Marking Your Spot

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Dogs mark their spot by lifting their leg, rabbits mark their spot by rubbing the bottom of their chin on the area that they are claiming and rhinos mark their spot by dropping their dung in well-defined piles.

So how do Japanese people claim their territory in a cafe?

It's very simple they put their belongings on one the chairs at the table. I was surprised to see this. No one in my hometown would ever consider doing this for the mere fact that it may not be there when they returned. But as I came to realize there is more to it than just putting your handbag or knapsack or even briefcase down claiming your newfound territory. I noticed that there are different ways of getting a table in a crowded cafe. So I decided that if I was going to compete with the locals for that empty table, then I was going to have to watch and analyze their techniques.

Japan Cafe Life
Japan Cafe Life

Table Spotting

The moment the doors open the SPOTTER kicks into action. When they enter the cafe they aren't eyeing the menu board or the daily specials, they are instead prowling for the best table. First, they look for the ones in the corner. If there taken then ones by the window or in back. If it's busy then just any table will do.

When all the tables are taken the STROLLER comes in to play. The stroller slowly and cautiously, wanders around the cafe looking for people about to leave and then swoops in on them just as they are rising from their seats. The stroller has impeccable timing and a crafty sense. The stroller is bolder than the spotter, but they must be if they are going to succeed in claiming their own domain.

Table Spotting
Table Spotting

Then, there is the SCOUT. This technique is done when there is more than one table spotter. The scout bravely goes ahead by his or herself and either is spotting or strolling while the other member makes the order. This puts the scout in a challenging position. If the scout is successful they will be rewarded with much praise, but if the scout fails to find a fresh spot to mark as their own then the scout is greeted with disappointment.

Occasionally, we can see the rare and elusive MOVER spring into action. The mover combines the timing, keen sense and watchful eye of the spotter and stroller, but will risk their already marked spot for what they think is a better territory. However, if the mover should fail and cannot mark their new spot while losing their previous claimed domain, then they will be faced with the ultimate humiliation of being left standing in the aisle holding their tray and wearing shame on their face.

Japanese Coffee Shop
Japanese Coffee Shop

Armed with my newly acquired knowledge I consider attempting to mark my spot and then I paused. Until I perfect my technique I think I'll just get my coffee to go.

FOLLOW UP POST: Coffee in Tokyo, Japan - My Own Spot

Published: December 2001, Last Modified: March 2014