This is the long-overdue continuation of the post “Shopping in Tokyo,” from 07/10/2007.
The morning after our big shopping spree in Shibuya, Felicia and I arose bright and early to ensure that she’d arrive at Narita Airport with ample time to catch her long flight to India. I once again found myself standing alone amidst the chaos and confusion of Tokyo.
First things first. Although I’d come toting my usual oversized backpacker’s backpack, for once I wouldn’t have to worry about breaking it down and cramming it into several small coin lockers at the JR station – I checked it with a hotel bellboy and started sending out e-mails.
It wasn’t long before JingJing responded, inviting me to a picnic with a few Japanese friends out in Kanda. The weather was perfect, and I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do. So we met up in front of the Hachiko Dog – a rather inefficient meeting place considering that 100-200 other groups are probably trying to rendezvous there at any given time – before popping briefly into Don Quixote for Frisbees and any other picnic gear we might need. Then it was a short ride on the Yamanote line to the other side of Tokyo.
I stood on that train listening to the announcer list off the familiar station names that once sounded so foreign: Shibuya, Ebisu, Meguro, Gotanda, Osaki, Shinagawa, Tamachi, Hamamatsu-cho, Shimbashi, Yuraku-cho, Tokyo, and finally Kanda. Even with regards to its public transportation Tokyo really is a different world from Kyoto – LCD monitors, English announcements, and white-gloved employees ready to cram an arm or a leg into any overflowing carriage. Although I’ve lived in Kyoto for over two years my intimate knowledge of the Tokyo subways still far surpasses that of Kyoto’s. In this small traditional city, a one-speed shopping bike is all you’ll ever need for day-to-day life.
Soon we arrived and met up with Takuo, an extremely motivated, tall, and wealthy student at the elite Keio University. Apparently JingJing had already brought him up-to-date on many of my antics with Eli over the New Year holiday, and Takuo had grown eager to see if I could live up to the stories. I hope I didn’t let him down.
As we sat in his apartment marveling at the $2000 table and $500 chairs, it slowly became obvious that the bulk of our BBQ buddies had bailed at the last minute. Thus is the problem with national holidays in Japan: because everyone goes home to visit families and relatives, they never seem to turn into the fun week-long vacations that one might expect. So we decided to forget the BBQ and head into Akihabara on foot, a ten minutes’ walk from Takuo’s apartment.
Along the way we stumbled on a live J-Idol photoshoot taking place right in the middle of the street. The idol somehow managed to look just as airbrushed in person as her colleagues always seem to look in magazines. I really wish I’d pulled out my camera for a quick snapshot. Stupid Justin.
Akihabara gets so busy on the weekends that the police completely block off all through traffic, transforming it into what’s referred to in Japanese as 歩行者天国. We quickly navigated past the district’s shops of comic books, anime porn, electronic gadgets, and video games, pushing through wave after wave of sweaty nerds, sexy nurses, stormtroopers, crossdressers, comic-book characters, and foreign tourists, until Takuo noticed something that stopped him in his tracks. It was a young girl dressed up as a French maid handing out flyers in the corner. Normally this wouldn’t yield so much as a second glimpse in the district of fetishes where Maid Cafes were originally invented, but today Takuo had a new guest in town. He wanted to ensure that I get the full Akihabara experience.
Maid Cafes are fundamentally similar to Hostess Bars in that they offer a place for socially inept males to exchange money for the opportunity to interact with a caliber of women far outside the reach of their everyday lives. But that’s where the similarities end.
For starters, the interaction at Hostess Bars are typically far more sexual in nature; although actual intercourse is reasonably infrequent (or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe), the concept is that the women make the men feel like the possibility exists for such an encounter. They get you drunk, put their hand on your leg, run their fingers through your hair, give you a hug when you tell a clever joke, and so forth. Maid Cafes on the other hand try to create an environment like you’re the rich “master of the house,” where the women are your servants preparing a regular afternoon meal. They greet you with “Welcome home, master” and kneel down while mixing sugar into your tea. They aren’t beautiful, sexually aggressive women. They’re young, subservient…servants!
And while Hostess Bars are pretty much universally overpriced, Maid Cafes range from full-service locations with no wait times and large staffs catering to your every need, right down to 500yen-an-hour cafes where the maids are little more than regular waitresses in kinky outfits. For just a quick taste of Maid Cafe culture, we chose to sample the latter.
Unfortunately it didn’t end up being quick at all. The line to get in snaked through an entire floor of Akihabara’s Don Quixote, and took somewhere around two and a half hours to complete. Pretty much our whole group was falling asleep from boredom, but the general consensus remained in a perpetual state of “We’ve already waited THIS long, we might as well just tough it out…”
Inside I was equally unimpressed. I guess you get what you pay for. The experience consisted of eating a (rather uninspiring) ice cream sundae brought by a robotic little maid who seemed incapable of responding to our foreign sense of humor. Or maybe she’d just grown so accustomed to getting hit on dozens of times a day that she’d learned to switch off her emotions entirely. In either case, the end result was little more than “Maid Cafes can now be crossed off the list of things I’ve never done” 🙂
About halfway through our snack, Eli called with a buddy of his. We told him where we were, and within minutes he was sitting at the table with us. “How the hell did you get in so fast?? We had to wait almost 3 hours!” I asked. “Bro, Mexicans don’t wait in line! Didn’t you know that??”
How like him 😆
We wrapped up our “meals,” headed back to Takuo’s for a couple チューハイs to jumpstart the evening, then to Shibuya to provide Eli’s friend with a quick sample of what 109 has to offer. Which is of course an endless supply of perfect-tens.
Then it was off to Roppongi once again, for an all-nighter at a hookah bar and Gaspanic. By the end of the night Eli, his friend and I were the only ones left standing. We were exhausted, hungover, and reeking of hookah smoke. But it wasn’t time to go home yet. Nothing was going to prevent me from witnessing what I’d been anticipating ever since I learned of yet another strange and concealed aspect of Japanese society.
It was time for AKB48.