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VOX POPULI: Stutterer opens a café where all the workers speak like her

“Dear 20-year-old myself,” wrote a note Arisa Okumura once found in an office at her parents’ house, “Have you fulfilled your dream of working in a cafe?”

The note was written in pencil while she was in elementary school. Seeing the note, she realized she had forgotten her dream, said Okumura, who is now 30.

Okumura was in third grade when she first learned that she didn’t speak the same way as other people.

A classmate with whom she was good friends approached her one day and said, “My mom said I might end up talking like you if I kept playing with you.

It seems that the friend’s mother saw, during a visit to the class, how Okumura stuttered when she read aloud from a textbook.

Okumura continued to be bullied until she was in middle school.

Stuttering is a disorder that interferes with the fluency of speech. It is of course not contagious.

It is believed that around one in 100 people stutters. Many celebrities, including US President Joe Biden, have said they also stutter.

Okumura said she also suffered from a lack of self-confidence for a long time. But the grade from her elementary school years encouraged her to start working last summer on a project called “Chumon ni Jikan ga Kakaru Cafe” (A cafe where it takes a long time to take orders). , where all workers are stutterers.

She runs the company partly in pursuit of her dream and partly in the hope that it will help more people learn about stuttering. Since then, she has been working with her colleagues to operate pop-up cafes as part of the project in different parts of Japan.

I had the opportunity the other day to visit a pop-up cafe set up in a temporary tent in Kobe.

“E…e…excuse me.” The way the young workers spoke seemed rhythmic, as several of them were seen taking turns taking drink orders.

I wondered if they had any problems due to their speech difficulties, but they seemed quite cheerful.

I was overwhelmed by the power with which the stored words were spoken, as if expelled, like, “I…I had a great time.”

I asked Okumura what she would do if she saw herself again from her elementary school days.

“I wish I could tell her not to worry because she was so scared of growing up,” she said. “I would like to tell him that his dream has come true.”

–The Asahi Shimbun, October 16

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that covers a wide range of topics, including culture, the arts, and social trends and developments. Written by veteran writers from Asahi Shimbun, the column offers helpful perspectives and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement