Can’t be bothered with waitresses? Not in the mood for a menu? Just want to grab a hot beverage and snack, plug in and kick back?
Consider the Marunouchi Cafe. Part coffee shop, part cyber cafe, MC is billed as “an Asian oasis for the peace of mind.” “Oasis” might be pushing it, but it is a great place to let off some steam in the middle of the historic Marunouchi business district.
Its wonderfully extravagant space takes up almost the entire bottom floor of the Fuji Building. MC’s maroon columns, huge multicolored lanterns dangling from an exposed ceiling and odd pieces of furniture and mismatched chairs (the interior was created by noted Hong Kong designer Alan Chan) give the illusion of a very eclectic room in the home of a wealthy man. The staff, dressed in fashionable black Chinese silk jackets, add to the atmospheric chic of the cafe.
Despite its cool appearance, MC is really just an experiment, according to manager Hidetoshi Matsushita. Mitsubishi Jisho, which owns several buildings in the Marunouchi district, decided to do a little rejuvenation project in the hope of luring more than just businesspeople to the area. “MC is basically a public relations space for Mitsubishi Jisho,” says Matsushita. “They are just trying it out for a while to see if it can be successful.”
It seems to be working. Since it opened last September, MC has become the new hangout of choice not only for businesspeople, but for job-seeking students, entrepreneurial housewives and the recently retired, and for good reason: free access to computers and the Internet.
Up to eight customers can take advantage of notebook computers connected to super fast ISDN lines, while MC’s wall-to-ceiling windows provide an expansive view of Marunouchi Naka-dori. With no time limits and no usage fee, it can be a challenge to get to a computer. Since there doesn’t seem to be any clear signup procedure, people mill about like they were playing a game of musical chairs. But if you bring your own computer, MC has thoughtfully provided four stations where you can download to your heart’s content without cleaning out your wallet in the process.
For those who aren’t in a panic to read their e-mail or check their stock quotes, MC offers other media pleasures. No need to pay triple the price for current English-language periodicals (heavy on fashion), which are artistically laid out here on several unique pieces of furniture. “Listening corners” with cozy chairs invite customers to sample the latest sounds from BMG/Arista recording artists. Video monitors, embedded in MC’s walls, run footage of the Olympics and other historical events, sponsored by IBM.
If all that bores you, MC wisely utilizes its space by presenting a number of events. Every Friday night there is Friday Acoustic Live, featuring jazz, pop and classical music performed by well-known locals. On Tuesdays, karisuma (from the English word charisma, meaning “popular” in Japanese slang) hair salon artists from Harajuku, Omotesando and Shibuya offer hair and makeup lectures. Says Matsushita, “We invite different businesswomen from the area to get their hair cut in public. It’s quite popular.” Smiling, he adds, “And it’s free.”
Just in case you forgot to pick up those tickets for the GLAY or SMAP concert, “on-line service” Ticket Pia is also available (but oddly, it is not online, just a counter where you can get information and make reservations).
In fact, MC has just about everything — except fresh coffee. But that, too, has been handled in an artistic fashion. According to Matsushita, the space was never built to handle a restaurant, hence Mitsubishi Jisho decided to provide a vending machine heaven instead.
Set in their own museum-like room, Chinese-red vending machines, offering miscellaneous snacks and every mutation of canned coffee and tea (including Alan Chan’s own “Mr. Chan” tea), are adorned with a colorful Warholesque display of cans. Set off by an antique chest of drawers and a dramatic flower arrangement, the beverages might not taste any better, but they are certainly more fun to buy.
MC’s wonderful experiment is only slated to run through August (unless faithful readers of this column rush in), so take advantage of the free Internet, free music and free hair cuts while you can. Now if we can just convince them to slip us a free hot can of Georgia every now and then, we’ll have it made.