On terraces in Japan, or the lack thereof

The weather in Belgium is beautiful at the moment. The sun is shining and the temperature is finally going over 20°C. Having long, dark winters, Belgians tend to go a little crazy when the weather becomes nice like this. One of the symptoms is the mass migration to pub terraces everywhere, to sit in the sun and enjoy a beer with friends. We even have an expression for it: ‘een terrasje doen’, which literally means ‘to do a little terrace’.

Belgian summer habits: sitting outside in the sun, enjoying a beer with friends. A side-effect of this is lots of people with bright red sunburn after exposing their delicate winter skin to the direct sunlight for several hours.

Despite my love for Japan and my efforts to adjust to Japanese culture as much as possible during my stay, my Belgian background stirred itself from time to time. So come March or April of my year in Japan, when the weather in Nagoya started getting really nice after a relatively cold winter, I started to get serious ‘terrace withdrawal’. It was so hard to find a pub terrace in Japan! The Japanese seem to have no inclination whatsoever to sit in the sun with friends to enjoy a drink. In fact, rather the opposite is the case: they try to avoid the sun as much as possible, to protect their skin from UV damage. Another contributing factor may be the hot humid summers in Japan. From the middle of June to roughly the middle of september, outside temperatures can be unbearable and air-conditioned spaces are preferred. But still, spring and autumn are very nice in Japan and would lend themselves perfectly to sitting outside. Might the lack of terraces also be related to the Japanese notion that it isn’t polite to eat or drink when you are walking around? And therefore also not polite when sitting outside? Or is this notion dated and doesn’t apply to Japanese culture anymore? I’m sorry to say I am not very well informed about this point.

I found the lack of outside sitting space in Japan so noticeable, that I took pictures whenever I did find a terrace. You will notice below that I have exactly two pictures. Apart from one terrace in front of a big building in Nagoya, where nobody was sitting, Starbucks seemed to be the only place that offered outside seating. But it looked far from inviting. The cozy Belgian terraces were one of the few things that I really missed from Belgium.

Japanese terrace in Nagoya
A Japanese terrace in Nagoya, that actually looks quite inviting, apart from the fact that nobody is sitting there! Might it be connected to the Tully’s Coffee in the background? I’m sorry to say I did not investigate further due to time constraints at the time.
starbucks terrace in Toyota City, Japan
The Starbucks in Toyota City, located on the walkway between the two train stations in the city. It was one of the few times that I saw the possibility for outside seating in Japan.
starbucks terrace in Toyota City, Japan
Another view of the Starbucks terrace in Toyota City. It doesn’t look very inviting, does it?

I wonder, do other countries also have this terrace culture, or is it specific to Belgium? How did you experience these things in Japan? Please share your stories in the comments!



20 thoughts on “On terraces in Japan, or the lack thereof

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  1. no, they don’t look that inviting. but i would seat there in a heart beat. we have plenty of outdoor seatings here in jakarta, as many people still prefer to smoke, but the air and noise pollution don’t make it comfortable for someone like me. if i were in japan, i would gladly seat outside, as the air will be nice and clean, and no smokers around.

  2. I forgot the problem with mosquitoes in summer in Japan after living in Cambridge for 20 years. UK also doesn’t have a terrace culture. Both countries are an island?

    1. Yes, Japanese mosquitoes are the worst! I am trying to think of other countries where I’ve lived, if they have a terrace culture, but I can’t recall seeing it in Venezuela or Denmark either. I wonder why…

  3. We just don’t have enough space. In Tokyo there are streetside seating areas but a lot of it is facing busy streets with cars coming and going. I wouldn’t want to drink/eat in exhaust gas.

    That said, where there is enough space, more establishments are trying to set up outside seating which is often made possible by newer buildings having to have to allow for outdoor public space by law like a courtyard. Shops also may have a terrace for smokers (which I hate as non-smokers would be forced to sit indoors which seems unfair).

    1. The limited space issue is a very good point. I hadn’t thought of that yet. Indeed sitting right by a busy street in the exhaust gas doesn’t sound very appealing.

      Here in Belgium people also smoke when they are sitting on the terraces. Smoking is prohibited indoors, so when the weather allows it, all the smokers sit outside. So as a non-smoker, you indeed have to choose between sitting inside or braving the smoke. Very unfair!

  4. We have a few places that offer out door seating here in California. Some of them are even dog friendly! I have noticed microbreweries usually offer indoor and outdoor seating. I happen to enjoy the option especially during the summer evenings.

    1. There is another comment that also mentions outdoor seating at microbreweries in Portland. So maybe in the US it is a microbrewery thing? 🙂 Here in Belgium I also love the terraces for summer evenings, especially since the days are so long in June. Now it only gets dark at about 22:00h. In Japan, when I think of summer evenings, the first thing that comes to mind is lots and lots of mosquitoes! So maybe not so ideal for enjoying a terrace 🙂

  5. The Starbucks terrace at Toyota shi no eki was a nice place to sit and do a little people-watching. Fond memories of the whole area around the station. As I remember, Nagoya-jyo had a small area where snacks/ice cream were sold…although I don’t recall a specific spot to sit while eating them. Your Belgian tradition sounds most appealing this time of year! 🙂

  6. This is exactly what I have been missing lately!!! ik wil een terrasje doen!
    I knew Japan wouldn’t really have them and I also saw it at a few Starbucks, but it hasn’t been as appealing as the Oude Markt 🙂
    Yesterday I went cycling with my Japanese roommates and while I was enjoying the weather, they were afraid to get a tan

    Anyway, nice blog!

    1. Thanks! The Japanese preoccupation with tanning is indeed impressive. While I was in Japan, I was influenced by it a little, but after having been back in Belgium for a while, I am becoming more and more lax about it again. Maybe it’s the dark Belgian winters that make me want to soak up the sun more?

  7. I remember eating at Freshness Burger in Yokohama on a terrace! And I think the neighbouring shops also had a terrace.
    I missed ‘een terraske doen’ in Japan as well, I was glad someone finally posted about it! ^^

    Greetings from another Japan-living Belgian 😉

        1. Hehe yes, it’s my favourite fastfood chain in Japan! I’ll take a look at your post about it right away 😉
          I think you’re right. I think there are some terraces in Japan to eat outside but not really at a pub to just enjoy the company of friends while sipping on a drink.

    1. Yes, I agree that the Japanese enjoy drinking outside when it comes to blossom viewing, and also moon viewing in september I believe. But I’d compare that more to picknicking, rather than the terrace culture of Belgium where you go to a locale that serves you the drinks (as opossed to you bringing them yourself). Also with the sakura, the main purpose is viewing the flowers (in theory), and the drinking with friends enhances the flower viewing pleasure; while in Belgium, the drinking and sunbathing are the main purposes in themselves 🙂

      1. Here in Portland we’ve got the Belgian thing covered 🙂 Lots of breweries, and they all have outdoor seating. You’ll love it!

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