Tokyo’s ‘Sign With Me’ Social Cafe

Sign With Me, a new social cafe in Bunkyo Ward (Tokyo, Japan), takes food orders in sign language.

Masahiro Yanagi, the owner of the cafe is Deaf. Sign With Me, he says, was opened with several goals – the  most important of which is to make delicious cakes and soup. Due to his culture, he also decided that his cafe will hold a Sign Language theme.

Due to cafes being places where people stop for a light meal or a drink, and places which are often used for meetings (be it with friends or colleagues), Masahiro has clearly taken advantage of these social cafe trends to push Deaf awareness.

In an article with Daily Yomuri, a Japanese newspaper, Masahiro said that he aims to promote sign language and create a place that the Deaf and hearing communities can enjoy, and take pride in, a cafe that is heavily rooted in Deaf culture.

Kiyoko, a Deaf employee at Sign With Me, explained that most customers were hearing and could not communicate in sign language. However, it didn’t seem to matter – the cafe was still accessible to them:

The menu is a print out so that customers can point to their orders, should they need to.  If there’s a question about the food, there’s a white board with markers and an eraser standing by, ready to bridge the communication gap.

What’s more, there’s even a small instruction booklet at each table for customers who want to learn some sign language.  They include signs such as: “Hello”, “Thank you”, “I want …”, “Coffee”, “Tea”, “Soup”, and “Cake”.

There are hearing employees at Sign With Me, but Masahiro has asked them not to speak while they work; he wants them to stay true to the cafe’s theme. However, in case of any difficulties, there is always a hearing signer on duty at the cafe.

“It’s hard to tell who is deaf or who is hearing because everybody speaks sign language”, said Kiyoko.

Kiyoko has said that many hearing customers have returned.  Many are even regular customers who visit once or twice a week.

“Several of them have became interested in learning Sign after visiting the cafe”, she said.

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