who will correct my grammar or answer any questions I have about the language.

Going to the café also gives me a chance to get to know one of my students on a different level. Usually when I visit, he is at cram school, but a fair amount of the time I’m still around when he gets back. It’s probably really strange for him to see one of his teachers coming to the café every week and becoming friends with his parents! There are times I do worry that the line between teacher and student is getting a bit too blurred since I go and visit the café fairly often. I do make sure, though, to not specifically favor him in any way in class and treat him just like the other students. I think he prefers it that way too. There was one time when he came up to me after class and asked me in a small voice if I was going to the café that day, and I told him that yes, I probably would. My original assumption is that he might feel embarrassed if he brings his friends over to the café and there is Carolyn, happily chatting away with his parents, and that was the reason why he asked me. However, it seems that it’s because he looks forward to my visits even though we don’t really talk all that much together. How sweet!

So, dear readers, if you ever come visit me in Koga I will mostly likely take you to Room’z so you can meet the awesome people I’ve encountered so far, and eat their delicious cake!

Lisa and I at Room'z.

My sister Lisa and I at Room’z.

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