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“No voice conversation please” reads a sign outside a cafe that opened in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward this month.

At Deaftopia, meaning a utopia for deaf people, all nine employees, including manager Yoshihide Izumi, are deaf. “I want people to know what it is like to live in a world without sound,” Izumi said.

There is no background music and even whispering is not permitted. Instead, there are boards on the table for people to write on if they are not conversant with sign language. “It is just the place for us (the deaf). We can relax and talk,” said Hitomi Akahori, who comes to the restaurant with her friend from Machida, Tokyo.

Another deaf woman said, “It is good for people (who can hear) to experience the isolation of deaf people.” Deaftopia has also attracted nondeaf people wishing to study signing.

Keiko Murase, 53, and Noriko Arai, 51, both from Chiba Prefecture, said they are repeat customers wishing to brush up their signing abilities so they can better communicate with friends who cannot hear.

Learning sign language has become popular in the wake of recent television dramas that featured people with hearing problems.

According to Izumi, most sign language used on television is a word-for-word translation of Japanese language. However, most deaf people actually use Nihon Shuwa (Japanese Sign Language). Despite its name, Nihon Shuwa has a language structure different from spoken Japanese. “We want people to know more about Nihon Shuwa,” Izumi said.

For details, fax Deaftopia at (03) 3381-3636.

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