Especially in urban spaces, it can be difficult to find a good place to conduct a research interview. The researcher is balancing a number of different concerns: primarily, she wants the location to be convenient and comfortable for the interviewee. But, in addition to that, the researcher might prefer a spot that is quiet, free of cigarette smoke, private, and / or where there is no pressure to leave or buy more food. This list grew from my thought that a community of researchers can surely crowd-source a list of quality interview locations. The suggestions below reflect ideas from the H-Japan and Society for East Asian Anthropology listservs. Please email me if you’d like to make an additional suggestion. This list includes quotes below from the people who suggested them. All this said, it’s a good idea to check out a location before your meeting.

Some people have written me with suggestions of interviewing either in the researcher’s home or office, or the interviewee’s home or office. Of course, if that’s available and easy it can be a great idea. But in my experience, asking to meet at someone’s home can put another level of demands on them (i.e. they have to host you), and feeling comfortable inviting people into your own house reflects a level of power that absolutely isn’t available to everyone. Certainly some research interviews are with people who have become friends, and inviting them into your home feels perfect. But assaults on fieldworkers are also far too common, and I recommend every fieldworker keep that in mind. The linked story describes research about high rates of sexual harassment and assault among teams doing Physical Anthropology research. However, based on the narratives of multiple socio-cultural fieldworkers I know and have heard from, I am sure such assaults are equally, and upsettingly, prevalent for ethnographic fieldworkers as well. “Private” interviews can be great, but they certainly shouldn’t be the default.


General Suggestions
“Old school” coffee shops can be a great location to do interviews because they are often empty, especially at weird times of the day, and no one will care if you and an interviewee sit and nurse a pair of drinks for many hours. They also might have especially cushy, comfy chairs. The downside is that they can be full of cigarette smoke. Some old school chains include Cafe Renoir and L’Ambre.

Karaoke boxes can be great. They are quiet (you can turn off any background music), private, and pretty easy to find throughout urban Japan. You have to pay by the hour, but in the middle of a weekday, the price is often quite low. You can (or have to) order drinks or snacks.

Starbucks is one reliably smoke-free location, but it can easily be very loud and crowded, and the staff can ask you to leave if there are people waiting for seats. If you can find a Starbucks a bit more out of the way, though, it might work.

Excelsior Cafe (Dotour) is a major chain that can be quiet if it is off the main drag and / or not at peak lunch hours. They have non-smoking areas or floors.

“Depending on the age and social status of the person you're meeting, family restaurants such as Jonathan's - common in Chiba, Saitama, etc. - can also do in a pinch.  The food is usually horrendous, and you get to listen to execrable muzak in the background of your recorded conversation, but you can basically sit there forever for the price of the drink bar.  I've also found that the bland atmosphere in these chain restaurants tends to put people at ease, for whatever strange reason.” Other restaurants in this category include Saizeriya, Royal Host, and Denny’s.

Some coffee shops might have smaller rooms for rent. “I know that Tully's has a room for free (for 2 hours), and I believe that the branch near Tokyo Station (the Yaesu exit) has one and there might be other branches. Also, I thought that Starbucks have a rental space as well.” 

Community Centers or Women's Centers (now called danjo kyodo sankaku senta) and the like often have small rooms available for rental.

The lobbies or cafes in big fancy hotel might be good. There are few specifics below.

If you have friends who give private English “conversation” lessons, they might already know good places.

Community centers.  There are two types - first the ones in neighborhoods that primarily service needs of older people.  These can be quite noisy unless you get a separate room.  You generally have to pay a small fee.  But these are excellent spaces.  The fee is by the hour.  You need community contacts to find these places, also (again, the networking issue).

Local libraries often have research rooms where speaking / group work is permitted though it probably varies on whether they allow people from outside the local government area to book the rooms.

Specific Suggestions
Shinjuku - “In Shinjuku, I've had luck finding surprising oases of calm in the restaurants at the top of Takashimaya, across from the south exit of the JR station.” That’s a great idea and could easily be extrapolated to restaurants in department stores generally. Especially off-peak or on weekdays, they might be perfect. 

Ikebukuro - “I actually found two great places in Ikebukuro that were rarely crowded. Ikebukuro was a great place to meet my interviewees because it's both easy to get to, and less crowded than some of the other Tokyo hubs.” Coffee Sabo and Cafe Pause (no smoking!)

Roppongi - International House. “I’ve done a few interviews at International House, where they have lent me a conference room.”

Yotsuya - SSRC / Abe Fellowship / Japan Foundation building, if you have access to it. “I also did an interview in a conference room in the library on the bottom floor of the building that houses the SSRC/Abe offices in Yotsuya.”

Mita - The Center for the Advancement of Working Women. “It is free and open to the public. And for what it's worth, I saw a lot of men there - something that stood out to me particularly since I thought it was a women's center! There is a little cafe area that was almost always empty and I think an ideal interview locale.”

Ebisu - Cafe Park, café, Ebisunishi 1-21-15 (Komazawa 1st right AFTER light, on left), 6416-0122, fm 11:30 daily.  “Big place, fresh ingredients, community spirit, etc.  Quiet place for coffee and talk in afternoon but funny hours.”

Coffee shops reported to be quiet:
Paul coffee shop close to Yotsuya train station. It's a chain and they have several throughout Tokyo. Don't know about others, but this one was always a quiet environment.”
“This is a coffee shop in the
Nezu Museum, by Omotesando. Also a quiet place.”

Sannomiya - Cafe Nescafe. “The interior is loud but if the weather permits you can meet on the deck outside, which is somewhat quieter, although there is some ambient street noise and sometimes wind.”


General Suggestions
“The center of cities like Shanghai and Beijing are almost always crowded, but a bit further out, and probably closer to informants' locations anyways, things are at least a bit calmer. You can try shopping malls further away from the city centers to find a quieter place.”

“In China, I've done interviews mostly in people's homes or in my own space (office/apartment).”

“It wouldn't be too hard to arrange for a private room in a restaurant, hotel or find a classroom or an office conference room for interviews.”   

“As for public spaces, tea houses are much less busy and quiet than coffee shops and also often have private rooms.  The downside in China is that tea and coffee can be quiet expensive and private rooms may cost extra.”

Specific Suggestions
“Starbucks coffee shops in off-center shopping malls are good. At least in the morning hours it works….”

With thanks to the following people for the ideas and suggestions: Mark Rowe, Tyson Vaughan, James Welker, Jamie Coates, Friederike Fleischer, Satsuki Takahashi, Levi McLaughlin, Elizabeth Rodwell, Robert Boyton, Robin Kietlinski, David Palmer, John Campbell, and Anne Aronsson.