At this cafe, coffee comes with a second chance

At this cafe, coffee comes with a second chance

Mar 27, 2024Alan Wong

If you could return to the past, what would you change?

Tales premised around time travel have been told ever since the concept gained a foothold in the public imagination, and it often stems from lingering desires (changing the past) or unbridled curiosity (what lies in the future).

But what some may find remarkable about Toshikazu Kawaguchi's Before We Say Goodbye, about a café that serves a trip to the past along with a cuppa is how anime it feels. A good anime, that stays with you long after you leave the cinema hall or switch off YouTube.

Translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousselot, this short novel is one in the Before the Coffee Gets Cold series featuring two magical cafés thus far, one of which is the Café Funiculi Funicula owned by Nagare Tokita, who appears to also be its cook. Nagare's cousin Kazu is the sole waitress who takes patrons on their trips through time by pouring a special cup of coffee.

Each book is short – more novella than novel, but let's call it the latter – and one can probably finish it before one's hot coffee cools. Each chapter is a self-contained episode about a patron with unresolved issues that warrant going back to the past, even if some of them don't think they need to.

Sayonaras and second chances

In this instalment, we meet a scholar who's an absent husband and father, a woman who tried and failed to stay up to accompany her terminally ill dog up to its passing, another lady who couldn't say "yes" to a proposal, and a daughter who drove her father away. All of whom get a chance to tell their loved ones what they wanted to say. Each trip, however, must end before the coffee they are served pre-travel gets cold, or the consequences will be dire. Nor can they change the past to affect the future.

The magic in this novel, and perhaps the other instalments as well, is how it tugs at the heartstrings despite the economical use of words. One can see more stories in store for the series. Some parts are repetitive; Nagare and Kazu are briefly introduced in each chapter, but the reader is scarcely bothered.

And for a place that enables actual time travel, Café Funiculi Funicula is perhaps Tokyo's worst-kept secret. The establishment even has regulars, some of whom could be former time travellers. The way everyone talks about their experiences and the rules of the trip is so casual, you wonder if this may be an adaptation of something by Hayao Miyazaki or Makoto Shinkai.

Don't be dissuaded. This novel is worth the time. It is also a reminder that we have yet to discover the means for time travel, so every moment counts and the best time for anything – chasing dreams, righting wrongs, making amends, and saying what one has to say – is right now.

Get Before We Say Goodbye here. For more books by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, including those in the Before the Coffee Gets Cold series, go here.

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