Shigeo Ota spends six days a week behind the counter of his cafe, Aroma, watching TV and waiting for customers who rarely come. The cafe is in Komagome, a town in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward, close the quiet neighborhoods of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi (collectively known "Ya-ne-sen"). There isn't much foot traffic here by Tokyo standards.

"In the '80s, I had customers all day long," he says. "There was a streetcar that ran right in front of my place, lots of shops, people walking with their families. Then they built that big road and people just zip by in cars. I can count on my hand the number of people who come in a day." He rolls his fingers in mock arithmetic.

I ask why he keeps the shop open if there are so few customers.