Kashiwa Mystery Cafe

So, we're in Japan, and we've just stepped off the train in Kashiwa, a very nice town in Chiba which also happens to be the home of Panic's Japanese HQ, which itself happens to be essentially a cozy apartment, which reminds me of Panic USA 1.0, except Noby and Kenichi don't live in the apartment, and the apartment is in Japan.


Noby wasn't there yet, so we wandered around the station a little bit, enjoying the good weather and banking on Cabel's First Rule of Japan: if you wander around anywhere in Japan for a little bit, you will come across something interesting. (This is also Cabel's First Rule of Everything.) So we came across something interesting:

...which despite have a semi-unfortunate acronym, was a collection of elegant, architecturally-cool buildings, possibly part of a temporary exhibition to excite the citizens of Kashiwa, with a nice wooden deck with some inviting café tables.

We sat down to catch a break.

A few seconds later, I heard some halted English coming from my left.

"Hello! Please come here!"

This was unusual for Japan, because although most Japanese city centers seemed to be filled with hundreds of unregulated and overdriven speakers, I've rarely, if ever, been beckoned in English and in person. It caught me off guard. I wandered over.

The cashier fumbled for the right words. "Please... buy something!"

OK, this was confusing, because up until this point nobody in Japan has ever outright asked — let alone strongly suggested — I buy anything, ever. In some regions of China, for example, it's normal to be followed for blocks by plucky street vendors, with sooty caps and using the Chinese word for "guv'nor" (省长), trying to sell the hapless tourist genuine 24k goldique watches, small angry turtles, expired pudding, Steely Dan CD-R's, and the like. But simply doesn't happen in Japan — just like it also probably doesn't happen in China either because I've never been there and this entire paragraph is based only on bad movies and stereotypes.

While I was a little uncomfortable, I didn't want to be rude. I grabbed a café menu, quickly translated some Katakana (you'll get surprisingly far in Japan by learning this phonetic alphabet!), and found something I kind-of almost.. but not really.. wanted.

"I'll take an orange juice, please," I explained, in poor Japanese.

"Hai!", was the eager response.

A few moments later, I picked up my orange juice.

Except it wasn't an orange juice.

It was an apple drink called "Appletizer", some weird candy, and a little card.

Yeah. Now I was confused.

The guys behind the counter and I immediately launched into a humorous, protracted, Englishanese attempt to understand what the hell just happened. Through judicious fumbling, and after a great deal of precise hand-waving and mangled pronouns, it turned out to be something like this:

At this cafe, you get what the person before you ordered. The next person gets what you ordered.

Welcome to the Ogori cafe!

As I sat down to enjoy my surprise Appletizer, loving this insane idea and wondering what would happen if you tried it in America, a Japanese woman approached the cafe. Since she could actually speak Japanese, she could read the large sign at the front and, fortunately or unfortunately, got advanced warning of what she was in for. Before making a final decision on what to order, she quietly snuck up to me to try to ask me what I had ordered, knowing that it would be her unwavering refreshment destiny. The staff put a quick stop to her trickery, and I didn't answer.

Of course, regardless of what she ordered, she got the orange juice I ordered a few minutes earlier. But here's one of the moments that make this experiment cool: she actually chose orange juice, just like I did. So she got what she wanted. Ogori cafe synchronicity!

Before we left, there was one last thing hat had to be done.

Mike went up to the cafe, slapped down a couple thousand yen (~$25), and ordered a little bit of everything: some ice cream, some snacks, some candy, some drinks, a Japanese horn-of-mysterious-plenty intentionally set up as a shocking surprise for the next lucky customer. (After his order, Mike received single iced coffee.)

As we walked away from the cafe, with just the right amount of delay, we heard an extremely excited "arigato goazimasu!! thank you so much!!" yelled in our direction, from an ecstatic mom and her equally excited young son. They truly appreciated the surprise.

It was so worth it.

