An Ultra-Cool Japanese Starbucks Leaves The Seattle Vibe Far Behind

The store, by Kengo Kuma, is evidence that the coffee giant is becoming more aware of cultural differences.

Starbucks recently commissioned starchitect Kengo Kuma to design an outpost in Dazaifu, a small city in Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture, that, with walls covered in a matrix of wood planks, is a striking departure from the company’s typical uninspired (if familiarly friendly) interiors filled with tacky pendant lighting and faux-wood finishes.

And that’s the point. Starbucks shares a history with a host of other American companies that have plunked its cookie-cutter stores into countries around the world. But the coffee empire is now becoming more sensitive to cultural differences—and designing its branches to reflect regional tastes. Earlier this year, it opened an experimental shop in Amsterdam, a showcase of slow-brew coffee, local craftsmanship, and eco-friendly furnishings. And according to The New York Times, Starbucks is investing millions in making over hundreds of its stores in France to appeal to coffee aficionados who favor the personalized atmosphere of cafés.

Kuma’s interior for the Starbucks in Dazaifu is a pearl in a growing strand of customized spaces—one that is an outgrowth of the architect’s fondness for natural materials. More than 2,000 wooden batons line the 2,260-square-foot shop, creating a loosely woven lattice that extends beyond the storefront’s edge. A few signs, nestled into the wooden structure, are the only outward indicators of the brand.

According to Kengo Kuma and Associates, the design is meant to blend with the other buildings along the road to Dazaifu Tenmangu, Fukuoka’s most famous shrine, dedicated to the god of learning. "Along the main path to the shrine, there are traditional Japanese buildings in one or two stories," the firm’s press release states. "The project aimed to make a structure that harmonizes with such townscape, using a unique system of weaving thin woods." And yet with such a strong sculptural focal point, one can hardly imagine it blending in.

[Photos courtesy Kengo Kuma and Associates]

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  • Guest

    I think what Starbuck's has done in Japan is quite brilliant and I'm looking forward to seeing how they adapt their design to the European market. Of course this doesn't look like the SB brand, that's the purpose of creating a culturally specific design as opposed to a cookie-cutter adaptation of a brand.

  • Onoku

    I don't like the design actually. To me, it feels like trees got splintered by howitzers and I'm about to take a bunch of shrapnel.

  • Phuong

    Starbucks brand never work in Australia. They enter a market that is already matured with a thriving coffee drinking cafes culture. Majority of the people here prefer european style coffee and turn their nose to the US flavor(which i tried and think its bland, tasteless). No wonder they closed 61 of their 84 stores in 2008 within a month. Only a handful exist in major cities most notably around tourist hubs...
    This design look cool for a sushi bars or cocktail bars but too cold and uncomfortable for a coffee house... the atmosphere feel too much like a foyer.

  • Fvc

    Poor design! Does not match the SB brand at all. Maybe better suited for a sushi bar

  • Jjoseph08

    really? are u trying to say you're not being fooled by the experience they've built to hide the product? i'll admit i am fooled, but i also enjoy their lattes, and frapps.