On Tuesday, during a trip to Kyoto, I was visiting around with some friends and as we grew tired of walking, we started to look for a café to sit down and relax for a bit. The café we found by the imperial palace was like nothing we’d seen before.
At first, we didn’t understand how to behave at the Free Café Harimaya Station. It seemed like just any self-service café in Japan, only with the exception of cashiers. Indeed coffee, tea, juice and even rice crackers were completely free of charge. This concept, we later found, had been developed by a successful confectionery company to “give back” to society and promote traditional food, in their case rice crackers (senbei), and environmental awareness.
The café wasn’t a place of only benevolent goodness as a small shop counter was conveniently located a few meters from the free café. By instituting this free café, Harimaya Honten managed to attract people, make them feel good, and even buy their product and offset their running costs!
Their philosophy also caught my attention as they were careful of making rice crackers in traditional, and more environmentaly-friendly, as opposed to sterile industrial ways. Pictures of their factories showed them more like Japanese country houses with beautiful gardens than the typical concrete blocks.
Since I’ve visited this café I can’t help but think of how this new model for marketing a quality products could be applicable in other circumstances. Could this café exist in Western countries or in any place outside of Japan?
I don’t have the answers right now and hope to ponder upon them during my studies at HEC.