For the record, here are the rules of the Ogori cafe:
  1. Let's treat the next person. What to treat them with? It's your choice.
  2. Even if it's a group of friends or a family, please form a single-file line. Also, you can't buy twice in a row.
  3. Please enjoy what you get, even if you hate it. (If you really, really hate it, let's quietly give it to another while saying, "It's my treat…")
  4. Let's say "Thank You! (Gochihosama)" if you find the person with your Ogori cafe card.
  5. We can't issue a receipt.
The Ogori cafe was an unforgettable travel moment, and an idea that has stuck with me: It was a complete surprise in our day. It encouraged communication between total strangers or, in this case, members of the Kashiwa community and a couple of weird guys from Oregon. It forced one to "let go", just for a brief moment, of the total control we're so used to exerting through commerce. It led you to taste something new, that you might not normally have ordered. It was a delight.

Then, according to Noby, as quickly as it appeared, the Ogori cafe was gone.

Next time: The Best Fast Food Receipt In The World


You got a purple crisp bar! They're the ones that taste like Monster Munch.
OpenID daragh 9/30/2009 3:12 PM  
What a terrific story, Cabel! Thanks for sharing.
Anonymous Aaron Vegh 9/30/2009 3:17 PM  
This is like a dream I would have. I simply adore Japanese Culture.
Anonymous Berke 9/30/2009 3:18 PM  
That's marvelous! (You might want to update the spelling of “Gochisousama”!)
Blogger William V 9/30/2009 3:22 PM  
Wow this is AMAZING! Thanks for sharing!
Anonymous James 9/30/2009 3:24 PM  
Welcome to Japan! My name is J. Kim and I am living in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I am building an application with my team as our first product.
I know you and your product and saw your presentation in C4. It was very interesting.

How long are you going to stay in japan? We have a communities on Cocoa and iPhone development (just like C4 or NSConference) in Japan and I am a member of it. Our next regular meeting will be held in Saitama-ken near by Chiba-ken on October 26. Can you give us a chance to hear your knowledge in the meeting? About 20 to 30 people will be attend the meeting.

Or, If you leave before the date, do you have any chance to visit Tokyo? If you don't mind we will be able to have a small meeting with some food and Japanese delicious beer. My purpose is hearing on your experience as isv and designer.

You can contact to me through below mail account:

kimsum at mark gmail dot com

Thank you for reading and enjoy yourself in Japan!
Blogger NUF 9/30/2009 4:12 PM  
Wow, what a fantastic idea! Even more curious that it disappeared so soon after your experience. Perhaps it moved to a different location?
Anonymous extrarice 9/30/2009 4:14 PM  
Can you not get Appletiser over in the states? We have it in the UK and its one of my favourite soft drinks.
Anonymous Danny Greg 9/30/2009 4:27 PM  
Maybe when they moved, the next restaurant that opened there was really what they wanted to open?
Blogger double garage 9/30/2009 4:27 PM  
you're not far off the mark w/ china. especially at the great wall.
Blogger wise 9/30/2009 5:07 PM  
That's awesome. Of course, it's not hard to see why a place where you rarely get what you ordered would go out of business :)

A cool twist on it might be to let people order what they want, but also require that they order something for the next person. So you always get what you want plus a treat.
Anonymous Daniel Jalkut 9/30/2009 5:18 PM  
I can't speak to China, having never been, but I had the "seller chasing rich American down the street" experience in Bangalore. I finally had to turn to them and look very mean and tell them to go away to get them to stop. Anyone who knows me will be very amused at the thought of me looking "very mean" but it worked.
Anonymous Anonymous 9/30/2009 5:29 PM  
So THIS is what you're doing instead of working on Unison?!? 19 months stuck at 1.8.1! :P
Anonymous Anonymous 9/30/2009 6:45 PM  
Well, yeah, anon. You asked for a Unison upgrade, but the guy before you asked for a neat blog post. And the guy after you got Unison 2.0. He says thanks.
Anonymous Blain Hamon 9/30/2009 8:08 PM  
This is essentially a bit of high-concept performance art. See here:

(The artist) Eat & Art Taro was born in 1979 in Kanagawa Prefecture. He leads food-themed workshops, produces menus for museum cafes, and is engaged in various activities relating to the intersection of food and art. Ogori Cafe is his creation.
Anonymous Patrick McKenzie 9/30/2009 8:39 PM  
This really does reaffirm my faith in the benevolence of Eris - gorgeous work of performance art, and just a great feel-good bit of randomness.
Blogger bibulb 9/30/2009 9:58 PM  
I have to speak to the "Chinese vendors" comment. When I was in China I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of almost everyone there; but on more than one occasion I was chased down the street, followed for blocks, and even physically grabbed in a attempt to illicit a purchase from me. It is not a movie stereotype.

