- ASX SPI 200 futures down 0.4% to 7,292.00
- Dow Average up 0.7% to 34,049.46
- Aussie down 0.9% to 0.7181 per US$
- U.S. 10-year yield fell 8.1bps to 2.8179%
- Australia 3-year bond yield little changed at 2.69%
- Australia 10-year bond yield little changed at 3.13%
- Gold spot down 1.7% to $1,898.19
- Brent futures down 3.9% to $102.50/bbl
U.S. stocks rose in a late-day turnaround as dip-buyers emerged ahead of a busy week for Big Tech earnings.
The S&P 500 rallied back in a choppy afternoon session to end near highs of the day, after falling to lows near the 4,200 level.
The gains followed stock declines in Europe and Asia as China’s Covid outbreak continued to compound fears sparked by faster Federal Reserve tightening. Fears of wider curbs in Beijing are spooking investors already fretting about the risk of a global slowdown as the Fed raises rates to tame inflation.
A broad gauge of Chinese stocks dropped to the lowest in almost two years as policy makers put some areas of the capital under lockdown amid the government’s steadfast adherence to its Covid-zero policy. U.S. stocks also tumbled last week after Fed chair Jerome Powell outlined his most bold approach yet to reining in surging prices and the European Central Bank signaled stronger tightening.
A flight to havens lifted global government bonds, with the yield on the U.S. benchmark note down seven basis points. The dollar extended an advance. Gold shed nearly 2% and WTI crude oil declined 3% to below $99 per barrel.
It’s late afternoon in the suburbs of Tokyo, and in the narrow confines of the Manuscript Writing Café the tension is rising. At the bar, a woman named Mayumi is finishing off an article about songwriting. At the back, Ayasuke is working on the latest instalment of his fantasy graphic novel sequence. And at the window there is me, racing to meet my deadline for The Sunday Times.
We sit at narrow counters, separated by plastic Covid screens. None of us speaks or even looks at our fellow customers. There are toffees and tea bags on the bar, but they are little more than an afterthought. The Manuscript Writing Café is unusual in various ways, not least because the last thing you come for is the coffee.
From outside, it looks like nothing very much — another small business on a car-choked intersection in the suburb of Koenji. But here, in the most populous city in the world, it is a tiny oasis and the symbol of the great struggles of modern urban dwellers against the demons of noise, distraction and deadlines.
“We don’t have food or fancy roast beans,” says Takuya Kawai, the café’s proprietor, who hovers in the background overlooking the scene. “The service we provide is concentration. This is a place for people who are really up against it.” With this article to write, and time slipping away, I fit in perfectly.
The café’s mission is spelt out in a stern manifesto displayed in its window: “This is a café exclusively for those who are writing.”
According to Rule One, customers must state at the outset the nature of their writing project, the number of words required and the deadline. In my case, this would be: article about anxiously writing to deadline; 900 words; 6pm. Rule Three is perhaps the most striking: “Until you finish you can’t leave.”
As if this were not enough pressure, there is Rule Two: “Once an hour, the proprietor will ask you about your progress.” Kawai has already checked up on a couple of customers and I know that my turn will come.
The café opened its doors only this month, but it clearly meets a deep need, and already it has been featured on many national television channels, newspapers, blogs and news websites — four Japanese journalists have passed through as I write. Kawai, a journalist and film-maker, set it up after his previous business, a small video studio, foundered because of the pandemic.
He identified a demographic not catered for by other businesses — people unable, or unwilling, either to work from home or to go to an office. As 30 years of relative economic stagnation have reduced the ranks of the salaryman in his secure job-for-life, a new generation has been born of what Japanese call “freeters” — jobbing freelancers living lives of insecure freedom in the gig economy.
The Japanese are great coffee drinkers and in little cafés, as well as big chains such as Starbucks, the tables and counters are crowded with freeters and their laptops. But an unwritten convention makes it unacceptable to stay sitting down in front of a screen for more than two hours.
“After a while it’s awkward sitting for ages in a café, and they can be noisy,” says Mayumi Kon, a music teacher who is in the Manuscript Writing Café working on a blog article about love songs. “But at home there are distractions, and at the office you have to deal with a boss and colleagues. Here I can stay until I finish, and no one bothers me.”
Ayasuke Nakanomura is writing the latest instalment of a manga comic series entitled Reincarnated Life of the Vicious Empress. For him, the café is an escape from his 10 sq ft bedroom in his parents’ home.
“My desk is there, and my bed is right next to it, so I often end up lying down and going to sleep,” he says. “Here there’s something about the fact that everyone else is working around you. It’s a totally different level of concentration.”
After early scepticism, I am beginning to see what he means. Even for a reporter, deadlines are never easy, but the Manuscript Writing Café eases the burden. The chair is neither too hard nor too comfortable; the plinth for my laptop elevates the keyboard to the perfect angle. The wifi is fast, and the price — 150 yen (91p) an hour — can barely cover the cost of the boiled sweets.
With deadline looming, I am entering the final straight. The hectoring phone call from the editor could come at any moment. Kawai’s efforts to chivvy his customers along are tactful, rather than impatient. “How much have you written?” he asks, as he proffers a chocolate biscuit. “That’s good — please persevere!” But knowing that he is watching quells any urge to waste time on a smartphone or indulge in a round of Wordle.
Finally, I finish. When a customer completes a project, Kawai marks the occasion by ringing a bell, a custom inspired by the close of trading on the New York stock exchange. Everyone else in the café claps and calls out “otsukaresama deshita”, the Japanese phrase that translates literally as “you must be exhausted” but means “well done”.