Starbucks first Signing Store in Japan celebrates human connection through sign language

Starbucks partner in Japan uses sign language with a customer

Fifth for the company globally, Japan’s first Signing Store expands career opportunities for Deaf and hard of hearing partners (employees).

Technology and art create an inclusive space that acts as a bridge to Deaf culture in Tokyo and immerses visitors into the world of sign language.

The store is the latest expression of Starbucks ongoing commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

Today, Starbucks announced it will open its first Signing Store in Japan on June 27, expanding career opportunities for 19 new and existing Deaf and hard of hearing Starbucks partners (employees). Located in Kunitachi City, Tokyo, an area with a long history as part of the Deaf and hard of hearing community, the store leverages technology and art to create an immersive experience in sign language and Deaf culture, and becomes the fifth Signing Store for Starbucks globally.

“Starbucks has been hiring Deaf and hard of hearing partners (employees) since we entered Japan in 1996, and these partners have made incredible impacts in their communities,” said Takafumi Minaguchi, ceo, Starbucks Coffee Japan. “Inspired by their passion, we created this store as a place of belonging, where our partners and customers can stay true to who they are and be inspired. This store truly represents infinite possibilities for all.”

Across Japan, Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing partners studying Japanese Sign Language (JSL) have been creating more ways for their customers to connect with the Deaf community through sign language, including signing classes at their local stores, as well as coffee education seminars presented in sign language. Since 2018, select Starbucks stores in Japan have hosted “Signing Activity” pilot sessions led by Deaf or hard of hearing partners to prepare for the opening of a full-fledged Signing Store.

“The opening of Japan’s first Signing Store is an important moment that represents the incredible passion of our Deaf and hard of hearing partners across Japan,” said Ryotaro Sato, shift supervisor. “We want to showcase how the talent of the Deaf and hard of hearing community can spark connections, inspire new possibilities, and help our partners grow their careers with Starbucks. We’re looking forward to sharing new experiences with our customers and demonstrating the diversity of communication that they can experience at the Signing Store.”

Showcasing Deaf culture through art and technology

With 208 square meters (approximately 2,240 square feet) of space, the store interior was designed with accessibility and human engagement at the heart. Customers have several options when ordering in the store, including contactless speech-to-text voice recognition through a tablet at the register, pointing to items on the menu, or writing on a notepad.

Digital signage lets customers track the progress of their order through the number printed on their receipt. When orders are ready, a sign language animation invites customers to pick up their purchases. The digital signage also shows frequently signed phrases of greeting for all customers to enjoy and immerse themselves in the world of sign language.

Throughout the store, original artwork inspired by sign language creates a window for customers to explore Deaf culture in Japan. The art is designed by Hidehiko Kado, a child of deaf adults (CODA), who takes inspiration from sign language to produce artworks that connect people with or without hearing difficulties through bright, whimsical expressions. To create the artwork for the Signing Store, Hidehiko met with Deaf and hard of hearing partners to explore the unique community the Signing Store would represent. The central theme of all the work is connection—sign language connects people across Japan to the beautiful world of Deaf culture, and conversations over coffee connect people with one another. Within the artwork are several sign phrases, including greetings and coffee-inspired phrases that will come to life in everyday interactions between partners and customers.

Building company culture through equity, diversity and inclusion

Since 2002, Starbucks Japan has offered a dedicated program to provide support to partners with disabilities, including training tools and accessibility aids, flexible work hours and coaching services to help develop their careers. Today, more than 350 partners with disabilities work for the company in Japan, a majority in stores.

In 2018, Starbucks Japan outlined a new “no filter” approach to diversity and inclusion throughout the company to create a place of belonging where partners can bring their best selves to work, without prejudice, assumption or bias. The approach focuses on proactive initiatives to remove barriers in the workplace, such as paid leave for gender confirmation surgery, support of LGBTQ+ partners in same-sex partnerships, empowering women in leadership positions, and creating opportunity for seniors to start new careers with Starbucks. Through this ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, Starbucks Japan is also investing in barrier-free store design and unique community spaces like the Signing Store to foster a culture rooted in human connection that embraces each individual.

Globally, Starbucks commitment to equity, inclusion and diversity remains rooted in its Mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

“At Starbucks, we are committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome,” said John Culver, group president, International, Channel Development and Global Coffee, Tea & Cocoa. “For our partners, that means creating equal opportunity. For our customers, it means creating a space to connect with one another over a cup of coffee in every community we serve around the world.”

The first Starbucks Signing Store opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2016. Since then, Starbucks has opened Signing Stores in Washington D.C., U.S., Guangzhou, China, and Penang, Malaysia.

Starbucks partners pose in front of fingerspelling sign at Japan's first signing store

Starbucks enhances safety measures in response to COVID-19

Since a national state of emergency was lifted on May 25, 2020, Starbucks has gradually reopened stores across Japan with modified operations. The Signing Store is taking additional precautionary measures in addition to Starbucks Japan’s current safety and hygiene standards, including clear masks for partners to help those who read lips. The store also features contactless voice recognition ordering, and a numbered ticket entry system to avoid congestion inside the store. Tickets are issued with the kiosk at the entrance of the store or through an online ticketing page, which also gives an approximate waiting time.

Starbucks first entered Japan in 1996, making it the first international market outside of North America. With more than 1,550 stores, employing 42,000 partners across 47 prefectures, Japan is Starbucks fourth largest market globally.

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