Quirky, theme-based cafes have in recent years been part of the Tokyo landscape, including those featuring cats, young girls sporting sexy fantasy “maid” garb, and even “rakugo” comic storytelling.
In the trendy Omotesando district is one stocked with stationery, ranging from colored pencils to sketchbooks and sticky notes.
Besides serving food and drinks like its rivals, the 60-seat bunbougu cafe (stationery cafe), which opened in a basement last June, also sells stationery items and lets customers use various products for free on the premises.
The shelves are even lined with books and magazines on stationery.
“We started this place based on our long-held idea that we could possibly create something interesting if we combine an element of cafe and stationery,” said Ryosuke Oouchi, a spokesman of the cafe, run by Toukou Bros., a wholesale stationer.
Cafes and stationery often go together, Oouchi said, noting people often pass their time in such venues updating their schedules or scribbling new ideas.
Oouchi said the concept for bunbougu came during discussions with officials at the wholesaler.
Opening a cafe in Omotesando, where many foreign luxury boutiques operate, meant a lot to the company, according to Oouchi.
“Japanese stationery items are highly regarded internationally for their high quality. We launched the stationery-themed cafe to convey the message that we fit in among such fancy foreign brands,” he said, noting any other district was out of the question, including Sumida Ward, a traditional area where Toukou Bros. is headquartered.
Oouchi said the cafe sells with many stationery items, including original ones and nostalgic items from various manufacturers to make the cafe a stationery hub.
“We want this place to be a hub for offering information on stationery. We can introduce stationery makers or shops to customers by holding special events or seminars with those involved. Manufacturers’ representatives can meet general customers thanks to the stationery,” he said.
Yoko Suzuki, 20, who was having lunch at bunbougu with her friend, Kuyuri Murata, also 20, said it’s fun to write something on a notebook or a piece of paper while eating.
“It’s not something you do when you are having a meal. It’s new to me, and I’m having fun,” Suzuki said.
Murata said she was attracted to the cafe because the stationery theme looked interesting.
One unique feature at bunbougu is its membership system.
Anybody can become a member after paying a one-time fee of ¥700. Some of the tables have drawers, which contain pens, notebooks, erasers and other items that members can freely use. Each member receives a key that unlocks the drawers.
“All the drawers have different things in them. People can communicate through notebooks, with a certain topic written inside, such as ‘Write about movies you like,’ or ‘Write something about Italy,’ ” Oouchi said as he showed examples.
Other privileges members can get is 10 percent off food and drinks, and invitations to members-only events, including one featuring exchanges with stationery makers. An event like this offers stationery companies a rare opportunity to listen to their customers.
The cafe, which has been open almost a year, boasts almost 3,000 members, far more than the 1,200 Toukou Bros. had hoped to attract during the first 12 months. To show how popular the cafe was, the number exceeded 1,000 in just two or three months after it opened, Oouchi said.
“We haven’t paid for any advertising, so people are spreading information about this place by word of mouth, including on social media sites such as Twitter.”
Oouchi said roughly 70 percent of its members are women in their 20s and 30s, reflecting the dynamics of bunbougu’s customer base.
“We initially thought almost all customers would be women, but it turned out that the clientele is mixed and of various ages. It shows there are many different sorts of stationery lovers,” Oouchi said.
The company hopes to do more at the cafe to attract people.
“By holding more events, we’d like to connect customers with makers and shops. We want the cafe to be the place where people can gain something when they visit. We want the people to get inspiration from this cafe,” Oouchi said.