I spent a number of my formative years in Orlando, Florida. As a result, I have developed all the key skills needed to operate as a fairly efficient tourist. My wife and I often return from vacations amazed at the amount we are able to see and do in brief periods of time.
In short: we’re “walkers.” When it comes time to visit places we have the stamina for urban exploring that seems outside the realm of normal.
On my third day in Japan, Rob (from Anime Expo) and I made a VERY important discovery that we had somehow missed the first couple of days: there is a Starbucks in Shinigawa Station!
The drink menu is pretty much identical to a Starbucks in America with one notable exception: an Orange Brulee Latte. Of course that meant I had to get one… and it was really good! Even living in Florida, I would never had thought about putting orange and coffee together, but it worked.
Day three in Japan was also my first day dressing more casually (read: NO SUIT.) The only reason this is immediately noteworthy is that I ran into an exception to what had been “the rule” up until now in my visit: a non-shy/reserved Japanese woman.
While taking my plate to the trash area at Starbucks – actually, this bears some explanation: in Japan, all trash is segrigated based on what it is. In America, some states have recycling (like Florida and California.) In Japan, though, it is taken to a whole new level.
Check it out (click the photos to enlarge and see details):
Garbage is serious business in Tokyo.
Back to my non-shy Japanese girl story: when I was putting my tray and trash away, a nice young Japanese woman working for Starbucks was standing there and offered to take the tray. THIS was normal. The Japanese are VERY helpful and service oriented. Think Orlando, Florida theme parks – but 100% better.
I looked at her when handing her my tray and said thank you.
She held my gaze longer than a couple of seconds and then, very excitedly, ask me where I was from. Japanese (in general) are not fans of eye contact, nor do they hold it for more than a couple of seconds. This is exceptionally true of Japanese woman.
I told her I was from the United States and smiled at her expecting her to be satisfied with the answer and (probably) walk away and return to her work. She didn’t. (Again, I can’t emphasize how unusual this was compared to EVERY interaction I had had in Japan up until this point.) We proceeded to talk for a couple of minutes. I told her I was from Florida and she explained that she knew where Florida was and had always wanted to visit. She then introduced herself as Ami.
Yes. Just like Sailor Mercury for you anime nerds.
I am assuming that she just didn’t notice my wedding ring, but by the end of the conversation it seemed very obvious that this delightful Japanese woman was using the best English she could to flirt me with.
Total. Ego. Win.
(This would, of course, come back to haunt me later.)
Moving on, Rob and I caught the train and made our way to the Geek Mecca – Akihabara.
“Akiba” (the shortened nickname) is the district in Tokyo famous for it’s otaku-centric stores and atmosphere. Anime, manga, video games and all sorts of tech awesomeness are available in the district. Think of it as an anime convention dealer’s room on steriods. It’s an uber-nerd’s wet dream.
AND I LOVED IT.
Upon getting there, we were overwhelmed by the signs and stores around us. We were early and nothing was open yet, but there were already lines outside of many of the shops:
(I took a ton of photos that I’ll post later.)
While walking around the area we were approached by a cute young Japanese girl wearing a maid outfit. There were a number of these ladies along the sidewalks passing out flyers. This one, though, spoke English as walked up to us. I’m always a sucker for a good sales pitch, so I decided to hear her out.
“Have you ever heard of a Maid Cafe?” she asked.
“A Maid Cafe? No. What’s that?” (I was, of course, lying; I knew what one was.)
She became very excited at the chance to explain the concept to someone – especially in English. “It is a place where you go and you have cute Maids serve you food and drinks but instead of saying ‘can I help you’ we say ‘yes my master.'”
This was too good to pass up, so I looked as Rob and asked if he thought we should go. He stalled out with an answer and blurted out “Um…”
So I said yes.
“Great!” said our new Maid friend. “I will lead you there. Follow me!”
She led us down the street to “Animation Studio & Maid Cafe.”
We got there and were seated together at a table near the entrance. Now, Maid Cafes (if done correctly) are an attack on the senses of “super cute.” The success of how well they run is really in the details. we got lucky and scored a really cool one for our first time out.
Rob and I both ordered a sweet roll cake and drinks. Presentation is EVERYTHING in these establishments. Check out our plates:
You can’t take photos in the Maid Cafes, but we snuck this one by taking a picture of Rob’s drink:
The reason you can’t take photos inside the cafe is because you have to pay for photos with the maids. The menu offered to let you and a couple of maids dub the voices on an anime scene together (and keep the DVD) for 2000 yen. If you wanted to have your photo taken with your favorite maid it was 500 yen.
I decided to be “that American” and asked how many maids work working that day. The maid helping us found her manager who did a count and told me there were five total in the cafe at the moment. I told her I wanted a photo with ALL the maids together. She seemed overwhelmed with the prospect and made sure that I understood that I would have to pay for each maid in the photo. I made it abundently clear that payment was not a problem.
I wanted all the maids in the picture. 🙂
All the girls all seemed excited at the idea. Well, almost all of them. One of them very obviously didn’t want to be in the photo with the American. Her manager, though, scolded her and told her that is was her job as a maid to make the customers happy. Thus, we all gathered together and the cafe manager took out a Fuji instamatic camera (retro AWESOME.)
The result was this amazing photo:
Note the maid in the front center. She is NOT happy to be in the photo. The other four girls, though, were having the time of their lives.
Also note that artwork on the photo. After we took the picture, one of the maids spent the next ten minutes painting on to give it the super cute effect. She was totally into it. She even painted on the back:
The end result is that I can now visit a Maid Cafe in American and critique it on authenticity. To me, the experience was so uniquely Japanese that I can’t imagine it being replicated to anywhere near the awesomeness of the ones in Japan.
But who knows?
That’s all for now. More updates tomorrow. For now: I’m back in the States and I have SO MUCH unpacking. 🙂