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Deconstructing a global commodity: Coffee, culture, and consumption in Japan



Since their entry to Japan in the latter half of the 19th century, coffee and coffee shops have been closely linked to the economic, political, and socio-cultural change undergone by the Japanese society. The cafés themselves have gone through numerous transformations in order to address the various social needs of their patrons. Today, coffee shops occupy a significant niche in the Japanese urban lifestyle. However, the cultural ‘baggage' of coffee as a foreign commodity still plays a central role in generating its consumer appeal. Coffee is a global commodity whose value on the world market is surpassed only by oil. Moreover, due to its peculiar historical background, it became a beverage charged with a wide range of cultural meanings; tracing these meanings in different contexts can shed light on the way cultural commodities ‘behave' in the globalized world. In order to examine the niche that coffee occupies in the Japanese consumption scene, I will analyze the manner in which representations of coffee are constructed and translated into a consumer experience. Through the case of coffee in Japan I will try to demonstrate the process of ‘movement of culture', whereby the relevance of a foreign commodity in the local context is determined by the complex interplay between two culturally engineered binary entities of ‘global' and ‘local', ‘foreign' and ‘native'.
Journal of Consumer Culture
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DOI: 10.1177/1469540513488405
2014 14: 343 originally published online 22 May 2013Journal of Consumer Culture Helena Grinshpun
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Journal of Consumer Culture
2014, Vol. 14(3) 343–364
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DOI: 10.1177/1469540513488405
Deconstructing a global
commodity: Coffee,
culture, and consumption
in Japan
Helena Grinshpun
Department of East Asian Studies, the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, Israel
Since their entry to Japan in the latter half of the 19th century, coffee and coffee shops
have been closely linked to the economic, political, and socio-cultural change undergone
by the Japanese society. The cafe
´s themselves have gone through numerous transform-
ations in order to address the various social needs of their patrons. Today, coffee shops
occupy a significant niche in the Japanese urban lifestyle. However, the cultural ‘baggage’
of coffee as a foreign commodity still plays a central role in generating its consumer
appeal. Coffee is a global commodity whose value on the world market is surpassed
only by oil. Moreover, due to its peculiar historical background, it became a beverage
charged with a wide range of cultural meanings; tracing these meanings in different
contexts can shed light on the way cultural commodities ‘behave’ in the globalized
world. In order to examine the niche that coffee occupies in the Japanese consumption
scene, I will analyze the manner in which representations of coffee are constructed and
translated into a consumer experience. Through the case of coffee in Japan I will try to
demonstrate the process of ‘movement of culture’, whereby the relevance of a foreign
commodity in the local context is determined by the complex interplay between two
culturally engineered binary entities of ‘global’ and ‘local’, ‘foreign’ and ‘native’.
Coffee, Japan, consumption, globalization, cultural me
´lange, code-switching
Malls, temples, Christmas and other goods
Chilly December evening in the city of Kyoto; automatic glass doors of one of the
city’s trendy shopping malls lead to a marble-paved lobby with a small Starbucks
Corresponding author:
Helena Grinshpun, Department of East Asian Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.
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outlet in it. An outer glass wall overlooks the back yard where, just a few meters
away from the mall, stands an ancient temple of Rokkakud
o – one of the oldest
Buddhist temples in Kyoto. Seen through the transparent glass, the temple, with its
noble contours and dark brown color, appears to occupy the inner space of the
mall. Armchairs serving the Starbucks store are lined along the glass wall, facing
the outside, as if turning the transparent wall and the temple behind it into a huge
screen. Quiet Irish-sounding Christmas-themed music is played in the background.
Between the glass and the temple, there is a small garden patch with several Tanuki
statues hiding in the grass.
In the center, a Christmas installation is erected – a
white carriage pulled by a white horse, both made of illuminated wires; by its side
an illuminated Santa climbs an illuminated tree trunk. The brightly lit marble hall,
the gleaming horse and the dark mass of the temple in the background create a
rather surreal landscape. Visually, the temple is turned into an exhibited artifact;
however, it is a functioning temple, to some extent more real than the blinking
Christmas images. The temple and the mall seem to represent two polarities of the
Japanese cultural construction – the old tradition, on the one hand, and the incorp-
oration of new (often foreign, mostly western) trends, on the other. Gazing on this
scene, we can lament the loss of elegance and spirituality of the old times to the
imported images of globalized consumption; or we can try to comprehend the new
reality embracing both aspects as two interconnected elements responsible for for-
ging new tastes, lifestyles and identities.
What place does Starbucks, a globalized American chain notorious for its ubi-
quity and aggressive expansion, occupy in this mixed landscape? What is the nature
of its interplay with the temple, the very epitome of ‘Japaneseness’? What kind of
consumer experience do global coffee chains construct in Japan, and how does it
correspond with the cultural ‘baggage’ of coffee? This essay attempts to answer
these questions by offering a perspective on the role of foreign products in con-
temporary Japanese consumption, and on the way various ‘cultural odors’
(Iwabuchi, 2002) are exploited to generate consumer appeal. Following
Iwabuchi’s conceptualization, the term ‘odor’ is used here to denote ‘the way in
which cultural features of a country of origin and images or ideas of its national, in
most cases stereotyped, way of life are associated positively with a particular prod-
uct in the consumption process’ (Iwabuchi, 2002: 27). Through the story of coffee
in Japan, this study aims to inform the debate on globalization and incorporation
of global commodities in local contexts.
The migration of global products involves a process by which new meanings,
interpretations and applications are attached to them, and can be discussed as
moving in three possible directions. Movement towards the homogenization of
local markets has earned itself the labels of McDonaldization and cultural imperi-
alism, typically associated with the American cultural hegemony (Ritzer, 2004;
Tomlinson, 1999). The alternative direction, involving a more dynamic mixture
of the global and the local, is depicted as hybridization or creolization (Hannerz,
1992; Pieterse, 2009). These two directions assume major transformations
undergone by the local fabric under the influence of the globalizing force.
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Therefore, both imply hierarchy and colonial power relations between the local and
the global. The third approach, which this study seeks to promote, emphasizes the
contextuality of the two entities as flexible cultural constructions (Goldstein-
Gidoni, 2001), a dynamic dialog in which the focus can shift from one entity to
another, contributing to the ‘movement of culture’ (Silverberg, 2006: 34). In this
process, the locality emerges as a cultural co-producer, an agency rather than a
recipient of the foreign produce.
In the context of Japan, I find several conceptualizations of the third scenario
particularly helpful: the idea of cultural me
´lange, shaped by the emic distinctions
between the Japanese and the western drawn by the local actors (Goldstein-Gidoni,
2001), and the metaphor of code-switching, i.e. moving between various elements
of the native and foreign cultures (Silverberg, 2006: 4).
Both concepts emphasize
the creative participation of the local agency in ‘an ongoing process of producing
new cultural forms’ (Goldstein-Gidoni, 2001a: 22), and challenge the view of mere
cultural borrowing and implementation in favor of cultural strategizing (Silverberg,
2006: 33).
The notions of me
´lange and code-switching imply a conceptual duality between
the local Japanese and the foreign (for the most part, Euro-American) cultural
elements, which Gordon refers to as ‘double life’, namely, the simultaneous pres-
ence of goods and practices described as ‘western’ and ‘Japanese’ in the realms of
daily life and national imagination (Gordon, 2007: 12). This duality constitutes
both a source of symbolic tension and a cultural capital, and is closely linked to two
interconnected issues – that of identity, and that of consumption.
In this context, the Euro-American culture emerges as a consumed artifact
rather than a hegemonic power. This view is supported by several studies on the
manifestations of Americana in Japan; one of the most illustrative cases is the
Tokyo Disneyland (TDL). Disneyland is often depicted as an epitome of
American imperialism; however, closer examinations reveal that it functions
rather as a commodity, appropriated and modified to suit the local needs (see
Brannen, 1992; Raz, 2000; Yoshimi, 2000). Moreover, this acculturated western
‘Other’ is often imagined (or ‘imagineered’, using the Disney lingo) as an authentic
product, with its alleged authenticity providing a source of consumer appeal.
The Japanese appropriation of non-Japanese goods and images, which had
earned itself a rather one-dimensional label of ‘westernization’, is in fact a multi-
faceted historical process that was ascribed various meanings in the course of the
last hundred years. The contemporary Japanese reality hardly leaves a space to
discuss its westernization; it is more appropriate to talk about the complex inter-
actions between the culturally produced entities of ‘global’ and ‘local’, ‘foreign’ and
‘Japanese’. I believe that the construction of the cultural ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ is best
observed through its everyday expressions in consumption.
An interesting case of this construction is described in Caldwell’s study of
McDonald’s in Moscow. McDonald’s’ acceptance was determined by its eventual
domestication, whereby its product was eventually labeled as ‘Ours’ (Nash) and as
such successfully drawn into the Muscovites’ intimate spaces (Caldwell, 2004).
