Can the (Japanese) coffee house influence well-being? Many people, particularly the Viennese, would probably answer ‘yes’ without hesitation. In actuality, there has been surprisingly little research on this topic so far. However, there are means to take a scientific approach to the question. I examined one idea here.
The Japanese coffee house, just like the Viennese one, offers up many dimensions. From the classic kissaten to coffee shop chains, cozy cat cafés, hip specialty coffee shops, or the numerous themed cafés. All are very different places that serve different purposes for different people. At first glance, just these specializations seem to separate the different types of coffee houses, but a closer look reveals that their design is intricately intertwined with their function.
Some people might like to go to the ordinary kissa on the corner for a first date, others might go to a Sailor Moon-themed café, and others might want to score by visiting a trendy indie coffee shop. One student might choose to hole up in the corner of a big chain coffee shop to study, while others might prefer the company of fluffy cats in a cat café. None of the many variants of Japanese coffee houses has only one clearly identifiable function, which is why it should only make more sense to consider them all together and as a single phenomenon/singular concept.
To understand this unit of the Japanese coffee house as one factor in people’s well-being, it is enough to look at it through the appropriate lens, in this case, relational well-being. The concept of relational well-being states that place, time, and cultural environment have an influence on a person’s well-being. Furthermore, along with the relational, the local understanding of well-being should also be taken into account. This view brings the Japanese concept of ikigai into play as a benchmark for well-being in the coffee house. Ikigai is often translated as “life worth living”, or, in German, it is often compared to a sense of having meaning in one’s life. However, such all-inclusive definitions of ikigai frequently overlook the premise, that ikigai is not merely a static sensation, that one either does or does not experience, but a diverse and complex feeling, one which may be influenced by a variety of circumstances and actively experienced.
Experiencing the feeling of ikigai is called ikigai keiken in Japanese and so far is still a very new concept. It was originally defined by Shintaro Kono and Gordon J. Walker in 2020, when researching recreation and leisure time activities. Kono and Walker defined the four components of ikigai keiken as tanoshimi (“enjoyment”), ganbari (“effort”), shigeki (“stimulation”) and iyashi (“comfort”), which all together help to promote the feeling of ikigai.
I argue that these four elements can all be linked to the experience of visiting a coffee house. Thus, the question I posed at the beginning receives an answer: “Can the (Japanese) coffee house, as a place, influence people’s well-being?” And the answer is yes. Yes, it can! (At least, in theory.)