3 Sentence Summary
“Before the Coffee Gets Cold” is a novel written by Toshikazu Kawaguchi and translated by Geoffrey Trousselot. It was first published in 2015 in Japan and was released in English by Picador in 2019. The novel explores the idea of time travel, asking what one would do and who one would want to meet if given the opportunity.
Summary Read Time: Less than 5 minutes
Actual Book Length: 213
First Published in: 2019
The book was adapted into a film called “Café Funiculi Funicula” in 2018 and a television series is set to be developed by SK Global and the Jackal Group in 2021.
Below is the detailed yet quick summary of the book:
Funiculi Funicula is a café located in Tokyo that has been open since 1874. Despite the addition of modern amenities, the café maintains a timeless quality, with dim sepia lamps and clocks that tell the wrong time. The café is famous for its special seat that allows those who sit there to time travel. However, there are strict rules for time travel at the café. People can only travel back to the café and meet people who have already been there or will one day be there.
Additionally, the special seat is only available once a day, when the ghost woman who occupies it gets up to use the restroom. Furthermore, traveling back to the past will not change the present, but only offer a different understanding of it. The café’s staff includes chef Nagare Tokita, his wife Kei, and enigmatic young waitress Kazu, who performs the ritual coffee ceremony.
Part 1 – First Story
“The Lovers” is the first story of this novel. In this, Fumiko Kiyokawa wants to travel back in time to fix her love life. She wants to convince her boyfriend, Goro Katada, to marry her instead of going to America for his dream job. She is disappointed to learn that this is not possible, but decides to go back in time anyway, believing that Goro needs to hear that she wants him to stay. Impatient, Fumiko tries to force the ghost woman out of her seat, but is cursed by the woman. As Kazu helps Fumiko reverse the curse, she warns her that the ghost woman became trapped in the seat. This happened after she allowed her coffee to grow cold on her journey to the past.
In the past, Fumiko struggles to overcome her old pride, but soon learns that Goro, who has a noticeable burn scar, was insecure in the relationship. Goro, who assumed Fumiko would run off with a more attractive man, chose to leave the country. At the last minute, Fumiko learns that Goro wants her to wait for three years for his return. Although Fumiko couldn’t change the past, she leaves the café hopeful.
Part 2 – Second Story
In Part 2, “Husband and Wife,” café regular and nurse Kohtake uses the time-traveling chair to access a letter. The letter was intended to be given to her by her husband, Fusagi, before he lost his memory due to Alzheimer’s disease. When Kohtake goes back in time, she discovers that Fusagi recognized her as being from the future. He also knew about the progression of his Alzheimer’s, but he hadn’t yet experienced the worst of its symptoms. The letter he had intended to give her offered Kohtake the option to leave the relationship if it ever became too much for her.
Kohtake is deeply moved by this and resolves to continue being Fusagi’s wife. She bonds with him in the café as they both look through travel magazines showing gardens they had visited together. This experience brings Kohtake a deeper understanding and appreciation of the love and commitment they shared. She is determined to cherish it.
Part 3 – Third Story
“The Sisters” is a story that builds upon an event from Part 2. Hirai, a regular café customer, receives a letter from her younger sister Kumi and assumes it would be a reprimand for neglecting her familial duties. As a result, she avoids meeting with her sister. Hirai left her hometown to seek independence in Tokyo, where she could wear flashy clothes and run a late-night snack bar. As a result, Kumi had to take over management of the family inn and Hirai assumes her sister resents her.
The news of Kumi’s passing in a car accident on her way back from Tokyo, hits Hirai hard. She feels compelled to travel back in time to ask for her sister’s forgiveness. On her journey to the past, she is overwhelmed by Kumi’s love for her and learns that Kumi wanted both of them to run the inn together. Hirai promises Kumi that she will return home, but overcome with grief, she nearly lets her coffee get cold. Kei, however, reminds her of her promise. Hirai returns to the present, leaves Tokyo, and mends her broken relationship with her parents.
Part 4 – Fourth & Last Story
The final story, “Mother and Child,” centers around Kei, a woman with a weak heart who is pregnant and determined to become a mother. Knowing she may not live to see her child grow up, she tries to travel 10 years into the future to meet her child. When she travels to the future, she is confused by the presence of a 15-year-old girl. She initially thinks that the time travel has not worked. However, after a phone call from Nagare and the arrival of an older Fumiko, Kei learns that she has accidentally traveled 15 years into the future. The 15-year-old girl is her daughter, Miki.
Initially, mother and daughter struggle to connect. But eventually, Miki reassures Kei that while she misses her, she is grateful for her life. She relies on the love of her father, Kazu, Fumiko and Goro who have stepped in to run the café. Kei is grateful and checks into the hospital when she returns to the present. The following spring, she delivers a healthy baby girl.