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The highly negotiable contents of ‘Ours’ and ‘Theirs’ did not challenge the clear
separation between the two constructs, as well as their mutually complementary
role. Wilk’s (1999) ethnography on the construction of ‘native’ cuisine in Belize
provides an example of how the presence of the foreign helps to objectify the local.
As part of the post-colonial discourse on national identity, certain local foods were
reinvented as elements of ‘authentic’ diet through a contrast with an externalized
western ‘Other’. A similar phenomenon is depicted by Creighton in the context of
Japanese department stores, which helped to reaffirm Japanese identity by
drawing clear boundaries between ‘things Japanese’ and ‘things foreign’
(Creighton, 1991: 677).
Everyday commodities provide multiple axes around which these negotiations
on identity take place. In Japan, mundane substances like food (see Bestor, 2011;
Cwiertka, 2007) and the way it is presented (Goldstein-Gidoni, 2001), ordinary
places like department stores (Creighton, 1991, 1998) and amusement parks
(Hendry, 2000; Raz, 2000) play a significant role in shaping not only our consumer
experiences but also the way we experience culture. Culture is more often than not
a function of otherness; as we shall see, exploiting culture in marketing often
implies appealing to its foreignness or strangeness. The issue of imagination
(I find the term ‘imagineering’ most appropriate for the process of cultural pro-
duction) is crucial in this context, as both the ‘foreign’ and the ‘Japanese’ emerge as
subjective products of negotiation on identity, rather than objective cultural
The link between consumption of western products and social class in Japan
also deserves mentioning. Gordon describes how goods of Euro-American origin
defined middle-class modernity in the trans-war period (1920s–1960s). This defin-
ition was rooted in the association between the ideals of the modern middle-class
lifestyle and the images of western, notably American, life (Gordon, 2007: 10).
o Tanizaki’s novel Naomi, written in 1920s, exemplifies this connection.
The author depicts the overpowering fascination of the Japanese with the West,
and the destructive influence of this fascination on the identity of the protagonist, a
middle-brow engineer who represents the dilemmas and the aspirations of the
middle-class of the era.
The overpowering enthusiasm for things western, depicted in Naomi, had van-
ished as Japan itself joined the club of ‘lifestyle superpowers’.
In the post-miracle
affluent Japan, what used to constitute a symbolic tension became part of the
complex Japanese cultural reality, incorporating local traditions with elements of
foreign cultures and lifestyles – but nonetheless still accommodating discourse on
identity. The complex relations between the foreign and the native, the ‘Other’ and
the ‘Self’, estrangement and familiarity, represent today a powerful resource for
both marketers and consumers. The marketers exploit it in constructing their prod-
uct experience; for the consumers, the ability to maneuver between the two modes
adds up to their cultural capital – same way as code-switching between two lan-
guages is a form of symbolic capital that endows access to additional symbolic
resources and identities (Silverberg, 2006: 33). Unlike the relatively concrete verbal
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codes involved in linguistic code-switching, however, the metaphor of cultural
code-switching implies a process in which shifting cultural cues and interpretations
(Silverberg, 2006: 33) are employed. The use of these interpretive constructs in
consumption underlines the role of culture as an artifact, constantly re-produced
in response to the demand generated by particular historical, political, and social
There are many studies which link the commercialization of the Japanese side of
the ‘foreign’–’local’ scheme to the issue of cultural identity. These focus on topics
such as domestic tourism and the furusato movement (see Creighton, 1997;
Robertson, 1988),
local food products (Francks, 2007; Rausch, 2008), and trad-
itional arts and crafts (Goldstein-Gidoni, 1997; Moeran, 1997). Obviously, differ-
ent commodities call for different types of cultural branding: marketing a product
as traditional will involve appeals to the indigenous culture, while commodities that
have a foreign background will invite exploiting foreign associations. Coffee, as the
next section will illustrate, belongs to the latter category, which is by no means a
minority in the Japanese consumption. In contemporary Japan, the foreign ‘odor’
is still in demand, facilitating ‘odor branding’, i.e. exploiting the association of the
commodity with a foreign culture in order to enhance its consumer appeal.
Goldstein-Gidoni (2001, 2001a) describes how this technique is applied to the wed-
ding industry and cuisine. Clammer, in his study of shopping, demonstrates how
foreign products possess in Japan a certain aura of otherness and infuse re-enchant-
ment into the everyday life (Clammer, 1997).
Among these commodities, products related to food and beverages occupy an
important niche. Multiple studies illustrate the manner in which these substances
provide sustenance, a form of symbolic communication, and a social ritual, thus
demarking social boundaries and asserting cultural identities (e.g. Appadurai,
1988; Belasco and Scranton, 2002; Bell and Valentine, 1997; DeSoucey, 2010;
Pettigrew, 2002; Wilk, 1999). What has been much less explored is how specific
products ‘behave’ in the state of ongoing intercultural contact brought upon by
globalization, and how their translation into a consumer experience reflects the
complex dynamic between the global and local forces.
This study aims to fill this lacuna by exploring the case of coffee in Japan.
Coffee, due to its high value on the global market, its peculiar cultural history,
and its intensive incorporation into people’s everyday lives, represents a valuable
case for exploring intercultural encounters. Moreover, the rather narrow scope of
up-to-date academic research on coffee and coffee shops in Japan (see Derschmidt,
1998; Hiraoka, 2005; Molasky, 2005; Tipton, 2000; Wada, 2005; White, 2012) and
the lack of research on coffee shop chains in Japanese consumption request this
exploration. By drawing on the ‘behavior’ of coffee in Japan, I follow the logic of
the extended case method which applies interpretive analysis to empirical data to
extract the general from the unique and to move from micro-level data to macro-
level constructs (Burawoy, 1998).
The following section will outline the place that coffee and coffee shops occupy
in the Japanese coffee scene. Then, the manner in which global chains construct
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consumption experience around coffee as a cultural commodity will be discussed,
using Starbucks coffee chain as a study case.
Coffee in Japan: Acquiring the taste of modernity
Among foreign commodities, which in Japan represent a broad category ranging
from cheeseburgers to Disneyland, coffee has earned a place of honor. Although
Japan is commonly recognized as a tea-drinking country, today, coffee occupies a
massive niche in everyday life and consumption. According to the All Japan Coffee
Association, in recent years Japan’s consumption of coffee, both roasted and
instant, accounted for twice as much as its consumption of green tea.
Japan is
the number three importer of coffee beans worldwide after the United States and
Germany. The beans imported to, roasted, and served in Japan are of the highest
quality, and Japanese coffee equipment is considered to be among the best in the
world (White, 2012: 89).
I will not elaborate here on the history of coffee from its advance from Ethiopian
highlands to the Ottoman Empire, where it was discovered by the European trav-
elers, its consequent incorporation into the European lifestyle as an attribute of the
exotic Orient, and to its eventual commercialization as a global commodity; I will
focus solely on its Japanese incarnation. In Japan, coffee has been historically
associated with foreign culture. As a beverage, it was introduced to Japan in the
17th century by the Dutch; however, it did not become a mass commodity until the
end of the 19th century when, after more than 200 years of seclusion, Japan was
forcibly opened to western trade. During the Meiji era (1868–1912), coffee shops
gained popularity as a symbol of modernity and attributes of the newly introduced
western lifestyle. They served as entry points for foreign products, and shaped new
local fashions and trends resonating with the wider international context. To some
Japanese commentators of the era, the cafe
´s ranked in significance with the estab-
lishment of the Diet (Tipton, 2000: 119).
The first decades of the 20th century further strengthened the association between
coffee and modernity. The already established link between modernity and material
culture – along with the consensus that the West was the source of this modernity
(Silverberg, 2006: 15) – set the ground for the coffee shops’ appeal. In the 1920s and
1930s, the coffee shops represented an increasingly visible segment of urban life, and
offered an accessible space accommodating various public expressions of modernity.
Women occupied an important place in this setting, both as clients and as service-
givers. The figure of a cafe
´waitress (joky
u) represents one of the controversial
images of the era. It is not accidental that the plot of Naomi, mentioned earlier,
contrives at a Tokyo cafe
´, where the protagonist falls under the spell of a young
waitress who, for him, embodies the physical representation of everything western.
The role of joky
uprovided to lower-class women not only a new occupation, but
also relative personal freedom. The joky
uwere the working class personification of
the ‘Modern Girl’ (M
odan Garu,orM
oga), which can be seen as a key ideo-
logical construct in Japan’s modern transformation (Silverberg, 2006).
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The cafe
´clientele represented the middle-class embodiment of this modernity.
