Under pressure: Unique places to write manuscripts attract attention in Japan

“Editors” from the Homei publisher post messages on a street to warn participants playing the roles of “literary giants” not to “run away” before the deadline for submitting their manuscripts. (Photo courtesy of Yasosuke Corp.)

TOKYO — Due to the seventh wave of coronavirus infections, this writer refrained from going to the office and worked from home instead, but there are so many temptations at home that they keep me from Write articles. I desperately found myself thinking, “Can someone please put some pressure on me?”

I then heard of a cafe whose patrons can only go home after they have finished writing their manuscripts or other similar documents. I also heard that there is a Japanese inn “ryokan” where writers have to complete their assignments under the watchful eyes of editors. With a deadline looming, I went to one myself.

At the beginning of August, I visited the Manuscript Writing Cafe in the Koenji district of Tokyo. Upon entering the shop, I received a card from the owner, Takuya Kawai, and wrote the title of the item I wanted to complete in the “goals” section.

Then you have to choose how often they want to be approached to monitor their progress. Three levels are available: “light”, in which you report your progress yourself at checkout; “normal”, in which you are spoken to once an hour; and “hard”, in which you are spoken to once every 30 minutes and asked to work with “silent encouragement” as a staff member frequently stands behind you.

A Mainichi Shimbun reporter writes an article while receiving “silent encouragement” from Takuya Kawai, right, the owner of Manuscript Writing Cafe, in Tokyo’s Suginami district on August 10, 2022. (Mainichi)

I chose “hard” and opened my laptop. But I couldn’t think of a good expression, and as I looked down, 52-year-old Kawai stood behind me. ” I do not sleep. I think looking down. I mentally excused myself and started typing the article.

The cafe was originally a live-streaming studio for drinks, but with the coronavirus pandemic which began in the spring of 2020, demand waned and so they sought to develop a new form of business. After periods of “one-person” rest and “video editing cafe” specializing in video production, the site has evolved into the Manuscript Writing Cafe where any form of “creative activity” is acceptable.

The fee is 240 yen (about $1.72) for 30 minutes to sit at the counter. If the job isn’t finished by closing time, you can still continue working, but in that case the extra charge jumps to 4,800 yen (about $34) per hour.

Kawai said, “Everyone is constantly writing. Since all users are engaged in some kind of creative activity, a sense of fellowship like that of comrades is created even when there is no conversation.”

My article was kind of over.

When the contestants playing the roles of “literary giants” fail to complete their manuscripts and try to escape from the inn, the “editors” of the Homei publisher pursue them. (Photo courtesy of Yasosuke Corp.)

There is another place that offers additional encouragement to those who write manuscripts. The “Bungo Kanzume Plan” (which roughly translates to a package deal to confine literary masters to their rooms), organized by Tokyo-based events company Yasosuke Corp. as a fictional Homei editor at the long-established Homeikan hostel in the capital’s Bunkyo district, and other locations.

It’s an experiential plan in which strict editor Homei, who continues in the notorious working style of the Showa period (1926-1989), locks writers in their rooms until they’ve finished their work. According to Yasosuke representative Tomoko Kaizu, 39, guests are treated like “literary giants” upon arrival. I asked him to recreate the situation.

When I was told “Miss, we’ve been waiting for you”, I was escorted to a room where the “editors” from the Homei publisher immediately asked me about my work goals and said, “When will you end them with?”

When I actually start working on my assignments, the “editors” watch me closely in the hallway of the hostel to make sure I don’t slack off. The “editors” keep pressing me, “Are you done yet?” until I reached the “goals” I set for myself. As I look down the street from a window, I see the “editors” staring at me with grim expressions on their faces while holding up signs that read, “How’s your progress?” and “We’re watching over you.” They monitor “great writers” to make sure they don’t shy away from their work.

Users including novelists, writers and editors commented that their work had progressed better than usual and that they had forgotten they were in Tokyo. Many are regular visitors and the program continues to take place almost monthly.

The Homeikan hostel where the event took place was also hit hard by the pandemic. Miyoko Osone, 61, general manager of the hostel, recalls: “Bookings for groups, including students on field trips, who were our main guests, were canceled months in advance, which made us impatient and anxious.

At that time, Osone received a proposal from Kaizu for a plan that envisioned guests being confined to their rooms.

Kaizu said, “We thought of something that could be fun even during the coronavirus crisis. We ask participants to pretend to be literary giants as if they were playing the adult version of a “game of pretend”. It makes me happy when clients tell me they can concentrate on their work.”

Space is available according to the user’s wishes, whether for chatting or concentrating alone, at Benkyo-cafe’s Kichijoji studio in the Tokyo suburb of Musashino, as seen on Aug. 3, 2022. (Mainichi/Moe Yamamoto)

There are also places that meet the demands of those who don’t want to be so pressured but still want a place where they can focus on their writing. One such place is Benkyo-café, or study cafe, which operates around 30 studios mainly in Tokyo but also in other parts of Japan.

The lounge can be used as a typical cafe while conversing with others, while the workspace has individual booths for those who wish to concentrate on their own. There are also individual lockers which can be used to leave tools and study materials. Fees start at 550 yen (about $4) per hour, and it’s open on weekends and holidays.

One of the most appealing points mentioned by Benkyo-cafe users is a “comfortable feeling of distance from the staff”.

A 29-year-old man who runs a business said: “I live alone so there are days when I don’t speak to anyone at home, but when I come here the staff are very friendly and ask me if I make progress. It’s like someone running a marathon with me.

Makiko Katori, 31, a senior executive at the cafe’s Kichijoji studio, said, “We aim to create a space where people can do whatever they want, not just study for exams or work,” and invite people to come in just to read or have a packed lunch.

(Japanese original by Moe Yamamoto, Digital News Center)

Comments are closed.