Review: Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s ‘Before the coffee gets cold’


This was not a book that I eagerly anticipated the release of, nor was it even a book that I intended on buying. Propped up against the counter, the title ‘Before the coffee gets cold’ caught my eye and without even reading the blurb I bought it. It may sound imprudent but there was something about this book and I knew it wouldn’t disappoint. 

The Japanese bestseller was originally written as a stage play before being adapted into a novel. It is not hard to imagine as the characters seamlessly enter and exit the café with a ‘clang-dong’ of the bell. ‘Before the coffee gets Cold’ is unapologetically clichéd, it is full of soul and character with the unfurling relationships of the customers that visit. 

The Japanese bestseller was originally written as a stage play

Down an alleyway and underground, Funiculi Funicula, a Tokyo café sits nestled amongst the fast-paced city. The café acts as a tranquil space for many visitors and is closely linked with an urban myth. Local legend states that the café allows you to travel back in time as long as you follow a specific set of rules. You cannot leave the chair in which you time travel, whatever you say or do will not alter the present and you must drink the coffee poured for you before it gets cold in order to return to the present. 

This is a peculiar idea because whether you return to the past or travel to the future, the present does not change. So, you have to ask what is the point of the chair? Seemingly, the chair provides a second chance to the women who frequent the café who all obtain a use for it. 

When Fumiko is first introduced, we learn of the characters who keep the café running; Hirai, Kazu (who sends customers back in time) and Kazu’s cousin Kei. As Fumiko’s story of confronting a past boyfriend comes to an end, these previously indistinct characters’ lives begin to unfurl as the café takes on a life of its own. What links all of these women together is that at some point they find a use for the chair to time travel. Those you think of as supplementary supporting characters suddenly become a lead role with Kawaguchi, subtly intertwining the characters throughout the book.

I started to understand that these stories; of Fumiko confronting a past boyfriend, a woman who receives a letter from her husband whose memory began to fade, two sisters who decide to reconcile and a woman who meets the daughter she never got the chance to, are all plausible in everyday life. There is nothing over the top or eccentric about the pain that these women experience. ‘Before the coffee gets cold’ provides a thought provoking and at times tear jerking realisation about what we would say if we could go back in time. 

Provides a thought-provoking and at times tear-jerking realisation about what we would say if we could go back in time

I have never been one for ‘what ifs’, I find it to be a tiresome task that only makes you question every decision you make. The idea of me changing my actions or words in the past causes trepidation because I would not be who I am today without them. However, as the rules of the café state, your actions would not alter the present. 

So, with that in mind I will reveal what I would change. When the moment presented itself, I would tell my best friend that I loved him inexplicitly and that I accept him for who he is without judgement. Because if I think about it, I see parts of myself in him that I have never found in anyone else. And so, I ask you, who would you visit and what would you say if the fortune of the Funiculi Funicula café presented itself?

Image by Clay Banks via Unsplash

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