Food Guides

Starbucks Signing Store In Tokyo: Learn Simple Sign Language While Getting Your Coffee

Starbucks signing store in Tokyo

Starbucks never fails to create a buzz around everything they do, from releasing pretty pastel merchandise to stores housed in unique architectural buildings. In summer 2020, they were in the news again after opening their first signing store in Tokyo. The store is staffed with deaf and hard-of-hearing employees who are fluent in sign language, hence the term “signing store”.

Don’t worry – even if you don’t know sign language, you can still get your dose of caffeine at this store.

Starbucks’ first signing store in Japan

Image credit:

On 27th June 2020, Starbucks Japan opened its first signing store in Kunitachi, Tokyo. Although it’s the first of its kind in Japan, it is Starbucks’ fifth signing store worldwide. The other stores are located in Malaysia, the US, and China.

Kunitachi City was chosen as the location for the first Starbucks signing store in Japan as the area has a large hearing-impaired community. The city also has a long history of being part of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Japan. 

Image credit: Starbucks Japan

As part of Starbucks’ continuing efforts to encourage inclusivity and provide jobs, they have been hiring deaf and hard-of-hearing partners in their stores in Japan. At this signing store alone, there are 19 deaf and hard-of-hearing partners out of their 25-strong team, all of whom are fluent in sign language. 

Starbucks sign with fingerspelling
Image adapted from: @taketomo_sky

Special aprons and pins worn by the staff of the store
Image credit: Starbucks Japan

You’ll notice that the Starbucks sign at this store isn’t like the ones at other Starbucks stores. The English letters on the sign are accompanied by fingerspelling. This special sign is also seen on the aprons that the staff wear. The staff also wear badges that remind customers to face them when speaking, or use hand gestures to communicate.

Communicating through special menus, signs & technology

Order by pointing to items on the menu at the cash register
Image credit: Starbucks Japan

The Starbucks signing store is designed so that both the hearing and hard-of-hearing can use the space freely. There are multiple ways through which customers can place their orders. You can make use of the contactless speech-to-text voice recognition function through a tablet, point to items on the menu, or write your order on a notepad.

After ordering, you’ll get a receipt with an order number on it.

Digital display for the collection of orders
Image credit: @tomo_zaidan

When an order is ready, an animation will appear on the screen near the pick-up counter, together with the order number. Customers should take note of the hand sign that corresponds to their order number as the staff will use hand signs to indicate which order number is ready. 

The display also teaches customers how to sign common phrases, such as greetings.

Image credit:
Starbucks Japan

Image credit:

Throughout the store, there are artworks designed by Hidehiko Kado – an artist who was born to deaf parents. These artworks are inspired by sign language and teach people how to sign simple words such as greetings and phrases commonly used in coffee shops.

Visit Starbucks’ first signing store in Japan

Image credit:
Starbucks Japan

For the hearing, a visit to the Starbucks signing store will be a new experience and a chance to understand more about the culture of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. More significantly, for the hearing-impaired, it’s a place where they can belong and be themselves.

The Starbucks Nonowa Kunitachi store also sells exclusive merchandise adorned with sign language. The mug has the Starbucks sign in fingerspelling, while the journal teaches you how to sign simple greetings and phrases commonly used when ordering coffee.

Getting there: From Tokyo Station, hop on the Chuo Line. After 17 stops, alight at Kunitachi Station. Exit via the station’s Nonowa exit.

Starbucks Nonowa Kunitachi
Address: 1-14-1 Kunitachi, Kunitachi-shi, 186-0001 Tokyo
Opening hours: 7AM-10PM, Daily
Telephone: 042-505-9223

Note: As most of the staff are deaf or hard-of-hearing, your phone calls may not be answered. 

Check out these articles for more:

Cover image adapted from (clockwise from top left): Starbucks Japan, @hirockeeey, Starbucks Japan, and Starbucks Japan

Ethel Chiang

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