The coffee shops provided one of the few public settings for ‘M
oga’ and ‘M
modern girls and boys, to meet and mingle socially. The presence of female
patrons in what had previously been almost an exclusively masculine space was
another indication of modernity. During the late 1920s, the waitress service was
eroticized, and a certain type of cafe
´s came to resemble a cabaret more than a
classic coffee shop. The cafes’ association with westernization and the growing
popularity of the joky
userved as a justification for increasing restrictions in the
late 1930s (Tipton, 2002). Silverberg describes how as late as in 1939, the per-
sisting attraction to the cafe
´was criticized as a demoralizing aspect of modernity
(Silverberg, 2006: 35).
The imports of coffee stopped in 1938; during the war, few coffee shops were
able to offer their clients something besides a coffee surrogate made of substitute
ingredients (White, 2012: 64). The post-war era saw a proliferation of coffee shops.
Japanese society as a whole has undergone numerous social, political, and econom-
ical transformations, in which the US served as a frame of reference. Leheny
(2003), in his study on leisure policies in post-war Japan, describes how the
Japanese government used American and European models to build what was
later formulated by the Prime Minister Kiichi as ‘lifestyle superpower’. From the
1940s onwards, the West provided appropriate reference points for determining
how the Japanese lifestyle should look like (Leheny, 2003: 44). One manifestation
of the American cultural influence was jazz, which was introduced in the pre-war
era, but did not gain widespread popularity until the 1950s. This trend facilitated a
propagation of the so-called ‘jazz-cafe
´’, which became highly popular among the
young generation. ‘Jazu kissa’ provided the means of coming in contact with the
world by offering jazz on vinyl, which otherwise was nearly impossible to acquire
(Derschmidt, 1998).
The coffee shops of the 1960s and 1970s served as hubs for the progressive youth
of the era; they hosted expressions of trends such as artistic avant-guard, protests
against the US-Japan Security Treaty, and feminism. The cafe
´s kept on changing in
response to the changing urban life, offering their patrons spaces as diverse as their
clientele. The 1980s witnessed a coffee shop boom, as coffee shops competed among
themselves, offering their patrons not only different styles of coffee, but also vari-
ous gimmicks, styles of atmosphere and de
´cor. Some retreated to erotic services,
such as the ‘no-pants’ cafe
´s(no-pantsu kissa), where waitresses served the cus-
tomers’ orders walking on a mirrored floor with no underwear beneath their
skirts (White, 2012: 65). The ‘conventional’ Japanese-style coffee shops constituted
the majority, however; their number reached 160,000 in the early 1980s.
In the
1990s, as speed and convenience became a crucial factor, the coffee scene was
significantly affected by the emergence of the new players – coffee shop chains.
The first chain, Doutor, was founded in 1980 by a Japanese entrepreneur inspired
by Brazilian coffee culture; the second was the American Starbucks. The chains
introduced a new coffee-drinking format and created a new market niche, encoura-
ging other coffee chains, both foreign and local, to enter the market. As a result, the
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number of independent coffee shops decreased; the number of the chains has been
on a slow but steady rise.
In the course of the decades, the local coffee culture has evolved and departed
from the original format offered by the West, developing its own interpretations of
the coffee experience (White, 2012). In contemporary Japan, coffee is a quintes-
sence of the routine – nothing like the exotic western fad of the turn of the 19th
century. Coffee shops became an integral part of the urban landscape; they repre-
sent a symbol of an ordinary, ‘normal’ life. Nevertheless, exploiting the association
of coffee with foreign culture still helps to enhance its commercial appeal. This is
especially evident in the sphere of advertising and promotion. Recruiting western
celebrities in the branding of coffee-related products has been a customary practice
in the Japanese coffee industry. One of Japan’s most prominent canned coffee
brands, Boss Coffee, released in the 1990s by Suntory, carries a recognizable
logo featuring Tom Selleck smoking a pipe. In 2006, the company hired another
American actor, Tommy Lee Jones, to be its spokesman. He has appeared in a
series of highly popular TV commercials as ‘Alien Jones’ (a name underlining the
hero’s non-Japaneseness more than his extra-terrestrial origin),
who was sent to
Japan from another planet to study human society. Another canned coffee brand,
Roots, has had Ewan Macgregor and Brad Pitt as its spokespersons.
There is a vast use of foreign terms and slogans in the coffee business, written
either in Roman letters or in katakana, a writing system assigned for borrowed
words. While there is a hieroglyph compound (kanji, a writing system used mostly
for native words), for the word ‘coffee’, the use of its katakana version is predo-
minating. For coffee-related vocabulary (words such as ‘roast’, ‘blend’, ‘drip’,
‘shot’, ‘aroma’, as well as the more specialized terminology referring to types of
roasts, blends, and coffee equipment), foreign terms are commonly used. The
names of the local cafe
´s also exemplify this tendency: while many of them carry
Japanese names, western (or western-sounding) names predominate. In Leaf,a
monthly magazine dedicated to Kyoto dining and cafe
´s, more than two-thirds of
the listed coffee shop names are in European languages, mostly English, less fre-
quently French, and sometimes, as in the case of bakeries and family restaurant
chains (famiresu), not always intelligible in any foreign language, but nevertheless
projecting a western or international image (Goldstein-Gidoni, 2001: 75).
Here, I tend to disagree with Merry White, who, in her recently published book
on coffee life in Japan, claims that coffee and coffee shops have become entirely
naturalized, having lost any western cultural odor they might have had (White,
2012: 4). White presents an insightful picture of the Japanese cafe
´s as public spaces
fulfilling important social roles. To her, the acquired ‘normality’ of the cafe
´and its
ability to cater to the local needs contradicts its early association with foreign
culture. I maintain that the two represent mutually complementing elements in
the process of the commodification of the cafe
´s. It is my belief that the cultural
‘baggage’ of coffee as a foreign commodity determines its foreign ‘odor’, which
constitutes a source of appeal rather than a cultural discordance. This very ‘odor’
creates the setting for what White likens to ‘shakkei’, ‘borrowed landscape’ – a
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traditional gardening technique, which employs visual incorporation of the outside
elements into the scenery to create an illusion that the garden extends beyond its
physical borders. White extrapolates the term on a certain type of cafe
´s, which have
‘a scene of interest’ that creates a feeling of ‘place’, such as an outer garden peeked
on through the window, a display of old photographs or an art gallery (White,
2012: 164, 170). In my opinion, however, the metaphor applies to the Japanese
coffee scene by denoting the incorporation of foreign cultural elements into the
local coffee experience. The association with foreign culture creates a kind of bor-
rowed landscape by bringing in imageries from other cultural contexts, just as
distant mountains and hills lend their appeal to the inner premises of the garden.
The nature of local consumption, in which the interplay between the native and the
foreign has been occupying a central place for decades, has made the foreign ‘odor’
no less ‘normal’ and geared to the local needs, than the Japanese.
The following section seeks to substantiate these points by looking at global
coffee chains in contemporary Japan. Similarly to the independent coffee shops
depicted by White, the chains represent meaningful sites of everyday life, which
have acquired relevance for the local consumer. Allow me to validate this claim
with two short media references. In mid-March 2011, a few days after the tragic
events of that year,
an extract from an internet blog was posted on the BBC
website. It belonged to an American residing in Japan; the author described the
sense of confusion which took hold of her at the sight of the changes inflicted by the
disaster. One of the signs signaling a state of emergency was a closure of a
Starbucks store at the local train station.
Several months later, in summer
2011, an opening of a Starbucks in Fukushima city was reported by several news
agencies. ‘Even a nuclear crisis can’t keep Fukushima residents away from their
double lattes’, stated a caption of a photograph by a Japanese blogger Hiroko
Tabuchi, depicting a long lineup at the new store. An article in a Canadian news
service commented optimistically on this news: ‘Let’s hope the next meltdown
involves a Frappucino left on the counter too long – and not the local power
Consumption sites like the Starbucks chain therefore fulfill an important
social function in a sense that they serve as markers of ordinariness and stability.
The opening of a store in Fukushima, a city which since March 2011 has been
associated with national emergency and nuclear crisis, was a sign that the everyday
life was slowly moving towards normality. Chains offer a standardized experience
based on the format conceived outside of Japan, but nevertheless succeed to
acquire relevance for the local consumer, both socially and culturally
(Grinshpun, 2012).
Coffee chains and the marketing of coffee experience in Japan
Today, it is nearly impossible to discuss the Japanese coffee scene while ignoring
the niche that global chains occupy. The chains did not introduce coffee to Japan;
neither did they pioneer the modern coffee shop culture. Moreover, they arrived
after the first local coffee shop chain, Doutor, was established. However, they
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managed to implement new tastes and create a new niche in the coffee shop indus-
try, constantly generating a new consumer demand. The concept introduced by the
chains differed from that of the local establishments: instead of the highly diverse
spaces of the local cafe
´s(kissaten) and Doutor’s quick grab-and-go format catering
mostly to ‘salarymen’ (sarariman), they offered a more accessible, predictable, and
anonymous public space catering to new segments of the urban clientele, such as
single working women and young adults. Another significant innovation offered by
the chains was the espresso, which, until the late 1990s, was rather unfamiliar to the
average Japanese coffee-drinker.