Anyway, I love this story. It is always the unexpected things that happen when traveling that make it exciting. The more you get "lost" the more surprises you find.
Anonymous Will Leisen 9/30/2009 10:15 PM  
Appletizer is awesome. A carbonated apple juice that *actually consists of apple juice*! What will those crazy South Africans think of next?

(Actually, the answer to that is Grapetizer. But seriously, stick to Appletizer.)
Anonymous Jens Ayton 10/01/2009 12:28 AM  
Great story ! I've been encouraged to buy things by vendors in China - but not aggressively. In my case though they were calling it to me in Russian (tovarish) - but given I was in Harbin in far north-east China it wasn't an unreasonable conclusion to assume the 老外 (laowai - foreigner) was Russian and not an english speaker at all.
Anonymous Andrew Kimpton 10/01/2009 5:46 AM  
This would be a cool concept for a strip club or whore house :-)
Anonymous Anonymous 10/01/2009 9:26 AM  
It very much sounds like an art project. A very cool art project though.
Anonymous mare 10/01/2009 10:53 AM  
Great idea :)
Blogger Lagora Franck 10/01/2009 11:36 AM  
Thanks for sharing this.
Blogger Christian A. Dumais 10/01/2009 1:04 PM  
That's brilliant! Thanks for sharing it!
Blogger Paige 10/01/2009 2:10 PM  
Man! That is a really brilliant story! I loved it and it makes me want to travel in Japan asap!
Anonymous Claudio 10/01/2009 9:46 PM  
Too awesome. Thanks!
Anonymous Jeff Byrnes 10/01/2009 10:49 PM  
I am so completely tickled by this story. Thanks for including clear photos of the card and the sign! The card especially is just darling. (Which makes me wonder, did anyone point out while you were there that the person who ordered your Appletizer and candy was a male in white clothes? Did you spot the person?)

Patrick McKenzie, thanks for link and the context on Eat & Art Taro!

