A novel about time travel and miracles is definitely not something one would expect from Tokyo-based Sunmark Publishing, the original publisher of worldwide bestsellers such as Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (published in 42 languages) and Eiko’s Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits (14 languages). But with more than 800,000 copies sold in Japan since December 2015 (and a movie adaptation released just last month), Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold seems poised to be another international hit.
Rights have already been sold to nine countries, including China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and Turkey. The German edition, Das Magische Cafe from Droemer Knaur, is set for release in November. Over in Taiwan, where the traditional Chinese edition is currently a bestseller, one local company’s acquisition of the screening rights of the Japanese movie is likely to give book sales a boost.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold was originally a stage play. “One of our editors, who saw the play four years ago, convinced the playwright to turn it into a book,” said Ichiro Takeda, international rights manager at Sunmark. “The manuscript was rejected by our editor-in-chief. But the editor exercised her right to choose one title for publication for the year, and her decision has proven to be astute.”
The story, set in a family café somewhere in Japan, revolves around a specific seat at a table where the occupant can travel back in time. Strict rules apply, of which the most crucial specifies that the time travel will end when the coffee gets cold. The book describes four heartwarming miracles—about a pair of lovers, a married couple, sisters, and a mother and child—that take place at the Funiculi Funicula Café.
“Kawaguchi’s book is romantic, mysterious, and at times scary, but ultimately, it is a sweet reminder of loves lost and found, and of those moments in our lives when we make the most important decisions,” said Neil Gudovitz of the Gudovitz & Company Literary Agency, which handles the rights of Sunmark titles in the U.S. and Europe. “The plot twists and the poignancy of the narrative make this a very unusual book.” Gudovitz is currently negotiating U.S. deals for Coffee and a second Sunmark title, Tomomi Ishimura’s Zero Training.
The sincerity and compassion in Before the Coffee Gets Cold is the main selling point, Gudovitz said. “This is especially so when we are constantly bombarded by headlines, public discourse, and social media posts that are riven by cynicism. Reading this feel-good novel makes for a wonderful escape from the troubles and worries we face in our daily lives.”
Zero Training is more in line with what Sunmark is best known for: self-help, lifestyle, and nonfiction titles. In Japan, sales have exceeded 800,000 copies within the first three months of its release. The book is based on the training method developed in New York by Ishimura, the founder of Body Tone yoga studio.
The crux of the method lies in retaining the “zero position,” or the original position of the body—specifically the back, neck, and shoulders—prior to aging. It seeks to improve body posture and shed weight, thereby reversing the aging process. All exercises within the 144-page full-color book can be done in five minutes while lying down, which puts little strain on the body and makes it suitable for people of all ages.
“Anybody over 30 years old knows that our bodies are not as flexible as they once were—that we have our aches and pains, and the things we cannot do that we once did so easily,” Gudovitz said. “So the idea that there are methods, such as zero training, that we can use to recover our body’s elasticity and energy—as if we are being reborn—is just an amazing and unique concept.”