Starbucks pioneered this trend, opening its first Ginza store in 1996; it was
followed by the second biggest chain, Tully’s, in 1997 – also in Ginza, an area
historically associated with foreign culture and modernization. Today, Starbucks
operates close to one thousand outlets nationwide, Tully’s close to 400, and Seattle
Best (a Starbucks subsidiary since 2003) has more than 40 outlets.
Since its
arrival, Starbucks has been the leading force in the Japanese coffee chain
market. Japan was the chain’s first destination outside of North America and is
one of the few world locations where its popularity never showed a sign of fading.
Even the recent downturn did not undermine the Japanese consumers’ appetite for
Lattes and Frappuccinos.
New stores continue to open nationwide, infiltrating
not only urban centers but recently also rural areas.
The research I conducted between the years 2006 and 2009 on the Starbucks
coffee chain in Japan aimed to clarify and interpret the range of meanings attached
to coffee as a cultural experience. The data was collected through (1) the textual
analysis of printed materials and advertisements issued by Starbucks Japan, (2) in-
store observations and interviews with customers and the stuff, conducted at five
outlets in Kyoto and Osaka, and (3) a thorough Japanese media survey. The ana-
lysis focused on three dimensions: the product (the coffee experience), the agent
(the company’s branding strategy and its implementation), and the way it is per-
ceived by the local consumers. It is appropriate to mention that only Starbucks’
customers and employees were approached for this study; I did not survey people
who did not go to Starbucks. Investigating the general Japanese public’s attitudes
and perceptions of the Starbucks brand constitutes a separate topic which is not
dealt with in the present essay.
The research determined that the major reason for Starbucks’ success was that it
had constructed a consumption space charged with relevant social and cultural
meanings. Culturally, this space offers the consumer the experience of a ‘coffee
theme park’; socially, it provides a novel type of public space allowing for ano-
nymity, a sense of communal belonging and individual control. Here, I focus on the
cultural segment of this formula, and attempt to point at the mechanisms of cul-
tural incorporation of coffee as a cultural commodity in Japan.
I do not look at the ‘Starbucks phenomena’, that is, the success formula of this
highly ubiquitous chain, which has become a subject of scrutiny and replication by
other business enterprises. Neither do I treat the company as a flagship of global-
ization (see Klein, 2000; Ritzer, 2004), a hegemonic brandscape (Thompson and
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Arsel, 2004), or a lens to comprehend American tastes and lifestyles (Simon, 2009).
I will not dwell here on the differences between Starbucks and other global coffee
chains, or on the differences between Starbucks in Japan and elsewhere (for further
reading, see Grinshpun, 2012). I treat Starbucks as an archetype of a global chain,
with the principles of its marketing strategy applying to other global agents oper-
ating in Japan. It is important to note in this context, that many of the marketing
elements described below are by no means unique to Starbucks or to coffee; they
are used by various agents of Japanese consumption, and point at the way culture
acquires its marketing value.
In his book ‘The Inland Sea’ (2002), Donald Richie deemed early Japanese cafe
to a ‘window onto the world’, which introduced not only the beverage but also new
social and cultural forms (quoted in White, 2012: 5). Coffee chains make use of this
metaphorical window by offering their customers a product wrapped in an appeal-
ing envelope of a cultural experience. The concept of ‘wrapping’ or ‘packaging’ has
been widely discussed in the context of Japanese cultural production (see Clammer,
1997; Goldstein-Gidoni, 1997; Hendry, 1995). Seen not only as a physical act, but
as a cultural metaphor, it is invested with a range of meanings concerning inter-
cultural communication and interpretation, suggesting that the wrap plays a role
no less important than the content in signaling prestige, taste, and value. The
notion of packaging points to a curious parallel between chains and theme
parks, with TDL as their epitome. Theme parks build cultural representation by
‘wrapping’ other cultures and turning them into a consumed commodity (Hendry,
2000:12). Starbucks exoticizes ‘other’ cultural contexts by ‘packaging’ them as a
setting for the coffee experience. I will discuss here two key techniques employed
for this purpose: the creation of textual and visual references to foreign traditions,
and the use of language.
The textual analysis of a number of leaflets, flyers and brochures, issued by
Starbucks Japan, demonstrates that most of the Starbucks products, from the
coffee bean to the music playing at its stores, are promoted against the backdrop
of foreign traditions. Western holidays (mainly Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and
Halloween) and customs related to them provide a setting for this cultural place-
ment. A customer is led to believe that having a Gingerbread Latte, a pumpkin
scone or a filone sandwich can bring her or him the flavor of a tradition character-
izing another, non-Japanese, cultural landscape.
As early as November, Starbucks switches its paraphernalia (cups, barista out-
fits and product packages) to Christmas colors; seasonal products are introduced as
the harbingers of the Holiday. As an editorial of The Starbucks Press free paper
urges, by introducing special Holiday items (beverages and sweets) Starbucks
brings the Japanese customer the magic of the Holiday.
These items are described
as bringing to Japan ‘the classic flavor of western Christmas’. The article also
features an explanation on the special nature of the Holiday, described as a
secret hidden in the land of birth of Starbucks, America. The column gives a
vivid description of the Holiday time in America, with an emphasis on its emo-
tional and family-oriented character. Following this theme, the second part of the
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newspaper features, under the title ‘Virtual Trip to the World,’ an article on
Finland, introduced as the land where Santa lives. The article is written as a
travel narrative of a Japanese girl visiting Helsinki during Christmas. A Finnish
friend gives her a tour of the country and reveals to her the ways the locals cele-
brate the Holiday. The article depicts the peculiarities of the Finnish lifestyle as
seen through Japanese eyes.
This practice is not unique to the coffee chain; other consumption sites make use
of Christmas to infuse their product with cultural connotations. Shopping malls are
decorated with garlands and Christmas trees, supermarket cashiers put on Santa
hats, flower shops take out pots with Poinsettia flowers. The meanings ascribed to
Christmas in Japan, however, have undergone several visible modifications since it
was adopted in the post-occupation years. The Japanese Christmas was never a
religious holiday. Instead, it evolved as a secular ritual associated with the
American lifestyle in the 1960s (Plath, 1963), with children in the 1980s
(Creighton, 1991: 685), and with romance in the 2000s. Throughout the decades,
the most visible attribute of Christmas has been a decorated Christmas cake
(Kurisumasu k
eki), which by default refers to a sponge cake with whipped cream
and strawberry, and is customarily offered for sale annually by department stores
and western-style pastry shops throughout Japan.
Browsing through the chain’s printed materials, one finds multiple examples of
how seasonal offers are turned into a cultural experience. A leaflet titled Great Food
for Great Coffee is dedicated to ‘filone’, a type of bread roll introduced to the
Japanese market recently.
Filone is said to be especially suitable for female cus-
tomers, since its relatively small size fits perfectly a woman’s mouth. It is also
described as a traditional Italian product, manufactured in a traditional way and
brought to the Japanese consumer from the United States:
Born in Italy, like the espresso, filone in Italian means ’small river.’ With its shape like
that of a river, filone is popular both in Italy and America. ...Brought by the Italian
immigrants to New York, filone has become a favorite throughout the United States.
Although you won’t see it in Japan, today filone is widely popular in Europe and in
North America.
Promotion of chocolate timed with Valentine’s Day is accompanied by a
detailed account of the holiday’s romantic connotations the way they evolved in
the West and therefore differ from the Japanese format.
Reviews of Latin
American coffee industry abounds stories and illustrations characterized by the
ambiguous ambiance which Klein referred to as a ‘Third World aura’ (Klein,
2000: 112), implying a commercial exoticization of remote lands associated with
less advanced cultures.
Through such depictions, foreign traditions are romanticized and made into a
perfect ‘wrapping material’. The textual references acquire a visual form in the
´cor of the outlets. Photographs and posters feature landscapes or still life com-
positions reminiscent of the coffee-growing countries of the Third World, notably
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Latin America and Africa. Most landscapes depict rural areas, and reinforce the
vague aura of the Third World. A few photographs feature rather unidentifiable
urban scenes. None of the pictures carry explanatory notes as to the exact location
depicted; the only comprehensible thing is that none of the locations is Japan. All
of the above are in European languages, mostly English, although French and
Italian are also present. The various iconographies encompassing references to
Western traditions, vague urbanity, and the ‘Third World’ imagery have a
common denominator of ‘otherness’ juxtaposed to ‘Japaneseness’.
