In retrospect, we probably picked the antithesis of possible destinations after our zen-like post-onsen states: Akihabara.
The "electronic city" in Tokyo, this neighborhood is home to dozens of anime, manga, and cos-play stores as well as stalls and shops selling everything from computers and cameras to electrical wiring and fluorescent light bulbs.
(Like in Morocco, I was very aware of the lack of other women around me.)
(Light sabers-ish "magic wands" and anime-themed alcohol. This is indeed a strange place to be!)
("pop life department. m's" appears to be the name of this store. You can see some of the sexy maid costumes in the windows on the second floor.)
We walked around a bit, ducking into the occasional store and soaking up the (incredibly weird) ambience when we passed this building:
saw these posters:
and thought somethings along the lines of "Wha?!"
What does "Don Quijote" have to do with squadrons of girls dressed in maid costumes? We decided to find out.
You know, when I woke up this morning I figured the trip to the onsen was going to be the story of the day. Nope. Not even close. Getting naked in public is old news now. We've moved on to light prostitution with a pedophiliac twist.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First we rode up escalators to the fifth floor. Each floor we passed had a different store on it, selling everything from housewares to clowning props to eletronics to wigs. The escalators themsleves were all decked out in either black posters advertising "Don Quijote" or pink ones announcing "AKB48" (???).
We stepped off the fifth one into a store that looked like the inside of Disguises on Colfax (or any other Halloween/theater supply store) with costumes, wigs, makeup, and such on display. I wandered away from the escalators to look closer, and we suddenly noticed a bright pink cafe with ridiculous-looking ice cream sundaes pictured on the menu out front. Several girls dressed in sexy maid outfits like the ones in the poster downstairs were waiting at the hostess desk, and they greeted us enthusiastically in Japanese, beckoning for us to come inside.
We stepped closer to look at the menu and this was thrust into our hands:
Transcription of the bottom passage (because, believe me, it matters):
"Very Improtant: Promises must be kept between Masters and Maids
1. We accept cards payment.
2. No separate or individual payment,
3. Photo taking is only allowed on food or meals. It is not allowed to take photos on maids and any shop decorations.
4. Body touch is prohibited. Asking for personal information of maids are not allowed."
I'm not sure which part of this caused the feeling to shift from kitschy ice cream shop to creepy sex fetish. Probably around the part where I realized the customers were referred to as "Master" and "Princess". Definitely by the part where they have to say that "body touch is prohibited."
Jason turned to me and announced, "I want to go in."
He's not the only one who can spot blog foddor - I was game too.
We told the maids that this was the case, and they sprang into action. One gathered a stack of laminated sheets of various shapes and the others began practically singing a welcome in chorus as we were led around the corner.
We found oursleves in a room about the size of a classroom. There were three levels of seating, each at a bar and all facing a small stage with two shades of pink curtains, bows, and a sign declaring it the "@homecafe". Upbeat Japanese-girl pop music thumped all around us and the walls were covered in pink with black and crystal chandeliers. Think Barbie's Dream Strip Club.
Our maid showed us to two low stools at the front, right in front of the stage, and we exchanged the first of many "What the crap have we walked into?" looks of the night.
The maid presented us with a menu (pink and shaped like a butterfly) and went through our choices. There were a variety of drinks, omelets, rice dishes, and desserts. Most of the options included having an adorable something drawn on it in sauce. We also had, as you saw above, a list of packages. Jason declared his intention of getting a photo with one of the maids, so we both went for option A - "your favorite drink" and a "snapshot with our maid." I was less set on the photo, so when we were given a choice between getting a snapshot or "playing a game with a maid" I chose the latter. I wasn't sure what kind of "game" I would be playing (lyrics from "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" were certainly floating through my head), but I assured myself that if indeed "body touch is prohibited" it probably wasn't that kind of game.
Thrilled with our choices (in fact, based on their reactions, everything we did was absolutely the best thing we could possibly do), our maid took off. Despite the rules, we both took some pictures as surreptitiously as we could:
Soon another maid came up to us. "For reading in your free time," she said as she handed us this book:
"The Maids in Wonder Land"
It turned out that not much reading was required. Instead we were treated to a series of maid photo shoots - here are the maids doing school work, here are the maids sleeping in a field, here are the maids gunning down a monster with machine guns, here are the maids on a carousel. You get the idea. Despite the ever-present maid outfits, it felt G-rated pornograpy.
Just as we were trying to process that piece of literature, our maid showed up with a small magnetic white board. "Please, you pick your maid," she said to Jason. We must have looked as confused as we felt. Had we moved from quasi-ponography to full on prostitution?
"For your photo," she explained. "You can choose your maid." She presented Jason with the whiteboard where jeweled magnets held snapshots of girls in their costumes in posing for the camera (and for Jason) in positions ranging from clutching a stuffed unicorn to leaning forward with spread legs and a "come hither" look.
"Um, well, um, I don't know, um, which one do you like?" Jason blushed and stammered in one of those rare moments where he completely loses his ability to speak eloquently.
The maid beamed, thrilled that Jason would ask her opinion. She pointed to one of the girls. "She is nice," she declared. Jason quickly agreed that she would be fine, and the board was presented to me. "Now you pick a maid to play a game with!"
I picked one of the ones with a more moderate (i.e. less terrifying) pose. The maid grinned, "She is my friend! She will be very happy!" and, with a bow, left.
