Hotel California-style cafe serves writers

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This could be heaven or this could be the other place … No dark desert highway, no mission bell — but they’ll show you the (write) way.

Imagine entering a cooly lit cafe in the afternoon; your laptop bag slung over your shoulder. Your only hope is to enjoy an iced coffee and finish a report before your next morning’s deadline. So you sip your coffee, tap out a few paragraphs on your computer, insert a graph to support your statements, and pack it up for the day after a couple of hours of good work.

If you hurry, you can make it home for dinner. When you get to the door, they kindly ask your name and if you have finished your report.

You answer with your name and say you haven’t completed it yet, but you got a good chunk done and plan to finish the rest at home. Except they tell you that you can’t leave yet. You still have work to do.

If you need some help getting down to the nitty-gritty of finishing your projects, a cafe in Japan seriously wants to help you with that.

You can enter, but you can’t leave … until you’re done

The Manuscript Writing Cafe in the Koenji district of Tokyo, Japan, has a strict set of rules in place to help its unique customers enjoy a virtually stress-free environment. According to The Manuscript Writing Cafe’s website, here’s the list from top to bottom.

Rule No. 1: This one gets you as soon as you slip through the door. You must be a writer on a deadline to use the amenities of the cafe.

Rule No. 2: You must sign in your writing goals. For example, if you need to finish a 2,000-word article, you’d write that down on a slip assigned to you.

Rule No. 3: The manager will courteously check on you every hour to update your progress. *You can choose how nice the manager is during these hourly checks. Since the manager has no vested interest in your deadline beyond your patronage, they are willing to be as kind or rough as you’d prefer.

Rule No. 4: You will have unlimited access to hot water for regular or Japanese tea and drip coffee to your heart’s content.

Rule No. 5: You must pay rent. Your slot at the cafe, with nine inside seats and an outdoor area for those who smoke, will cost you while you’re writing. You’ll pay 130 Japanese Yen ($1.01) for the first 30 minutes. After that, you’ll pay 300 JPY ($2.34) and, if you happen to need the cafe after their regular operating hours, your rest will go up by 500 JPY. That amounts to $3.89 U.S. per hour.

Rule No. 6: Writers can bring food and drinks or even have meals delivered.

Rule No. 7: This rule makes the cafe enticing and popular: You have to finish what you started before you’re allowed to leave. These rules ensure that the coffee house and recording studio are used by serious writers who have work to accomplish.

The owner, Takuya Kawai, 52, wants people to be able to focus and hopes the strict rules will help with that effort.

Kawai, a writer himself, stands behind the cafe’s strict rules.

“The cafe went viral on social media, and people are saying the rules are scary or that it feels like being watched from behind,” he said. “But, actually, instead of monitoring, I’m here to support them … As a result, what they thought would take a day actually was completed in three hours, or tasks that usually take three hours were done in one.”

Not everyone’s cup of tea

While the cafe’s unique take on remote worker support might seem intense, Kawai and his staff are looking to offer an attention-focused workspace for writers facing tight deadlines, ensuring a safe, quiet place to finish their work. They say it’s rare that a person needs to stay beyond the cafe’s regularly scheduled hours of operation.

Of the few who do stay beyond the official closing time for the cafe, they all have managed to complete their task before their approaching deadlines. And while not everyone finishes their work before leaving the cafe, the general consensus is that they make realistic goals and strive to complete them.

So far, Kawai’s small Manuscript Writing Cafe is doing just fine in the post-pandemic era, especially given its new viral status on social media.

And while not everyone prescribes to a working environment such as The Manuscript Writing Cafe offers, its distinctive approach to helping writers facing a deadline certainly has generated a cult following, even before it went viral.