The posters typically feature abstract patterns with sentences and words discon-
nected from their context, calendar dates, names of world cities, and airport flight
displays. Some are designed as old-style maps, evoking the romance of the early sea
travel. The viewer is referred not only to an ‘Other’ place, but also backwards in
time. In the coffee context, this commercialized nostalgia is exploited rather often,
supposedly sending the consumer back to the ‘good old’ days prior to the era of
mass production (Roseberry, 1996: 764). In the de
´cor of the Starbucks outlets, this
backward-looking gesture is visualized via numerous retro motifs. Photographs on
the walls feature for the most part sepia and black and white colors. Despite the
fact that coffee-related procedures require high-level technological equipment and
today are fairly mechanized, the photographs depict the old, traditional ways,
involving natural materials and manual labor. The pictures of bare hands stroking
the beans, burlap coffee bags, and old but tasteful equipment create a nostalgic air
of the rustic past, when the humanity was still connected to the fruits of its labor
(Grinshpun, 2012: 182).
The commodification of the past is one of the most powerful tools in the mar-
keting of culture. Moeran describes how in Japanese advertising an imagery of a
Japanese past is established in order to evoke nostalgia for a world that no longer
exists (Moeran, 1995). Creighton discusses, in the context of nostalgia for commu-
nal belongingness, how ‘communities of memory’ are replaced by ‘communities of
imagination’ (Creighton, 1998: 141). The visual lexicon used by Starbucks also
substitutes memory with imagination by referring its Japanese customers to a
past that has no connection with Japan.
The exoticization of the ‘Other’ is manifested not only via visual representations,
but also through the choice of language. Especially interesting in this sense are
Starbucks Japan’s printed materials, briefly discussed earlier. Although all of them
are issued in Japanese for Japanese readers, there is an extensive use of foreign
words, written either in English or in the katakana alphabet. In a More About
Coffee leaflet,
a sector dedicated to espresso (titled in English ‘Art of
Espresso’) features almost exclusively katakana words. A color diagram demon-
strates how five different espresso-based beverages are prepared: Caffe Americano,
for example, consists of ‘esupuresso’ and ‘hotto w
a’; Caramel Macchiato is pre-
pared with ‘karameru s
osu’, ‘f
omu miruku’, ‘suchimu miruku’, ‘esupuresso’ and
banira shiroppu’.
In a section dedicated to food pairing (f
udo pearingu), the
reader is advised to ask for ‘add shot’ (adoshotto) in order to fully enjoy the
Starbucks experience (Sut
abakkusu ekusuperiensu). Often, foreign terms are used
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for words which have an exact equivalent in Japanese language, e.g. hotto w
instead of oyu (hot water), or f
omu instead of awa (foam), miruku instead of gy
(milk). This way, three linguistic modes are employed in a single text, creating a
rich lexicon that expands the range of cultural associations to include not only the
product’s material characteristics but also its symbolic properties as a foreign com-
modity. This selective use of language has been part and parcel of Japanese con-
sumption, helping to demarcate the foreign and the native and fitting perfectly into
the scheme of code-switching.
Espresso occupies a major place on Starbucks’ cultural menu. It is regarded as
the trademark of the European coffee culture which Starbucks has been aspiring to
disseminate (Schultz, 1997). In Japan, espresso remains largely limited to chain
coffee shop and trendy espresso bars in big cities; for many, it is still considered
an attribute of the foreign coffee culture. The encounter with the ‘art of espresso’
and its incorporation into one’s coffee-drinking routine was presented by my inter-
viewees as a step toward developing a sophisticated taste in coffee. Various
espresso-based drinks served by Starbucks carry elaborate Anglo-Italian names
concocted by the company; basic familiarity is required in order to select the
type and size of the desired beverage.
As reported by several respondents, the
ordering procedure can be rather complicated for someone who is not familiar with
the terminology, or has little experience with foreign languages. It is not uncom-
mon to see a customer belonging to the older generation being assisted by a
younger companion or an employee in comprehending the menu and formulating
the order. For both customers and employees, mastery of the coffee-related lingo
and its implementation not only guarantee a smooth performance at the Starbucks
store, but also translate into cultural capital.
Another language-related phenomenon, albeit one not initiated by the chain, is
the foreign (for the most part, English) language lessons held at the chain cafe
The lessons are conducted by foreigners working as private tutors; some of them
spend many hours in the store, tutoring one student after another. One of my
foreign interviewees reported that the English language school by which he was
employed was notified by Starbucks that the teachers were requested to place an
order every hour they spend in the store; it seems, however, that the request was
never enforced in any manner. Despite the fact that there is no official acknow-
ledgment of this activity by Starbucks, there is an unofficial consent on the part of
the staff to accommodate the lessons. The language lessons have become so com-
monplace that both customers and staff view them as an integral part of the land-
scape. My barista interviewees stated that these lessons contribute to the special
Starbucks atmosphere by allowing for cultural exchange (k
u) between cus-
tomers. In this way, the language lessons are perceived as a form of cultural activ-
ity, helping to shape the cultural aspect of the coffee experience and constituting yet
another element in the ‘borrowed landscape’.
The unofficial incorporation of foreigners as agents of the ‘abstract West’
(Goldstein-Gidoni, 2001: 84) into the Starbucks landscape is reminiscent of the
role of the foreign staff in TDL, whose role as ‘real-live Americans’ (Raz, 2000: 94)
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is to reinforce the authenticity of the site as ‘not Japan’. In this regard, the
Starbucks coffee chain can be seen as a variation of a theme park. While TDL
builds a cultural representation by ‘packaging’ Americana in a format suitable to
the Japanese idea of it, Starbucks ‘packages’ the world of coffee as a foreign com-
modity. This parallel leads me to the final point of this discussion – the role that
Japan plays in this cultural collage.
Incorporating ‘Japan’: Switching the code
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Starbucks in Japan, a special
Anniversary Magazine was issued in 2007. The emblem of this special edition
read ‘Japanese Sut
abakkusu,’ and combined katakana alphabet for the word
‘Starbucks’ with the English letters for the word ‘Japanese,’ both written against
the graphical image of Mount Fuji and a red circle suggestive of the national flag.
Interestingly, the word ‘Japan’ (Nippon), usually written in kanji, a hieroglyph
system used for native words, appeared throughout the magazine in katakana,
an alphabet used for borrowed words. An opening photograph of Tokyo
Shibuya district with the green Starbucks sign on one of the buildings read:
‘Without Starbucks, it’s not Shibuya’. An article titled ‘The Development of
Japanese Merchandise: Born between the Global and the Local’ described the atti-
tude of the developers to the Starbucks merchandise as combining the global set of
values with local cultural roots. One of the most representative examples of this
approach, according to the article, is the Starbucks tumblers (portable thermal
mugs) designed locally and featuring images of famous Japanese sites as well as
traditional seasonal themes.
The tumblers have become highly popular items of
Starbucks merchandise, indicative of consumers’ brand loyalties, tastes, and travel-
ing trajectories. Interestingly, their practical application has been altered – while
the concept of a tumbler assumes their use for take-out beverage orders, in Japan
they are used mostly inside the stores.
In promoting its product, Starbucks often resorts to incorporating local cultural
codes. Seasonal themes are made use of in order to introduce new or re-introduce
existing products, which is a practice widely exploited in the local retail sector.
Seasonality has long been part of the Japanese construction of ‘tradition’,
frequently employed in consumption as a marker of ‘Japaneseness’. Moeran
points at the entire lexicon of marketing images that posit ‘a quiet, slightly unreal
dreamworld’ of traditional Japan (Moeran, 1995: 120); most of them, such as cherry
blossoms, red maple leaves, carp banners, and bamboo, signify seasonal changes
and festivals, which are at the core of the Japanese narrative on identity.
I saw another manifestation of this approach in Kyoto in the shape of a n
yuka, veranda over water, constructed during the summer by restaurants serving
local cuisine. Yuka is considered one of the attractions typical of old Kyoto down-
town, allowing patrons to enjoy dining above the stream. In 2006, a centrally
located Starbucks outlet adopted this pattern and began offering its own summer
yuka. In a leaflet explaining this novelty, yuka was described as a unique Kyoto
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tradition, offered now by Starbucks as a ‘completely new coffee experience that
combines the rich culture of coffee with the traditions of Kyoto.’
Another example can be seen in the recent opening of a new Starbucks store in
Dazaifu, in close proximity to one of the most sacred Shinto shrines in Japan. The
store was designed by a famous Japanese architect to resemble shrine architecture,
and to be ‘contextually rooted in the site, as if almost ‘nested’ within it.’
opening was covered by numerous Japanese and international news services,
describing the new store as ‘both ornate and minimal, traditional and modern,
continuing the architect’s exploration in the crafts and carpentry heritage of his
native land’ – a kind of enchanting cultural rhyme revolving around the binary
opposition of old and new, native and foreign, Japanese and western.
