Inside the Manuscript Writing Café. "※窓際カウンター席(4席・営業時は横アクリル板が入ります): Counter seats by the window (4 seats, horizontal acrylic board is included during business hours)". Photo from the website

Kiwi writers respond to Tokyo’s Manuscript Writing Café

Writers all around the world – including New Zealand – have responded with various degrees of pleasure and alarm to the news that a café on Tokyo has been set up exclusively  for writers working on a deadline.

The Manuscript Writing Café in Tokyo’s Koenji has gone viral. It’s all very WTF and seems like a hoax but it’s for real.

It has strict rules. First and foremost is that entry is only open to writers on deadline. “It’s in order to maintain a level of focus and tense atmosphere at the café!”, proprietor Takuya Kawai exclaims on the cafe’s website. He adds: “Thank you for your understanding.”

The café charges by time used (a minimum of 30 minutes, then by the hour with an order of coffee). Customers have to sign an agreement when they enter:

1. Upon entering the store, write down at the reception desk how many words and by what time you are going to write your manuscript.

2. The manager asks you every hour how your manuscript is coming along.

3. You are not allowed to leave the store until you have finished writing your manuscript or writing project.

There are different levels regarding the manner and rigour of this editorial manager. “S” allows them to hurry you along pretty aggressively; “M” course has them do it a more mildly.

Is it insane? Is it actually kind of great? Yes, and yes, said a range of New Zealand writers, surveyed by ReadingRoom.

Anahera Gildea

I’m likely to cause a huge riot, attempt to break all the rules, and leave a trail of unfinished manuscripts.

Noelle McCarthy

Okay so I kind of love the concept – all that fizzing, manic deadline energy in one place could be wild.

Brannavan Gnanalingham

Christ, sounds like a nightmare.

Elle Hunt

As much as the thought of the editor-figure doing the rounds fills me with dread, I probably would make use of it.

Kirsten McDougall

This is hilarious. But no, I would not go there for several reasons. First is I don’t write in public. The idea of writing a novel in public makes me feel sick. Also, I’m easily distracted and watching other people write would be all I’d focus on. Second, I hit deadlines. Give me a deadline and I’ll hit it.

Also, the idea that a manager asks you every hour how your manuscript is coming along is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. That’s literally interrupting someone who is trying to get away from interruptions.

I think a better idea would be to get locked up in a room until you’ve hit your deadline. Like a writing jail for people who can’t meet deadlines. This is basically what Georges Simenon did to himself and he wrote over 400 books.

Ashleigh Young

I tried to write in a café recently and it was hell. The sight and sound of my pen moving on the page at the table felt somehow obscene to me and I had to leave after only half an hour, having written gibberish. It didn’t feel right to be writing or even thinking while everyone else was eating lunch with friends.

But the idea of a deadline café really appeals, partly for the Survivor atmosphere and shared white-knuckle focus but especially for the bit where the café workers harangue you. Lots of writers struggle with a feeling that their work is ultimately pointless, so being told by a stranger that it is important, that it’s urgent and must be done above all else, would feel quite nice.

What I want to know is what’s the protocol if you can’t meet your deadline? Do you get banned? Do you have to delete all of the words you’ve written before you can leave?

Vincent O’Sullivan

I can see its appeal, crazy as it is. Just to see others suffering even more than oneself under pressure of a deadline – that in itself would be a gift.

Matt Heath

I wouldn’t go into that cafe. I only get through the writing process by telling myself I won’t send the article in. I write knowing no one will ever read the crap I am writing. That way there is no shame in writing it. When I finish I only submit my column because it exists and I might as well. Going into that cafe would be a commitment to write which would make it impossible for me to write.

Simon Bridges

I like this and would use it. I read a book recently about “mimetic desire” which is a fancy way of saying most of what we do is about imitating and reacting to others. I reckon being in a cafe with others banging out copy would be a spur to my competitive instincts and creative juices.

I wonder though whether a wine bar would be even better.

Whiti Hereaka

I can see the appeal of it — if there are a bunch of other people working to deadline then (like the cafe claims!) there would be tension in the room.

Ideally, I’d like the cafe to also be a cat cafe — none as motivating as the withering stare of a feline.

Lizzie Marvelly

I’ve been known to speak aloud as I write, so I’d probably be turfed out for distracting the other writers.

Airini Beautrais

I would go to this cafe. I feel I respond well to pressure and a bit of healthy tension.

Henry Cooke

If I’m on the road for work I’ll often find myself writing in a cafe, as they usually have tables and my company can pay for the coffee. But I don’t buy into the 2010s-era “writing in a cafe” thing because I find the best writing happens either in the chaos of a newsroom or in the sanctity of a home, where you can keep working for hours without someone interrupting you to ask if you want another coffee.

Jared Savage

I like it. A  little craziness in your working environment can be useful. I would definitely go, but maybe on a smallish assignment. I’d probably only handle the ‘M’ course, for mild, as I can’t really handle editors checking in too often.


That’s so funny but are you sure writers go there? A writer who can’t do deadlines needs to find another job.

Rijula Das

Sure you think this is insane now but you just haven’t disappointed your publisher enough to try this yet. Wait till it’s been four years since you signed a contract and you’ve been saying “for sure in the next three months, without fail” for a few months, years. Of course I don’t have any personal experience of this (I hope they have good coffee there).

Rachael King

I’d quite like it. Someone yelling at me to get up, get off my phone, bloody write something.

Stacy Gregg

Pre-Covid I nearly always wrote in cafes. Now, I never do. I would write in this one though because the premise is silly and that would be fun. I like competitive energy in a room. I’ve done races with other authors in the past – it can work sometimes. First one to get to five thousand words wins.

Catherine Chidgey

Looks terrifying. The relentless tippy-tapping of other writers around me would be too distracting. I once banished a boyfriend from my office because he was writing too loudly. With a pen. On a piece of paper. (It didn’t last.)

Nick Ascroft

The Manuscript Writing Café gets the abyss of procrastination I am constantly abseiling. If some underpaid barista was bullying me to churn out the word count, I would do it, and the writing would be better than the lollygagged frippery I tinkle away at.

Jordan Hamel

As a reasonably anxious and lazy person, a cafe like this over here would be both heaven sent and my worst nightmare. But I’ve squandered enough time in peaceful, relaxing, idyllic writing spaces. I’m ready for something new. I’m ready for the ‘tense atmosphere’, the impatient bystanders, the rigorous staff. What could go wrong?

Dr Jarrod Gilbert

Jesus. Many of us would die in that place.

“※足元の荷物カゴ(全席): Luggage basket at your feet (all seats)”.

Steve Braunias is the literary editor of Newsroom's books section ReadingRoom, a noted writer at the NZ Herald, and the author of 10 books.

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