For anyone who does care and doesn't know: "Ogori" is derived from the verb "ogoru," meaning to treat someone (to a drink, meal, whatever).
Blogger Stephen 10/02/2009 8:22 AM  
How charming!
Apparently this was an event with a set time-frame, and not an established business.
Anonymous Dave Jones 10/02/2009 10:04 AM  
I'm speechless. This is amazing.
OpenID chrisodonnell 10/02/2009 3:26 PM  
It happens in China, but they are all selling the SAME CRAP.
Anonymous Anonymous 10/02/2009 4:13 PM  
Yes, but the first person who ordered... what did they get?
Anonymous Anonymous 10/03/2009 1:48 PM  
very cool, i like the part where you guys bought a ton of stuff for the next person. :)
Anonymous Anonymous 10/03/2009 2:01 PM  
oh, you happen to be right on target with china. i had my shirt ripped by a woman in a market, who held on to it trying to sell little clay-made pee-pee boys. frightening.
Anonymous Anonymous 10/03/2009 2:06 PM  
When we are visiting any foreign places, we tend to enjoy being greeted in many ways; sometimes by suggesting vendors, and we feel insulted when we are ignored by local vendors. From my experiences here in Jakarta, we prefer to ignore the non-local visitors; either Asians or non-Asians, specially Caucasians, since they are not spending any besides for certain foods n drinks n rooms, and the locals spend much more and less bargaining n less picky than these back-packed tourists or expatriates working in Jakarta, where chineses dominate the business.
Sale-marketing techniques can come in many forms of advertising n suggestions, depending on the budget and marketing-targets n situations; if certain tourists travel in better budgets, they usually don't experience walking in low-end locations n environments,
In most Asian countries, usually we will find random levels of ways to spend our money......again here is MONEY n its POWER to CHOOSE!!! so do you prefer to look up on people who ignore you because they look down on you?
Anonymous TONY USC TROJAN 10/03/2009 6:58 PM  
Very nice story ! It's awesome :D
Blogger AG 10/04/2009 6:59 AM  
Hi interesting post!
I borrowed it and translated into Chinese for my blog readers, but don't worry. I did credit you. =)
Anonymous Foodeology 10/04/2009 9:50 AM  
Clever, and odd. ;-)
Blogger Speedmaster 10/04/2009 2:20 PM  
What a neat experience!! Next time I'm in Japan, I'll definitely make a trip out to Kashiwa and find this place.
Anonymous AntiGenre 10/05/2009 6:48 AM  
AntiGenre... unfortunately it's run its course and is no longer there. Would be neat if they setup elsewhere...
Anonymous Anonymous 10/05/2009 11:02 AM  
I run a custom button/badge store, Pin Poet, and I think I'm going to try implementing this! Buy ogori buttons, select from premade designs or pick your own, and then receive whatever the previous person ordered. I love it. :)
Blogger Relsqui 10/05/2009 2:33 PM  
definitely very cool - what a great story and such an interesting idea for a cafe...
Blogger Kerry 10/05/2009 4:14 PM  
I found this blog post very interesting, I believe this shows how truly different cultures can be. This type of cafe would never back it in the United States, simply because most people will worry about themselves more than they would a stranger. In a subtle, discrete way the Ogori cafe is changing the perceptions of people. The Ogori cafe is changing the notion that the self comes first but all the while making it seem as though it is a game. I mentioned this blog to a couple of my friends and all but one said they would be mad if their order was replaced with someone else's. The other realized that the concept wasn't all that bad. I honestly wish that a business in the U.S. would pick up this technique. I wouldn't mind going to a restaurant and receiving a "surprise", considering the fact that you never know what your going to get. The down side to the Ogori cafe is that you could order $25 dollars worth of merchandise and end up with a glass of water.
Nicole R-WCU
Anonymous Anonymous 10/05/2009 7:28 PM  
This works for all the reasons you say in your blog, except for the absolutely fundamental and, I would say, non-negotiable element that you go into a cafe to EAT food, not play games. I'm sure the only customers who "got it" were those who were using the cafe more for the other social elements that "eateries" have, not for fundamental sustenance. Use the idea on something else, then I'm sure it's got a better chance of being 100% successful.
OpenID brianbge 10/07/2009 4:44 AM  
Try, it's the same principle, but for google. Kinda fun
Anonymous Anonymous 10/07/2009 6:39 AM  
gillllllllll the icon dude looks like the reddit alien. coincidence???? i don't THINK so.
Anonymous Anonymous 10/07/2009 10:52 AM  
Dammit, Kashiwa is just a few stations away, and the place is already gone... >.<
Anonymous Anonymous 10/08/2009 5:48 AM  
Anonymous Elliott 10/08/2009 1:15 PM  
Leave it to the Japanese! Alot of crazy restaurants I've been to in Tokyo...
Anonymous Natty 10/09/2009 8:49 PM  
thanks for sharing. i have lived in tokyo for five years. very unusual, but not surprising. the japanese just are not big complainers. too ba it is gone.
Anonymous Anonymous 10/10/2009 12:26 AM  
The idea sounds fantastic in concept when you first hear about it. But problems start to creep up after thinking about it for a little while.