Our drinks arrived next. The maid had promised that our drinks would be "shaken in front of you," and they were. The girl brought our two glasses of soda water and two metal shakers. She took one in each hand and led us through a chant as she shook our drinks like an adorable cheerleader. She poured them out, turning Jason's drink a dark purple and mine an orangy pink. She gave us each our pick of straw colors (and loved both of our choices!), then told us to each make a heart with our hands. We did so. She taught us another chant, leading us through holding the hearts up, then down, then beaming them at each of our drinks. "Tastes better with love!" she declared, thrilled with our performance.
She left, and Jason turned to me. "If this drink is all sugar, and I think it is, I may have a heart attack."
It was. He did not.
We slowly sipped our drinks, noting that a) we were thirsty enough to drink the monstrosities, if only in small bursts, and b) this was taking a lot longer than we wanted. Apparently they were planning on us staying for the entire hour.
I looked around to see who, exactly, are the customers for a place like this. A variety of people it turns out. There were two older caucasian women towards the back, obviously tourists like ourselves; a couple of high school-aged girsl; and several men there alone. One middle-aged man had his head down on the table, probably drunk. Another sat near us reading a comic book as he waited. Many were browsing on their cell phones. Every few minutes, one of the maids would take a microphone to the stage and announce something in Japanese, then a patron would come to the stage to pose for a photo with one of the maids. They had a basket of props, and one of the high school girls donned black cat ears and gloves before posing with the maid. Most of the men didn't use the props but just posed with the maid while making a heart gesture or the typical peace sign.
Then Jason's name was called. The moment had arrived! He slid me his phone and I tried to take as many secret photos as I could when suddenly my own maid showed up to play a game.
My maid introduced herself as Rose and said that she was so excited that I picked her! She handed me a die and gestured for me to throw it. I rolled a 1, and she nodded and scurried off. I looked up just in time to see Jason wearing white bunny ears and making a heart shape for the camera.
As Jason took his seat, my maid returned with a plastic alligator. She showed me the game - you take turns pushing down the teeth one at a time until one of them triggers the alligator's mouth to snap shut. In fact, all of the games are toys - I saw maids and men playing Connect Four and Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots leading up to my turn.
Rose laid a score card and a timer shaped like a dog on the table and explained that we could play for three minutes. She would keep track of the score and if I won, I would get a prize.
We took turns pushing down teeth. She adorably reacted with trepidation each time it was her turn, beamed when she won, and pouted when she lost. Jason snapped this photo:
right before Rose turned and told him he could play too. Jason and I would each push down a tooth, then Rose would do two at once. When the timer beeped, I had lost twice and Rose had lost four times. She cheered for me, then told me to follow her for my prize.
She led me to a gumball machine near the front, deposited a coin, and gestured for me to turn the knob. A plastic capsule fell into her hands, and she read the note inside and told me I won a pen. I got to choose between yellow or green, and she led me back to my seat.
Jason, meanwhile, was presnted with his very own snapshot, complete with memorial card signed by his purchased woman, Chimu:
When Rose saw it, she praised Jason on the picture and declared him a "sexy bunny." Someone has a new nickname!
Once we paid, Rose came out to give us "very special presents" - loyalty cards. Specifically, "License of Your Majesty" cards (shown here with my score card and prize pen):
She wrote our names on the back of each one, adding "Princess" in kanji after mine and "Master" after Jason's with a heart, of course. She then bade us farewell, and all of the maids called out their goodbyes as we headed back to the escalators.
It was sickeningly cute, vaguely creepy, weirdly super-Japanese feeling, and one of the most unusual experiences of my life. On one hand, I'm trying not to think too much about the type of men these kinds of places cater towards; but on the other hand, I get it. It worked on me - having a super-pretty, adorable girl talk to you like you're her favorite person in the room and make you feel like everything you do is right releases all kinds of happy endorphins in anyone's brain. I was creeped out by seeing a submissive little-girl fantasy played out for cash, but I also felt awesome and smart and popular. It's potent stuff, and these girls are very, very good at it.
I am glad, however, that we didn't end up at a Maid Cafe like this one:
We needed something to conteract the sweetness of the drinks and the experience, but the closest we found to real food on the main street was options like this:
A burger on a doughnut with a cream-filled doughnut sandwich on the side. No, thank you.
We had better luck when we turned off the main road, and, using the travel standard "If it's crowded, it's good," decided to eat at this place:
(That's like, 2/3 of the entire restaurant right there.)
We went inside and discovered it was a ramen joint where you order via vending machine:
Excellent! Another experience on my Japanese To Do List.
With a little help from the man behind the counter, we both purchased tickets for a ramen bowl. He took our tickets, then gestured to this board:
and asked a question. We gave him our best confused tourists look. He tried again, but we still had no idea what he wanted to know. Finally, I caught the word "size" and noticed that there were numbers listed as 200 g, 300 g, and 400 g. I guessed that he was asking about portion sizes (g=grams?) and pointed to 300 g. He indicated two seats at the counter and went back to the kitchen.
Soon we had heaping bowls of noodles, pork, and hard-boiled eggs in front of us:
It was pretty good, but my favorte part was the pitchers of ice cold water available on the counter for self-service:
We walked around the area a little bit more then commenced looking for the subway station home. It took a while, but along the way we stumbled into this place:
Mochi! Another item on my list!
We each picked out one, and took several photographs:
(Rachel and Ben - have either of you seen mochi doughnuts or rings?)
Mochi comes frozen, and the salesclerk explained that we needed to wait ten minutes to eat them.
When it was time to unwrap them, we discovered a less-than-helpful set of instructions:
It wa pretty good, though. I got a raspberry mille feuille. The raspberry came via a very sweet jam filling inside the ice cream with little crunchies in it. Too sweet for my tastes, but I'd certainly try other flavors: