It might be silent here, but there are smiles all around. 

It can be said that there are no disabilities, just disabling environments, and here to remind us of that fact is a new cafe in Osaka’s Nakazakicho that focuses on silence.

Called Shojo, this new 16-seater cafe wants its customers to “enjoy the silence” by eliminating chatter and background music. This allows for ambient sounds that are usually drowned out, such as people’s footsteps, the gurgle of matcha brewing, and the pitter-patter of rain, to take centre stage.

It’s not just for the benefit of customers, though, as the majority of the staff here are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and the cafe creates a space where we can experience the world from their point of view.

Though customers are asked to refrain from speaking to each other, it’s not designed to be a restrictive environment, instead opening our minds to new ways of communicating. In an environment where all people are equal, disabilities don’t exist, and it’s a mindset that can change the way we view equality and accessibility outside of the cafe too.

▼ Shojo is run by Possible, an association that aims to “create places free of disabilities”.

Despite the lack of verbal communication, staff are keen to interact with customers and take orders via written notes or menu-pointing, and they’re happy to share sign language tips to those who are interested.

Customers are likely to find that the silence inside the cafe helps to heighten other senses so that things like taste and colour become more pronounced. This creates an ideal environment for truly appreciating the beauty and flavour of green tea, which is perfect for the cafe’s Matcha Experience, where customers can live out their dreams of being a tea master by whisking their own matcha.

Matcha is traditionally served with a sweet, and the ones provided at the cafe come from an esteemed sweets maker in Kanazawa, with varieties changing monthly.

After the cafe closes, staff offer hour-long one-on-one sign language classes with a side of matcha on a reservation basis, for 2,000 yen (US$13.22). Rather than being a formal lesson, it’s a relaxed experience where you can learn basic phrases such as “hello” and “thank you”, to familiarise you with sign language so it doesn’t feel like something from a distant world.

With no verbal communication required, the cafe is particularly attuned to the needs of foreign customers, who may not be able to speak the local language, and they employ some of the most welcoming staff around. The employee introductions make us want to be best friends with them all straight away.

▼ Hiroto is a Deaflympics pole vaulter, so keep an eye out for him at the Deaflympics, which will be held in Tokyo next year.

▼ Misaki, along with her colleagues, is ready to help teach customers sign language, and show them a fun time.

▼ Kana recommends the bitter matcha experience.

▼ Naoko is here to remind us that this is a multinational cafe that welcomes overseas guests, saying they’re happy to communicate with foreigners through Google Translate.

Japan can be a busy place full of bright lights and big sounds, so a quiet spot like this will be godsend for many visitors. Whether you’re interested in supporting a good cause or experiencing a new side of Japan not shown in guidebooks, the cafe aims to open your sensibilities and clear your mind, and it’s ready to welcome you into its world from 1 April.

Cafe information
Shojo Cafe / 清浄カフェ
Address: Osaka-fu, Osaka-shi, Kita-ku, Nakazaki Nishi 1-10-13
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. every day
Website (Instagram)

Source, images: PR Times
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