The biggest issue I have is with your having to pay for what you order and not what you receive. Since that is the case, I'd just order the cheapest thing on the menu every time and be rewarded with something more expensive than that (assuming of course, that other people aren't onto the same strategy). I would far prefer one having to pay for what the person ahead of you has ordered (i.e what you actually receive). The concept of 'gifting' is now taken out of it (good thing in fact) and all you have left is the surprise element, which is fun.
Blogger Arnold 10/10/2009 9:03 AM  
The idea sounds great but my biggest issue will be that I'm vegan and the likelihood that the person ahead of me ordered a vegan dish is slim
Blogger 10/10/2009 9:33 AM  
If you get what the person before you ordered, then the first person of the day creates "the menu". Sounds like breakfast items all day long.
Blogger The Berner Goddess 10/10/2009 1:15 PM  
Ok - realize now what the intent of this restaurant is. So, I guess the first person who orders that day gets what they want. The 2nd person gets the first order of the day. Does this mean the last person of the day creates the next first order the next day? Enquirier minds want to know.
Blogger The Berner Goddess 10/10/2009 1:24 PM  
It was there and then it was gone? It sounds like an it was an artistic experiment.
Anonymous Anonymous 10/10/2009 11:41 PM  
Vegans are too picky.
Anonymous Anonymous 10/11/2009 8:00 AM  
Student based initiative at Kashiwa No Ha campus, much different from the conservative, non communicative reality of everyday Japan. Been here a long time. went to the cafe last week
Anonymous Anonymous 10/11/2009 8:41 AM  
Great story. Buying things for the next person to gift them as Mike did when you were leaving is so classy!
Anonymous Chris Gratigny 10/11/2009 9:44 AM  
im now studying at japan. i really love to go there. anyway, nice story. thank you for sharing.
Blogger pijai @ jeni @ totoro 10/11/2009 9:45 AM  
You got dugg! Great story
Anonymous Anonymous 10/11/2009 10:41 PM  
If you read this, could you please, somehow, give directions on how to get to this cafe? If I ever get a chance to travel to Japan, this will be my first and last stop.

Anonymous Anonymous 10/12/2009 1:51 AM  
They've got all the cool stuff in japan. I really want to visit a maid cafe
Anonymous Anonymous 10/12/2009 11:49 PM  
that is awesome.

I have to ask - where did you (or your friend) get the tshirt with the spinner image on it? I need one. Send me an email from, please.
Anonymous webjones 10/13/2009 7:37 PM  
Hi, great story!!
I just wanted to point out that the 4th rule says if you see anyone with an Ogori card, you should say "gochisousama" & that person should also say it back to you. It adds a more community-feel; rather than thanking the actual person, you're all thanking each other, because you never know if that was your giver or not.

Such a cute idea. :)
Anonymous Layla 10/13/2009 10:01 PM  
i found this article by a random google and i'm glad i did.
very nice
Anonymous Anonymous 10/15/2009 5:20 PM  
Great story... don't imagine it would take off in Palmerston North...
Anonymous Anonymous 10/15/2009 8:23 PM  
Best. Blog. Post. Ever.
Blogger Darkimmortal 10/16/2009 5:05 PM  
Love it :)
Anonymous Pär Dahlberg 10/19/2009 12:09 AM  
Beautiful! thank’s for the interesting post
Anonymous tax jobs 10/20/2009 3:39 AM  
That is so cool... even cooler is the astroturf table you're sitting at...I wonder if you can get those in America?
Blogger Madeleine 10/21/2009 12:07 AM  
Wonderful story.

The cafe sure has a novel experiment happening there. Thanks for capturing it so well. There was a different version of it at school where you buy a Christmas gift and what you buy, someone else gets it. Oddly the children who made/bought the cutest gift always got a shitty one. But nevertheless this is an interesting concept.
Anonymous Anonymous 10/24/2009 7:10 PM  
Jens - Crazy South Africans (lol) have thought of Peartizer next and my fingers are crossed for Peachtizer. I grew up on Appletizer and Grapetizer yummy and hope the diet sugar free versions will one day be just as good.
It's a great and unusual concept to get something you didn't order and I am wondering if that would work on someone who is very specific, on a diet etc. It's great for conversation though, meeting and treating each other.
Anonymous ebbye 10/25/2009 4:00 PM  
Japanese just rock man... how do they get such innovative ideas?... keep posting. Will be visiting back soon.
Anonymous r4 ds karte 10/28/2009 12:42 AM  
I enjoyed this story so much that I couldn't help making a virtual one.
You can search in Wikipedia and you will get the result of what the person before you searched for:)
Anonymous Sonojohn 10/30/2009 4:01 AM  
What a fun idea! I love it!
Anonymous Pete 10/31/2009 11:04 PM  
hey i noticed the TLR in your photo! what kind is it? i have a grey rollei t