All these
communicate the idea that Starbucks has gone a long way to fit itself into the local
scene. The incorporation of local cultural codes by global brands is often regarded
as ‘glocalization’, aimed at adapting the global products to the locality and leading
to its eventual hybridization. According to Pieterse (2009), the cultural form of
hybridization leads to the development of me
´lange cultures that span multiple
locations and identities. This notion of me
´lange culture fits the popular image of
‘hybrid Japan’, where East meets West, and where foreign influences are processed
and incorporated in a harmonious manner characteristic of the Japanese cultural
production. This ‘harmonious hybridity’ (Goldstein-Gidoni, 2001: 70) often char-
acterizes both the image of Japan held by western observers, and the Japanese
self-presentation (see, for example, Iwabuchi, 2000). The view of me
´lange as an
attribute of hybridity, however, disregards the complexity of the dialog between
differentiated cultural codes involved in the process of global cultural production.
In case of global actors, the actual adaptation of the product often occurs
behind the scene – especially when the foreign origin of the product is inherent
in its brand image, as in the case of TDL or coffee. Food items offered by Starbucks
in Japan represent a curious example of how the product is modified while being
made to look authentic. According to Barbara Le Marrec, Chief Retail Officer at
Starbucks Japan, the products sold in the Starbucks stores represent the ‘Japanese
idea of an American food experience, with the same form factor, but with different
ingredients’ (Grinshpun, 2012: 184).
As was mentioned, I see many commonalities between Starbucks (and other
global coffee chains) and TDL in the way their products are culturally branded
in Japan. Both sell the authentic ‘Other’, albeit tuned to Japanese consumer pref-
erences; both promote cultural nostalgia disconnected from the local past; both
romanticize the world while offering it on sale; and finally, both incorporate the
element of self-exoticization. The seasonal offering of Japanese New Year’s
ogatsu) cuisine at the TDL World Bazaar (Raz, 2000: 94) seems to fulfill the
same role as yuka in Kyoto Starbucks, referring the customer to his/her own cul-
ture as part of what can be called ‘self-Orientalism’.
The exploitation of the local ‘odor’ does not necessarily imply creation of a
hybrid cultural substance. Rather, it appends another layer to the commercial
appeal of the commodity, and contributes yet another element to the process of
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code-switching. The use of ‘traditional’ cultural icons as authentic markers of the
unique locality suggests that along with the exoticization of the foreign, the domes-
tic itself is being de-familiarized in order to enhance the consumer appeal. A sense
of estrangement, essential for the commodification of culture, plays a central role
here. Wilk describes how the return to local foods among the Belizeans was accom-
panied by a sense of emotional distance (Wilk, 1999: 247). Creighton (1998) men-
tions the estrangement underlying the nostalgic yearning for furusato, one’s home
village, which since the 1970s has been the core of various campaigns aiming to
foster domestic travel, but which can also be seen as part of a wider discourse on
national identity and self-exoticization (Robertson, 1988).
The politics of cultural marketing incorporates various cultural ‘vocabularies’ as
integral components of local consumption. By ‘vocabulary,’ I refer to a set of
images and representations which comprise the repertoire of a cultural code, in a
similar way to words that comprise the repertoire of a language. These cultural
vocabularies are case sensitive, dynamic, and contextual, as suggested by the prin-
ciple of code-switching. Moreover, the cultural entities behind the codes are often
imagineered; nevertheless, their symbolic separation is clearly demarcated. White
mentions that coffee, assimilated as it is, cannot be accompanied by Japanese food.
Japanese cafe
´s therefore rarely serve Japanese dishes; although local tastes and
techniques are incorporated into various cafe
´foods, their foreignness is neverthe-
less clearly marked – for example, by referring to rice as ‘raisu’, to distinguish it
from the same rice (‘gohan’) served at local eateries (White, 2012: 123). The sep-
aration between the two cultural codes underlies the notion of cultural me
whereby the apparent mixture in fact follows a strict logic of contextuality
(Goldstein-Gidoni, 2001a). The use of language, whether by the choice of bor-
rowed words where the native vocabulary is available, or by the inversion of
roles, whereby Japanese words are written in a manner suggestive of their alien
nature, provides a linguistic validation of this contextuality.
Conclusion: The coffee question and the movement of culture
In the study of coffee as a cultural commodity, one important question often arises,
which can be articulated as follows: Is it really about coffee? A recent book by
Bryant Simon on the Starbucks chain in the United States is titled ‘Everything but
the coffee’ (Simon, 2009; italics mine) and suggests that ‘it’ – i.e. the consumer
experience offered by the chain – is not. I maintain that while the beverage itself
might be of a secondary significance, its cultural background and the associations it
generates are of primary importance.
When the experience offered by Starbucks in Japan is examined, it becomes
evident that what Starbucks promotes is not merely the coffee, but a cultural
vocabulary associated with it. Given the considerable niche that foreign products
occupy in the Japanese consumption scene, as well as their interaction with the
local constructs of ‘Japan’, the ability to pass from one cultural mode to another
translates into cultural capital. Despite the familiarity with multiple foreign icons
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and images characterizing contemporary Japanese consumers, the boundaries
between the two cultural entities of the ‘foreign’ and the ‘Japanese’ are usually
maintained and cultivated.
Similarly to Christmas or western cuisine, coffee and cafe
´s in Japan fall into the
category of imported trends that owe their aura to the fact of their foreign origin.
Christmas has long since become a commonplace; while modified to fit the local
needs, it has never been stripped of its foreign cultural ‘odor’. Bread, which today
constitutes an integral part of the Japanese diet, is still associated with foreign food
culture, as manifested by bakeries’ foreign-sounding names, representative more of
the ‘abstract West’ than of any particular bread-related tradition. The manner in
which the Starbucks items are marketed as authentic products associated with other
cultures illustrates this trend. Filone bread roll is introduced in the context of Italian
baking tradition; the Christmas items are referred to as bringing the genuine taste of
Americana. The ‘other’ cultures themselves are exoticized by being ‘packaged’ as
evoking the magic of remote lands. Creating this theme park-like environment
around coffee was made possible largely due to its ‘baggage,’ i.e. the particular
circumstances of its incorporation as a cultural commodity.
The factors shaping the marketing of coffee in Japan can be exemplified by the
anecdotal figure of ‘Alien Jones’ from the Boss Coffee commercial mentioned in the
beginning of this essay. The coffee, although produced and sold by a local brand,
nevertheless invites an association with the outside – the same ‘window onto the
world’ of which Richie wrote. Japan gazes at the world, while the world gazes at
Japan, with the mutual gaze working to reassert each other’s ‘otherness’. The
demarcation of clear boundaries between ‘things Japanese’ and ‘things foreign’
not only reaffirms cultural identity, but also ensures the lasting appeal of the two
allegedly authentic entities, and illustrates how both the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other’ are
utilized in the construction of a consumer experience. In this process, new meanings
are ascribed and new uses are attached to the consumed product, pointing at the
active role the local agency plays in the appropriation of foreign commodities.
Having developed a model of a global chain, and reinvented an everyday com-
modity as a source of long-term consumer appeal, Starbucks provides a lens for
comprehending how the interplay between foreign and local modes forges a new
vocabulary of cultural branding. It is important to note that the described mar-
keting techniques do not point at the uniqueness of the Starbucks brand or at the
exclusive nature of coffee; rather, they provide a case for comprehending trends
occurring in Japanese consumption. By examining the global brew in the local
context, this study sheds light on the dynamic between foreign and native cultural
imageries, rather than on the power relations between the agents of globalization
and local markets. The global and local emerge not as a dichotomy but rather as
dynamic imagineered constructs, relations between which switch in accordance
with the context.
I would like to finish this exploration with the mall and temple metaphor which
opened it. The official concept of the Kyoto Rokkaku Starbucks store, as stated on
the official Starbucks Japan website, manifests the aspiration to ‘bring Japan and
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the West together’, resonating with the early Japanese coffee shops’ cultural func-
tion. In this setting, which represents a vivid example of shakkei, a borrowed
landscape, Japan and the West comprise a pastiche in which each one is assigned
its own role. Codes switch, cultures move, creating a dynamic multifaceted cultural
reality where a dialog on culture is carried out through consumption.
1. Tanuki is a mythological creature symbolizing prosperity and good fortune; its statues
are often placed at the entrances to bars, restaurants and private homes.
2. The term is borrowed from linguistics where it refers to shifting between two or more
languages in the context of a single conversation.
3. ‘Lifestyle superpower’ was a term used by Prime Minister Kiichi in 1991.
4. ‘Furusato’ literally translates as ‘one’s old home village’; it is often used to invoke a sense
of nostalgia with Japan’s rural past.
5. As of year 2004, 147 tons of roasted coffee and 105 tons of instant coffee were con-
sumed, as compared with 128 tons of green tea.
6. The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan
was signed in 1960 and triggered a wide-scale opposition movement.
