Tokyo slow cafe offers candle-lit quiet in neon jungle

Amid the hectic neon sprawl of Tokyo, the world's largest megacity, a renegade band of slow-lifers is bucking the trend with a radical idea - embracing the sound of silence by candle light.

The "Cafe Slow" is a pocket of soothing darkness in the midst of greater Tokyo, an urban expanse of over 30 million that buzzes 24 hours a day and glows brightly even when viewed from space.

In Tokyo, Japan's sleepless hub of 21st-century urban life, it also hopes to be a centre for an alternative lifestyle that celebrates organic food, fair trade and other principles of a life in harmony with the planet.

The cafe's founder, Atsushi Yoshioka, 63, looks with some pity at the millions of suit-clad "salarymen" who day after day crowd out the city's spaghetti-bowl subway system. He knows, because he was one of them.

"I was such a fast person for such a long time," said Yoshioka, chatting recently in his cafe, where the flickering light of honeycomb wax candles lit up a rustic interior fashioned from recycled timber.

"I kept moving in and out, changing place 20 times, because I always wanted a bigger place, a more convenient place," he said of his 30-year international career. "I had more money, but I was also spending it a lot faster."

Since he ended his career as a bureaucrat with the UN educational and cultural agency UNESCO, "I haven't worn a tie once," he said. "I no longer squeeze myself into packed rush hour trains either."

Yoshioka is a member of the Tokyo Sloth Club, founded in 1999, almost a decade after Japan's "bubble era" of spectacular growth ended in a stock and property crash that rang in a period of relative stagnation, and Cafe Slow is an offshoot of the movement.

"The club was created to propose a lifestyle like that of the sloth," said its general director Naoko Baba. "Sloths may have an image of being laggards in evolution. But they have survived the law of the jungle."

"They live in a tree and eat the leaves while nurturing the tree with their droppings. This is very wise ecologically," she said.

"You don't need to be strong to survive. This may give us a clue to solving many problems that our society now faces."

Motivated by the same go-slow philosophy, Yoshioka in 2001 started his weekly "cafe in the dark" nights, where patrons unplug the electricity and instead sit, talk and relax in the warm glow of candles, to piano music.

"Our civilisation has desperately tried to remove the darkness by turning the lights on all over," he said.

"But when you sit in the dark, you feel the serenity of night, appreciate the sunlight (of daytime), and open yourself up to communication."

Yoshioka said in today's Japan, many milestone events such as births, marriages and deaths, which once bonded local communities, are now managed by business entities such as big hotels and hospitals.

"I want to reconnect people's bonds in the slow movement," Yoshioka said.

The idea for the cafe in the dark was born, he said, after former US president George W. Bush in 2001 rejected the Kyoto Protocol on fighting man-made climate change.

It was followed by similar global movements, such as the World Wildlife Fund's "Earth Hour" which started in 2007, where buildings in cities around the world turn off all electricity for 60 minutes.

At Yoshioka's slow cafe, the menu lists organic and local food, as well as imported products purchased through "fair trade" systems that aim to protect developing-world producers from corporate exploitation.

"We also try to rely less on petroleum products and nuclear energy," by trying to use as little electricity as possible at all times, said Yoshioka.

What started off as an oddity has drawn many followers in Japan, where young organic farmers have started bypassing large food retailers, and where enthusiasm has grown for activities such as weekend and rooftop farming.

"When I started the cafe, people laughed at me and called me a slacker," Yoshioka said. "But I now see many young people, especially young mothers with babies, gather here and relax. A lot more people want a lifestyle like this."

"It simply feels comfortable," agreed Namiko Okubo, a 32-year-old mother sitting in the cafe with her one-year-old son. "I don't know what being 'slow' really means, but I want to feel that I'm in touch with mother nature."

Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil