Yo Yatsugi
Yo Yatsugi


Yo Yatsugi


A community-driven space to observe the changes in Kabutocho

CAFE SALVADOR BUSINESS SALON, a mix between a café and a business salon, has supported community projects in the financial districts of Kabutocho and Kayabacho since its inception. Yoh Yatsugi is the cafe manager and is someone that possesses a deep knowledge of the Kabutocho area even before its recent development. We sat down with him to ask him about his background and the projects that he is currently working on.

●Tell us about your childhood?
I was born in Komae City, Tokyo. Although it’s located in Tokyo, Komae is a small city known as the “3rd smallest city in Japan.” When I was a child, I liked to play outside and I’m lucky that I grew up in a peaceful and relaxing environment.

●Did you devote yourself to anything while you were a student?
I loved baseball and always had it on my mind throughout elementary and junior high school. My position was shortstop. It was a public school, but we all worked hard to try and reach our goal of going to the Koshien (National High School Baseball Championship).
However, it didn’t work out that way. I wanted to go to the Koshien even when I was in high school as well, so I enrolled as a so-called “veteran” but there was a rule that only 25 students could join the baseball team every year. When I looked into it, I found that 20 of the 25 spots were filled by students who received sports recommendations. And so, I was unable to join the club. It was my childhood dream and suddenly it was shattered and my high school life turned gray all at once. My ambition was sapped, and I spent my days in a state of limbo.

●That’s a shame. Did you find what you wanted to do at some point?
My high school life ended as it was, so I took a university entrance exam to find what I wanted to do. I took a year off and enrolled in the School of Education at Waseda University, studying sociology. I ended up joining a baseball club. There were about 60 to 70 to choose from, but I ended up going with a team that was quite serious about baseball. There were a few high school players here and there, and we played baseball three or four times a week. There was a tournament every year for the clubs on campus, and the system was such that if you were in the top four, you represented the entire university and could advance to a tournament against other universities, so I turned this into my personal goal.

●You really devoted yourself to the sport! Did you have any part-time jobs as well?
My first part-time job was when I was in high school. I sorted New Year’s greeting cards at the post office during my winter vacation. After entering university, I worked part-time as a registered employee helping set up events and so on. In my second year, I started working in the kitchen of an izakaya (Japanese-style bar), where I learned how to cook for the first time. The working environment was very good, and I remember getting along well with about six or seven of my co-workers at the time.

●Were you able to overcome this fleeting feeling of your childhood dreams whilst also working part-time?
My college life was fun in its own way, but I still haven’t found what I wanted to do. However, a friend of mine at my part-time job brought me a pamphlet about something called “Peace Boat” and asked me if I wanted to go and hear about it. “Peace Boat” is an NGO that travels around the world on a ship to promote international exchange. At first, I was supposed to be my friend’s chaperone, but in the end, I was the only one who applied for the program. There was an option where you could get a discount on the boat fare if you helped with the operation of the program. If you find three new stores to put up posters, you get a 1,000 yen discount. I started making preparations for the trip in the summer of my fourth year at university, and finally received a discount of about 300,000 yen.

●What was life on board like?
The plan was to circumnavigate the world in 90 days, and I chose the northern course, visiting 15 to 17 countries in the northern hemisphere and spending a day or two in each city. In addition to participating in exchange programs with local people, there were plenty of optional activities and free time, so even though it was a hectic schedule, I had a lot of freedom. Since it takes time to travel by ship, we all had our own ways of filling in the time. A photographer one year my senior gave a camera class on the ship, and I participated with a borrowed SLR camera in hand. This is how I became interested in photography, and I took a variety of pictures during the trip.

●Are there any cities that stand out in your memory?
There are many, but I think Cuba, Kenya, and Vietnam. Cuba was a socialist country and seemed poor at the time, but the people seemed to be enjoying life and I felt the Latin blood running through them. People were very friendly, and you could talk to them when you walked around. There is a famous spot called “Varadero Beach,” and whenever I went there, about 20 to 30 children would gather and spend time together imitating karate and playing catch.
Kenya is also a place of overwhelming natural beauty. The national park is about the size of Japan’s Shikoku Island, and there is a 360° horizon as far as the eye can see. It may sound cliché, but it really made me realize how small I am. Kenyans don’t have many material goods, but they all smile and put on a good face.
In Vietnam, I participated in a large 50-50 exchange with a local youth organization. We made partners and rode bicycles together and were guided around town, and at night we had a campfire on the beach. The students who responded were junior high and high school students, and they were really honest and nice.

I felt that starting my own store was the first time that all the things I had done up until then were connected.

●After getting off the ship, how did you get to your current position?
At the end of my round-the-world trip, I decided I wanted to learn photography seriously and started attending a photography school at night. I wanted to take pictures of nature and of people with different values, like those I had encountered on my trip. For a while, I went to school whilst also helping with the NGO. After about a year, I got a contract job with a temporary staffing agency. However, when I worked there, I found it hard to get a sense of accomplishment working from behind a desk, so I began to look for a way of working that involved more realistic interaction with people. After six months, I chose not to renew my contract. Then, for the first time, I started working in a café.

● You finally started your café career.
That’s right. I have been interested in coffee since I was a college student, and I always enjoyed going to cafes. Operating the coffee machine and serving customers were all new to me, but when I tried it, I enjoyed it and felt it suited me. After working there for several years, I became an employee of the “Cafe Company” (*1), which I am still a part of today, and was involved in the launch of a new store. Then, in 2008, I went independent and opened a small store in Koenji. As a “gallery café,” I rented out wall space to exhibit paintings, photographs, and accessories. I felt that starting my own store was the first time that all the things I had done up until then were connected. I showcased only what I liked and did everything I was interested in, including acting and live performances.

※1 Cafe Company
Since its establishment in 2001, the company has planned and operated approximately 80 cafes and other restaurants in Japan and abroad under the theme of “creation of community,” and is also involved in community revitalization projects and the production of commercial facilities. The company is also actively involved in collaborations with various companies, aiming to create culture and lifestyles through food.

We are working to establish a system where we can inform the public, and think about how to encourage people to use the space.

● Since then, you’ve been operating a café that functions as a community as well?
That’s right. After the great earthquake, I decided to move to Fukuoka, where I worked at the famous cafe “Honey Coffee”. (*2) But after about two years, I decided to come back to Tokyo due to family and other reasons. From there, I became a part of “Cafe Company” again, and after working at other stores, I was involved in the launch of “CAFE SALVADOR BUSINESS SALON”. I was appointed store manager at the end of 2019.

※2 Honey Coffee
A specialty coffee shop in Fukuoka, Japan. The shop handles everything in-house, from roasting to selling beans that it purchases directly from farms around the world. Masahiro Onishi of “SWITCH COFFEE” also trained at the company for two years.

●As the manager, what kind of store are you trying to create?
In addition to the café space for general customers, the main feature of this store is being a “business salon” that can be rented by the hour with free drinks and can be used for focused work, meetings, seminars, and so on. Since this is the only café like this among all the cafés operated by the Café Company, we are working to establish a system where we can inform the public, and think about how to encourage people to use the space.

●Do you feel that the Kabutocho area has changed and undergone a revitalization?
The way people work and visit the city has changed. We used to have a lot of regulars in suits who worked in the neighborhood, but lately, we have a lot of people coming in from out of town. More women and younger people are visiting, so we have made a lot of conscious changes, such as expanding our salad and vegan menu.

I hope to make this place a catalyst for people to connect with something, no matter what the reason.

● What is your outlook for the future?
We are still in a situation where people tend to shy away from being close-knit, but we always want to think about ways in which we can create a community, not just a café. Nihonbashi and Kayabacho are places where Japan’s economy and history began. I would like to be the “engawa” (a type of veranda, which connects the inside of the house with the outside) of such a town. We are trying to create projects from various angles, such as holding small markets, coffee seminars, and movie screenings. This is the same as when I was running my own store, and of course, I want people to be interested in such events, but I also want to create a place where people can connect to something, whether it be “I like spending time in cafes” or “I find coffee brewed by others delicious”. I hope to make this place a catalyst for people to connect with something, no matter what the reason.

Yo Yatsugi

Yo Yatsugi

After graduating from university, he joined the NGO “Peace Boat” and sailed around the world. After returning to Japan, he began his career in the café industry, seeking a way of working that would allow him to interact with people in a real way. After working at several stores as an employee of “Cafe Company” and being involved in the launch of new stores, he became independent and opened his own store “cafe+gallery Hitosora” in Koenji in 2008. In 2013, he moved to Fukuoka and joined “Honey Coffee”, where he was involved in the opening of the new store. He eventually returned to Tokyo and became a member of the “Cafe Company” again. After working at other stores, he joined “CAFE SALVADOR BUSINESS SALON” as a founding member, and will serve as the manager from the end of 2019.

Text : Misaki Yamashita

Photo : Naoto Date

Interview : Misaki Yamashita