7. According to the data presented at the World Coffee Conference, 2001.
8. Today, coffee shop chains take up more than 5% of the coffee shop market.
9. The word ‘foreigner’ (gaijin) in Japanese literally means ‘alien’, ‘a person from outside’.
10. Produced by Japan Tobacco Company.
11. Bread, despite its integration in the local lifestyle, still carries a symbolic association with
western lifestyle; famiresu, although their menus include both western and Japanese
food, are considered American-style dining.
12. In March 2011, the north-eastern part of Japan was hit by an earthquake, which caused
a disastrous tsunami and the consequent dysfunction of the Fukushima nuclear
power plant.
13. Susan Barton’s online blog, March 2011.
14. From the online news portal:
15. Retrieved in March 2013 from:, http://www.,
16. In summer 2008 Starbucks announced the closure of 600 stores in the United States; in
2009 the company announced major job cuts.
17. Issued November 2005.
18. Introduced by Starbucks in September 2008, filone has been offered exclusively for the
Japanese market.
19. In Japan, Valentine’s Day has long been a highly recognizable consumption icon, but its
local interpretation represents a curious cultural translation whereby only women give
presents to men.
20. Issued February 2008.
21. Hot water, caramel sauce, milk foam, steamed milk, vanilla syrup.
22. The scale introduced by Starbucks consists of ‘short,’ ‘tall,’ ‘grande’ and ‘venti’ sizes.
23. Most of the Starbucks product development is done in Seattle, but there are products
conceived and produced locally.
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24. One explanation for this modification points to the fact that in Japan, drinking on the
move is considered impolite.
25. From the Architizer Blog, December 2011,
26. From the Architizer Blog, February 2012,
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Author Biography
Helena Grinshpun is currently a Research Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research
Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Israel. In 2009 she completed her doctorate in anthropology and Japanese studies
at Kyoto University, Japan. Her PhD thesis dealt with the incorporation of global
cultural commodities in Japan. Since 2010 she has been teaching courses on
Japanese contemporary society and culture at the East Asian Department of the
Hebrew University. Her main research interests are cultural representation, struc-
turing of public space, consumer behaviour and consumer education in Japan.
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... Be Being one of the world's top three coffee importers, Japan's coffee consumption for the past few decades has doubled the number of its consumption of green tea as the predominant beverage [17]. Japanese coffee shops have also been a vital part of society for their capacities to generate and showcase new ideas and aesthetics, which reflect the changing of personal, social, and spatial needs of their time [18, p.3]. ...
... Although it originated from and is heavily influenced by the West, Japanese coffee culture differs and even surpasses its western counterparts through its selections of beans, brewing techniques that are hand-poured and filtered, and even its café design. Nevertheless, in contrast with White's claim that the Japanese coffee culture has completely removed any western 'odor' they might have [18, p.4], Grinshpun rather sees this global-local interplay as ongoing reciprocity of cultural borrowing and code-switching [17]. ...
... More than 170 shopping malls have become the city's new 'public space' that entices the young and the middle class who seek comfort and safety against the tropical climate and humidity and the feeling of insecurity in outdoor public space [see 31]. Nevertheless, unlike the pattern of coffee culture-shaping in Japan that tends to participate and interact with the global value chain [17], the development of coffee culture in Indonesia seems to be more protective with its local value and 'autonomous' against the influence of the global coffee value chain [28], although the formation of both might take some inspiration from each other. Moreover, the fact that Indonesia produces its own coffee Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 602 bean enables the local actors to choose their selection from specific geographical locations and farmers, as well as develop their coffee learning community and connoisseurship towards ethical and social responsibilities [28; see also 27 for the top-down driving forces), not to mention the invasion of digital technologies into our lives that helps stimulate the coffee culture formation. ...
... In these manifestations, commodified cosmopolitanism does not rely on a specific type of territorialization; for consumers, any other place will do. Take, for example, Starbucks's construction of virtual territorial origins for its coffee beans, e.g., the geographically vague "Arabia" (Elliott, 2001), enabling the brand to occupy a global yet foreign positioning that provides local consumers an aestheticized and exoticized source of cosmopolitanism (Grinshpun, 2014). Marketized cultural forms such as the specialty coffee shop follow a recognizable but transferrable relationship to place that enhances global palatability to urban middle-class consumers across multiple cultures (Ardekani & Rath, 2020). ...
... Considering how interactions between multiple market actors shape transcultural food marketing approaches is particularly intriguing. Sustaining the formation of a global culture of consumption around a food product entails not only advancing commercialization processes (Dolbec et al. 2022); consumption is a socio-historically rooted process involving interactions between socio-cultural change (Grinshpun, 2014;Kennedy et al., 2018), evolving notions of authenticity (Beverland, 2006;Carroll & Wheaton, 2019;Thompson & Kumar, 2022), morality Askegaard et al., 2014;Silchenko & Askegaard, 2020), and the formation of a consumer subject (Karababa & Ger, 2011). For example, immigrants play a crucial role in creative material recreations of home culture food when adapting to a new host culture (Chytkova, 2011). ...
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Abstract Consumer culture scholars have advanced multifaceted insights about how food products are crafted for globalizing and culturally diverse food markets; these insights have yet to be consolidated and synthesized. This paper provides a narrative synthesis of 73 consumer culture articles on food consumption and marketing from the past 30 years to advance an ordering theory that draws connections between extant insights. It introduces the concept of transcultural food marketing to denote how market actors collaboratively develop or transform a food product in culturally diverse markets aiming to facilitate market exchange. This paper conceptualizes transcultural food marketing as an intersection between two fundamental tensions: (1) territorialization and deterritorialization; and (2) familiarity and exploration—that manifest in distinct configurations. The transcultural food marketing framework advances an integrative and generative vocabulary that directs theoretical imagination toward the pluralism and plasticity in how food products are crafted for culturally diverse markets.
... In the cafe industry, the pursuit of authenticity is intensified by the growing competition between large corporate chains and small independent businesses (Thompson & Arsel, 2004) and the cultural shift from commodities to experiences (Miles, 2021). Nevertheless, the chain/independent tensions around authenticity remain an under-investigated area of consumer culture research (Thurnell-Read, 2019), while existing scholarship on cafes and other places of commercial food consumption has mostly applied the concept of authenticity to products (Grinshpun, 2014;Hubbard, 2019;Kjeldgaard & Ostberg, 2007) rather than atmospheres (cf. Linnet, 2015). ...
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This chapter explores the concept of authenticity in the context of today’s highly competitive hospitality industry. Drawing on the multi-sited ethnographic case study of Ziferblat, the world’s first pay-per-minute cafe franchise, the author examines how the imperative of authenticity is addressed by small international enterprises falling in between the categories of chain and independent. By tracing how Ziferblat’s original concept, shaped by the personal and socioeconomic background of its founder, was subsequently transformed by the local teams and adapted to different cultural-geographical contexts, this chapter adds new empirical evidence to the dynamic and pluralistic notion of multiple authenticities.
... Toplumsal yaşamın kültürel bir unsuru olarak görülen kahve birçok kentin simgesi olarak kent kimliğini oluşturmuştur (Putra ve Ekomadyo, 2015). Tucker (2011) kahve kültürü çeşitli eylemleri, inançları ve bilgileri birleştirdiğini ifade ederek, sevenleri için: (1) insanların hizmet etme ve hizmet etme yollarına yönelik geliştirdiği bağlılık veya sevme, kahve hazırlamak, (2) insanların kahve içtiği yer veya bağlam ve (3) kahveyle ilgili duygu veya fikirler gibi nedenden dolayı da anlamlı olduğunu belirtmiştir (Oktafarel vd., 2021).Sosyalleşme imkanı sunan kahve tüketim mekanları (Chadios, 2005;Manzo, 2014;Grinshpun, 2014;Huang, 2017) global markaların yayılımıyla kentsel ortamlarda kamusal mekanlara 3. Mekanlar olarak adlandırılan yerlere dönüşmüştür. Özellikle Türkiye de kendine özgü ve somut olmayan bir miras ögesi olarak değerlendirilen Türk kahvesi üretim alanları da kentsel mekânlarda önemli yer bulmaktadır. ...