Matt's flickr site
Blogger Matt &amp; Sarah 11/15/2009 3:33 AM  
All these comments and only one person mentioned the astroturf tables. Amazing!
Anonymous mantrakid 11/22/2009 4:32 PM  
I read this story and got so excited by the sweet and cool idea that I was determined to visit this place on my Japan trip before I even finished the article! Then, I was terribly disappointed to read the end.. hahaa.. Ugh! Thansk for the great pick-me-up story this morning, though.

Anonymous Anonymous 11/23/2009 5:56 AM  
Awesome story, the Kashiwa Mystery Cafe, looks good. I liked the location of it and after reading the article am feeling to visit Japan and the location too.
Anonymous nintendo dsi r4 12/04/2009 2:31 AM  
This is the best thing I've read in a long time.
Blogger I'm Jelly 12/14/2009 2:07 PM  
Found this through a random tumblr link. This is such a charming, novel idea -- I almost wish the person who came up with it would try this social experiment here (in the U.S.), although I can't imagine customers tolerating not getting exactly what they ordered (not to mention, potentially, not getting their money's worth). Thanks for an awesome story!
Blogger brightrayofsunshine 1/09/2010 5:20 PM  
Yes, i love this idea, definitely a little aspect of performance art in there.
the best rule: please enjoy what you get, even if you hate it...
Words to live by
Anonymous Hilary 1/21/2010 5:09 PM  
Thanks for sharing. Came here through Seth's blog and PSFK.
OpenID CoCreatr 1/30/2010 3:40 AM  
What an idea. Unique daring and different. Am sure this must be a hit. Thanks for posting this
Anonymous Anonymous 1/30/2010 6:49 AM  
Charmingly subversive - love it! I just gave my time at at Bristol's rebel restaurant: the premises were squatted for the duration of the pop-up restaurant, the chefs and waiters gave their time for free and the guests donated what they could afford. It was a four course meal extravaganza and the atmosphere was full of soul.
OpenID realfoodlover 1/31/2010 6:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous 2/01/2010 8:22 PM  
An old girlfriend of mine used to do something similar - or perhaps it's an inverse example — around Christmas here in the US, and I've continued the tradition off and on, long after we've broken up. But instead of a cafe like this, you do it at a drive-thru restaurant (how American!). You simply pay for your order as you would normally, then when you get your food, you say you want to pay for the person's order behind you (and usually I have to explain this a few times to the person taking my money, as it's a completely foreign concept). It sometimes starts a chain reaction…after all if you pull up to the window and someone's paid for your meal already, why not pay for the next person? My ex-girlfriend spoke with someone at the restaurant a couple of days later, after doing this once, and found that the chain reaction had gone on for a few hours. I guess the chain breaks when there's no one behind you, so the amount due is therefore unknowable. I've had on more than one occasion had the restaurant worker recognize me later, and tell me that the chain went on quite some time. Give it a try…sometimes people will go to great lengths to chase after you and thank you. But it is somehow more satisfying to watch the surprise on their faces, and then disappear before they spot you.
Anonymous Matt Haines 2/02/2010 1:08 PM  
Ah, yes I love this kind of commerce/performance art. I'd got there everyday just take part!
I also love the enjoy what you got part also. I'll writing about this in my cartoon buddhism/meditation blog if that's ok!

I know of friend, that when he has great day he'll go to Starbucks, or to an ice cream parlour and pay for someone's food or drink at random.

I actually came to your site, because I was curious about Leopard and boot camp, but saw this!

arigoto gozaimashita!
Anonymous r.hatta 2/04/2010 1:36 PM  
it was interesting indeed. :)
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Name:Cabel Maxfield Sasser
Job:Co-Founder, Panic Inc.
Location:Portland, OR