Before The Coffee Gets Cold: a Spiritual Reflection

It was an award-winning Japanese play byToshikazu Kawaguchi. The author then converted it into a novel. The novel is clad with its birthmarks. This troubled some who read it but the cut and paste did not trouble me much. I find this a moving, poignant novel about the stage of bargaining we go through when we experience a great loss. 


Goodreads summarizes the story this way: “In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.

In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: a businesswoman to confront the man who left her; a nurse to receive a letter from her husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s; a sister who runs a mini-hostess bar to see her sister one last time; and the café owner’s wife to meet the daughter she never got the chance to know.

But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold.


So why would they want to go to a different time when there is no chance of changing the past? Why would they want to meet the person they wanted to meet? What would they say to them or want to hear from them? These questions stem from the “bargaining stage” of the grieving process, the “if onlys” and the “what ifs” and “I should haves”. The author crafted beautiful, poignant stories for each of these ladies who wanted to time-travel. It seemed to be made with an eye to a film, and indeed there is a Japanese film of the same title, based on the novel.

Each of the women’s past was not changed as a result of their time-travel but they themselves experienced a change within, arising from new information they had gotten from their brief visit to the a different time. It corrected their assumptions…indeed misled judgments, they each felt loved or hopeful, and the changes in perspectives transformed their attitudes towards their loved ones, their losses and their suffering.

I like this book. It made me feel, it moved me. It got me ruminating about it. It made me curious. It engaged me. I want to watch a film version if available.


It got me to thinking that it is important for us to go backwards in order to move forwards. There are painful, regretful, hurtful experiences and relationships we have in the past that needs re-visiting and reflection and prayer. When we bring all those past experiences and trauma or pain to God in prayer and dialogue with him, he will give us perspectives, graces and healing within that will transform us even though it does not change the past events nor the present situation. It just changes us. Such reflective prayer on past hurts and events that affected us is vital to living in the present with wholeness, and to propel us forward as disciples of Christ.

I certainly got more that I had expected from reading this book. I wanted to be entertained but found something deeper within its pages. Thanks to Grace Phua for introducing me to this book.

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