anti-procrastination cafe
Photo: Emma Steen

What it’s really like to work at Tokyo’s anti-procrastination café

There are pros and cons to visiting the viral Manuscript Writing Café in Koenji when you have a looming deadline

Emma Steen
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Emma Steen
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I have a confession to make: I’ve never had a healthy relationship with deadlines. I never managed to kick the bad habits I picked up as a student, which have left me with perpetually dark circles under my eyes from frenetic, caffeine-induced all-nighters, so you can imagine how intrigued I was by the so-called anti-procrastination café in Koenji.

A space for novelists, mangaka, translators, copywriters and other people working under a time crunch, the Manuscript Writing Café promises snacks, a free flow of coffee and frequent check-ins by staff until you’ve met your deadline. You can opt for either a mild, moderate or severe degree of status checks, but you can’t leave the café until you’ve completed the goal you set for yourself.

I won’t lie, as I was setting out for the café (a good 40 minutes from where I live) I started questioning the point of coming at all. A lengthy train ride somewhere to do something I could technically do at home just seemed absurdly unnecessary. I regretted my awkward booking time (7pm-10pm).

But my gloom melted away when I arrived at the café and was warmly welcomed by owner Takuya Kawai and his adorable one-year-old Chiweenie (Dachshund-Chihuahua mixed breed) named Matcha.

The space is warmly lit and doesn't feel like the grim 24/7 computer room that I used to sit in to finish essays as a student. There’s a corner with film flyers, a neon ‘live on air’ sign, a typewriter and a mic stand – and it’s comforting being surrounded by other people who are each working towards a similar goal.

Here’s a brief diary of my time at the Manuscript Writing Café. 

Anti-procrastination cafe
Photo: Emma Steen

7pm

My to-do list includes writing this blog and doing a refresher on the best sex shops in Tokyo that I’ve been putting off for quite some time, mostly because I’m convinced that I’ve well and truly exhausted my Google searches for ‘dildo synonym’. 

Actually, on second thought, I’m anxious about the prospect of someone looking over at my laptop screen as I pull up a tab for the seven-storey kink emporium in Akihabara, so I might focus on writing up a few art exhibitions instead. 

8pm

I found that rather than pestering you on your progress like a stern teacher, Kawai plays the role of a supportive companion who wants to see you succeed. He comes by with a bowl of snacks to ask how I’m doing and I tell him things are going well as I take a packet of Oreos. 

I also discovered, rather unfortunately, that the sounds of traffic coming from the main road outside can be pretty distracting. Earlier, I had hoped that the screeching of trains on the overhead tracks and rumbling of trucks would eventually fade into white noise, but so far they’ve only gotten worse. 

Anti-procrastination cafe
Photo: Emma Steen

8.45pm

I hit a bit of a slump. I could feel myself slowing down so I decided to get up to inspect the drink bar. Then I struggled a bit with the hot water machine as I tried to balance a drip coffee filter over my mug and subsequently burned my hand twice. At least the chairs are more comfortable than I expected them to be.  

9:45pm

Have written a fair amount of text that needs a lot of tweaking. Background traffic sounds still aren’t doing me any favours, so I’m going to call it a day in a few minutes. 

Anti-procrastination cafe
Photo: Emma SteenThe very noisy road directly in front of the café

Verdict 

Gutted to report that if you are a serial procrastinator, a visit to the café probably won’t instantly turn you into one of those people who can coolly submit assignments days ahead of time. While I appreciated testing out a new remote work space, Koenji is still a little bit of a trek for me and the short boost of productivity I got in hour one of being here hasn’t convinced me to schedule weekly sessions. That being said, the café still offers plenty of benefits. 

Want to know if it'd be a good fit for you? Here are the main pros and cons to consider. 

Pros: 

  • Unlike your typical cafe or coffee shop, there aren’t any conversations to eavesdrop on here so there are fewer distractions (I’m very nosy) 
  • The change of scenery does wonders for writer’s block 
  • Free drinks and snacks
  • Reasonable hourly rate starting with a ¥150 base charge for the first hour, and an additional ¥300 for every hour after that 
  • Unbearably cute resident dog

Cons:

  • Unless you’ve got fantastic noise-cancelling headphones, the sounds of traffic outside will most certainly get to you 
  • There’s a surcharge for staying later than your designated finish time because you still haven’t met your word count, and it’s pretty steep (¥3,000 for every hour of overtime) 
  • It’s really hard not to turn your head towards the dog every 15 minutes 

Note that the cafe is strictly cashless, so bring a credit card or have a payment app ready on your smartphone. You can make your reservations here

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