One of the least-discussed shows of this season is Yotsuiro Biyori, a show centering on a Japanese tea shop called Rokuhoudou and the people who pass through its doors. The owner and employees who tend the shop and the people they encounter share their stories from episode to episode in ways that will bring a smile to your face and quell the ailing heart. This, like so many others, is a story about stories. A big part of how Rokuhoudou is able to succeed is thanks to the hard work put in by its staff and the pride they take in their work. No effort is wasted, be it finding just the right ingredient and technique for a new dessert, or recommending the correct item for a customer who at times needs more than to fill their stomach.
On the surface, the show looks a lot like an otome adaptation with its all-male cast and setting. I do not blame anyone for this assumption, since I, too, thought this way at the start. Instead of the main characters serving a single person, they serve everyone equally. We, just like everyone else who passes through Rokuhoudou’s bamboo walkway, are customers. One of the many great things about this show is that their visitors vary greatly in age, sex, and personality. They don’t cater to any particular crowd other than those who seek a place to forget about their troubles with good food and drink in a home away from home.
I wanted to talk about this show for this month’s OWLS theme because of Yotsuiro Biyori’s positive spin on a word that all too often describes negative qualities.
In honor of “Pride Month,” we will be discussing the word, “Pride” and its meaning. We will be exploring pop culture characters’ most satisfying and joyful achievements or skills that they possessed and whether or not these qualities could be seen as a positive or negative aspect in their personal lives and/or society.
One of the first places where you can visibly understand the pride these employees hold is in the overall appearance of the restaurant. Standing at the sidewalk, you are welcomed by a bamboo entryway and widely-spaced stones leading up to a traditional Japanese building. The plum tree growing just beside the entryway shares its shade and blossoms in turn with the seasons. There might be a chubby orange cat lounging on a bench next to the door, or equally as likely the yukata-clad owner himself waiting to usher you inside.
The attention to the landscaping and building’s exterior already prove the ample care they take with Rokuhoudou. It can be easy to overlook something as simple as a clean pathway or older architecture. In reality, there’s much work involved in maintaining these aesthetics. Then you enter and are welcomed by a retro design of wooden furniture, vintage appliances, and traditional dinnerware. Chatter intermingles with quiet enjoyment in company and food. This is the kind of place you can easily see yourself spending hours without even noticing.
Watching Yotsuiro Biyori, I was reminded of my times in Japan and the awe I felt in seeing so many small, independent businesses side by side. Whole streets are dedicated to food and crafts. I can’t even come up with a street in my own hometown that isn’t interrupted by at least one corporate brand or chain. While large businesses have their place and need, I can’t deny the satisfaction and pride I feel in the people I speak with who run their tiny food stalls or pottery shops. They may have opened the store for themselves, or perhaps are the next to take over in a long line of family members. I came repeatedly face to face with small businesses where the person who greeted you was in all probability also the owner.
This is certainly the case with Rokuhoudou, whose owner, Kyousui, greets customers both outside and inside, and even serves and buses his own tables. Sui also prepares his own special tea blends of various loose leaf teas and spices. And he’s not alone—Rokuhoudou employs three other employees with various roles in which they each excel. Tsubaki is the genius pastry chef behind sweets both Eastern and Western. Gregorio, or “Gure” as he prefers to be called, makes an impressive cup of espresso, and will likely gift you with his unique latte art. Then there’s Tokitaka, the main chef and maker of the restaurant’s ceramics. He even runs a pottery class outside of Rokuhoudou. Not a single one of these men execute their jobs out of a sense of forced obligation or with another future in mind; they’re passionate about what they do and devote all their time and attention to improving and sharing that love with others. They can take pride in the goods and services they provide with the full knowledge of the effort and emotions involved.
Rokuhoudou isn’t the only example of an independent business in this anime—there’s also the tea shop in the second episode, “The Teahouse’s Secrets.” The grandfather of a family-run tea house feels the stress of people’s waning interest in loose leaf in favor of more convenient tea bags. Less vendors want to spend the time choosing and making tea, yet he continues to pursue his love for the craft. His meeting with Kyousui comes at the perfect time for both owners, one about to close his shop, and the other about to lose his original tea source. The partnership between Rokuhoudou and Amagamiya brings together two independent shops with a shared vision of passion and quality. Brewing loose leaf tea may take longer than dunking a tea bag, but the final result always makes the time worth the effort.
If you aren’t watching Yotsuiro Biyori this season, then I highly encourage you to do so. Not a single episode goes by without me smiling wistfully at the sentiments expressed by the show’s characters. Rokuhoudou is the kind of place I want to visit; these are the people I’d love to get to know. Their pride is the type I wish more places would strive towards—I feel good supporting an independent business and those who truly care about their product and customers. How about you? What is it about the shops you frequent that has you returning time and time again?
Watch Yotsuiro Biyori on Crunchyroll.
Many thanks to OWLS for this wonderful theme. My submission follows on the heels of Gloria of the Nerdy Girl News’s “Homosexuality and LGBT Relationships in Anime: Yuri!! on Ice,” and will be followed by Dale of That Baka Blog. Feel free to check them out, along with many other wonderful OWLS writers!