A young woman sits alone in a café sipping tea and reading a book. She pauses briefly to scribble in a nearby notepad before showing her words to a passing café worker: “Where are the toilets please?”
This is a familiar scenario in Tokyo’s so-called “silent cafés”, spaces which appear at first glance to be conventional cafes but where customers are not allowed to speak, communicating instead by writing in notepads.
A growing number of “silent cafés” – with self-imposed chat bans – are opening across the capital, attracting a steady stream of solo Tokyoites keen to swap the pressure-cooker pace of urban life for solitary silence.
The concept taps into a rising desire among young Japanese to be alone, a situation fuelled by economic uncertainty, a shift in traditional family support structures and growing social isolation.
The desire to be solitary is not a new concept in Japan, a nation famously home to an estimated 3.6 million “hikikomori” – a more extreme example of social recluses who withdraw completely from society.