Conference Paper
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Türkiye’nin Güneydoğu Anadolu bölgesinde yaygın bir şekilde tüketilen ve toplumsal katılımın yüksek olduğu sosyal organizasyonların vaz geçilmez bir parçası olan mırra kahvesi kültürel etkileşim yolu ile Türk mutfak kültürüne geçen gastronomik unsurlardan biridir. Süreç içerisinde Anadolu insanının hayat tarzı, damak tadı ve sofra adabı ile şekillenerek millileşen bu ürün, günümüzde kent kimliklerinin oluşumuna katkı sağlayan imgesel lezzetlerden biri haline gelmiştir. Bu çalışma mırranın Türk mutfak kültüründeki yeri ve önemini ortaya koymak; aynı zamanda Anadoludaki mırra geleneğinin şekil ve içerik özelliklerini irdelemek amacıyla Şanlıurfa’da yürütülmüştür. Şanlıurfa'da mırra tüketiminin yüksek olması çalışmanın bu şehirde yapılmasının ana nedenidir. Çalışmanın amaçları doğrultusunda ilk olarak konu ile ilgili mevcut literatür gözden geçirilmiş ve araştırma konusu ile örtüşen tespitler (mırra, mırra kültürü, mırra içme geleneği, mırranın yer bulduğu sosyal organizasyonlar vs.) fişleme yöntemi ile kayıt altına alınmıştır. Bu işlemin ardından Şanlıurfa’da ikamet eden iki mırra ustası ve yedi somut olmayan kültürel miras aktarıcısı ile görüşmeler yapılmıştır. Araştırma sonuçları; mırranın Türk gastronomisinin önemli bileşenlerinden biri olduğunu; destinasyonlara turistik değer kattığını ve süreç içerisinde mırra içme-ikram etme geleneğinin mondernitenin etkisinde kalarak zayıfladığını ortaya koymuştur.
... Thompson & Arsel, 2004, Ritzer, 2007 "looking alright, feeling alright" untuk mengungkapkan bahwa konsumsi tidak hanya masalah penilaian lingkungan tetapi juga perasaan dan emosi yang bermakna individual dan situasional (Colls, 2004). Meski demikian, terdapat juga kecenderungan yang berbeda tentang budaya konsumsi, tidak hanya meng-creol, mengglobal, atau meng-lokal yang cenderung kooperatif, rupanya budaya konsumsi juga memiliki aspek perlawanan terhadap masuknya budaya baru (Grinshpun, 2014). ...
Apa pilihan dari model-model pemberdayaan masyarakat yang disampaikan dalam buku ini? Jelas kekuasaan kami anggap sebagai penyebab dan bukan hanya sekadar penghambat, sehingga restrukturisasi menjadi sangat penting. Apakah bekerja setelah kekuasaan terganti? Tidak. Target utama bukan penggantian personel tetapi lebih bagaimana mengganti sifat dari kekuasaan yang terbangun dari lokal, di mana kekuasaan adalah pelayan bagi masyarakat dan digunakan untuk pembelaan pada ketidakadilan. Sementara itu, orientasi nilai sekaligus pola gerakan kami menyarankan teman-teman yang akan mengadopsi model ini menjadi bagian integral dari gerakan sosialnya dan bukan sebagai pendamping saja. Pada akhirnya, tujuan utama dari model-model yang kami sampaikan di sini adalah untuk memperkuat posisi akar rumput agar mereka bisa sepenuhnya mengambil bagian dari gerakan politik yang mendeterminasi bentuk pengelolaan sumber daya apa pun yang masuk ke masyarakat.
... Thompson & Arsel, 2004, Ritzer, 2007 "looking alright, feeling alright" untuk mengungkapkan bahwa konsumsi tidak hanya masalah penilaian lingkungan tetapi juga perasaan dan emosi yang bermakna individual dan situasional (Colls, 2004). Meski demikian, terdapat juga kecenderungan yang berbeda tentang budaya konsumsi, tidak hanya meng-creol, mengglobal, atau meng-lokal yang cenderung kooperatif, rupanya budaya konsumsi juga memiliki aspek perlawanan terhadap masuknya budaya baru (Grinshpun, 2014). ...
Full-text available
Buku ini merupakan model model pemberdayaan ekonomi untuk pedesaan. Buku merupakan hasil riset aksi sehingga model telah disimulasikan pada level prototipe. Pengembangan terus dilakukan hingga saat ini untuk memastikan kestabilan model. Dengan tujuan memperkaya khasanah pengembangan ekonomi pedesaan, buku ini menjadi referensi bagi kepala desa, pengelola BUMDESA, juga para pendamping dan penggiat pedesaan.
Over just a few years, numerous Western-style cafés have opened in Kyrgyzstan’s capital and gained popularity. In contrast to existing food-service venues, these new cafés provide superior service, creating incentives to linger. Based on Oldenburg’s theory of the ‘third place’, this article analyses the functions of these cafés and discusses their significance for Bishkek society. Three main functions are identified: first, providing an alternative space for activities usually carried out at home or in the workplace; second, creating a sense of global affiliation; and third, providing a space for solitude within an otherwise traditionally communitarian and family-based society, thus enabling a process of individualisation.
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Coffee, which aids us in learning about the cultural practices of a society, is an important consumption commodity not only in Turkey but throughout the world. In this study, various speciality coffees produced by coffee producers in Artuklu, the historical district of Mardin, the rapid change of cafes and the purchasing practices of consumers have been examined. Ethnographic interviews have also been conducted with coffee producers, cafe owners, and consumers. Coffee producers make various coffees, such as Turkish, Assyrian, Kurdish, Dibek, and cardamom, reflecting the multicultural structure of the city. Cafe owners and producers use expressions and images that emulate antiquity in their brands and logos. The cafes as "third places" become flamboyant spacious spaces leaving their traditional appearance behind. The consumption of new products by visitors of Mardin, an important place for domestic tourists, indicates a new class that seeks pleasure and experience in Turkey.
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The popularity of Odesa-themed restaurants across the world presents an opportunity to explore a possible core of the Odesa city myth, sedimented into consumer space. The article analyzes 63 enterprises in seventeen countries, examining the cuisine, interiors, restaurant concepts, media reviews, and visitor reports on social media. The theoretical framework of this study revolves around the concept of memory entrepreneurship, the concept of travelling mnemonic plots, and instruments of marketing semiotics, especially the “cultural mélange” phenomenon. The surveyed restaurants reveal a specific picture of an Odesa “memoryscape,” formed as a dense palimpsest. The key themes are the motifs of an inverted world and of a lost Paradise. The plot of the Odesa myth in restaurants outside Odesa can be described as a temporal loop, starting at several points simultaneously, traversing the space of the world, then collapsing and returning to the departure time in a gesture of grief over the lost paradise.
This history of Japanese mass culture during the decades preceding Pearl Harbor argues that the new gestures, relationship, and humor of ero-guro-nansensu (erotic grotesque nonsense) expressed a self-consciously modern ethos that challenged state ideology and expansionism. Miriam Silverberg uses sources such as movie magazines, ethnographies of the homeless, and the most famous photographs from this era to capture the spirit, textures, and language of a time when the media reached all classes, connecting the rural social order to urban mores. Employing the concept of montage as a metaphor that informed the organization of Japanese mass culture during the 1920s and 1930s, Silverberg challenges the erasure of Japanese colonialism and its legacies. She evokes vivid images from daily life during the 1920s and 1930s, including details about food, housing, fashion, modes of popular entertainment, and attitudes toward sexuality. Her innovative study demonstrates how new public spaces, new relationships within the family, and an ironic sensibility expressed the attitude of Japanese consumers who identified with the modern as providing a cosmopolitan break from tradition at the same time that they mobilized for war.
This fascinating book-part ethnography, part memoir-traces Japan's vibrant café society over one hundred and thirty years. Merry White traces Japan's coffee craze from the turn of the twentieth century, when Japan helped to launch the Brazilian coffee industry, to the present day, as uniquely Japanese ways with coffee surface in Europe and America. White's book takes up themes as diverse as gender, privacy, perfectionism, and urbanism. She shows how coffee and coffee spaces have been central to the formation of Japanese notions about the uses of public space, social change, modernity, and pleasure. White describes how the café in Japan, from its start in 1888, has been a place to encounter new ideas and experiments in thought, behavior, sexuality , dress, and taste. It is where a person can be socially, artistically, or philosophically engaged or politically vocal. It is also, importantly, an urban oasis, where one can be private in public.
In this article I elaborate and codify the extended case method, which deploys participant observation to locate everyday life in its extralocal and historical context. The extended case method emulates a reflexive model of science that takes as its premise the intersubjectivity of scientist and subject of study. Reflexive science valorizes intervention, process, structuration, and theory reconstruction. It is the Siamese twin of positive science that proscribes reactivity, but upholds reliability, replicability, and representativeness. Positive science, exemplified by survey research, works on the principle of the separation between scientists and the subjects they examine. Positive science is limited by “context effects” (interview, respondent, field, and situational effects) while reflexive science is limited by “power effects” (domination, silencing, objectification, and normalization). The article concludes by considering the implications of having two models of science rather than one, both of which are necessarily flawed. Throughout I use a study of postcolonialism to illustrate both the virtues and the shortcomings of the extended case method. Methodology can only bring us reflective understanding of the means which have demonstrated their value in practice by raising them to the level of explicit consciousness; it is no more the precondition of fruitful intellectual work than the knowledge of anatomy is the precondition of“correct” walking. Max Weber— The Methodology of the Social Sciences