Monday, August 22, 2011

Out of this world

Okay, I have a lot of overdue blog posts now! Hope it's not too late! Let's travel back to a few weeks before, the week after our midterm.

If you ever want to go to a place that's like no other, go to Akihabara 秋葉原. This place is world-renowned among anime geeks (i.e. otaku, which, in really geeky katakana spelling is apparently ヲタク--why this is the geeky spelling I don't know, but that ヲ is an outdated katakana for を that's no longer used). Look anywhere and you will see buildings plastered with humongous posters of anime girls and colorful ads for places known as "maid cafes," which will be described in more detail later. Though not as common as I had heard (or maybe I didn't go on a "good" day), many people will dress up as anime characters and walk around completely nonchalantly. Although, I did see one man dressed up as a Sailor Moon character or something get on the train.

So what is a maid cafe? Well, if you walk around Akihabara, soon enough you'll see some girl dressed as either a Victorian-era maid, some anime character, or some other exaggerated costume handing out flyers. If you go to one of these places, you'll be able to order food and (in some places) play games with the maids (children's games, like jenga for example) in which you can win silly little prizes. The strange thing about how these cafes work is how cute (in a relative sense) the maids act and how the atmosphere is supposed to be. This is probably best explained by the story of Gabe, Somin, and my trip into the maid cafe.

While we were walking down the streets of Akihabara, we suddenly see a maid looking at us from across the street through a folded paper tube, clearly trying to get our attention. As we approach, she literally tells us to come to her maid cafe and adds the random sounds "BUUbubUbubububu!!!" I actually have no idea where they even came from.
On a side note: more excellent Engrish from Akihabara.

We decide to walk around a bit, wanting to find a maid cafe that is cheap and has good desserts, but eventually we decide to just go to the one the maid we talked to worked in, a place interestingly named "Heaven's Gate/Maidreaming." We look at the menu outside and think to ourselves "Wow so cheap!" Only 300-600 yen for food!" so we enter the building, only to learn that there's a 1000 yen cover charge to enter the place. Unfortunately, we're not allowed to take pictures inside so I can only narrate what this place looked like. Okay, we decide that for the experience, it should probably be worth it, so we pay the cover fee and enter a wonderland of pink, yellow, and other pastel colors, and sit down at a table that looks like somewhere the Mad Hatter and March Hare would have tea. The lights are dim but there's a lot of glitzy spotlights surveying the area. Since it's still kind of early, we only see a table of foreigners like us, and interestingly enough, a few salarymen on their own, one of whom looked very bored and was just reading a book (why was he even there???)!
The menu for Heaven's Gate. Looks cheap right?

We decide to order a set of three drinks and ice cream for 1800 yen--not too expensive and perfect, one drink for each of us! Then, of course, we're informed that each person must make an order--standard cafe requirements in Tokyo. We order two ice cream sundaes shaped like animals and a bowl of cream cheese and crackers. Now here's the interesting part: if you want to call the maids over, you're supposed to put your fists up on either side of your head and go "nyan nyan!" the sound that a cat makes. I don't know if I've ever done such an embarrassing act, but apparently these maids are supposed to act like cats every day (I was never aware that anthropomorphic cats were so popular in Japan). Not only that, but once your order comes, you put your hands in the shape of a heart and do some silly pattern while reciting some silly song to make the food delicious or something like that. Talk about bizarre.

After a bit, we decide we're about ready to leave, until we're informed that each person has to make TWO orders (what!!!). We felt as if we were in a prison, only to be released once we finished our sentence of ordering six orders. We decide to order some box game where you pull out a card from a box and win a prize (it was some little trinket of some sort). Ready to make our final two orders, we call the maid order and find out we still have three orders remaining! Apparently, only food counts as an order. Sigh, a waste of 300 yen.

We make three cheap orders--edamame and another cream cheese and crackers and some chips. We had the luck, though, of someone else ordering an onstage performance of one of the maids singing some super bubblepop song, so that was fairly entertaining. Finally, after our food arrived, we were ready to leave after finishing off the cream cheese and having just a few of the subpar edamame and chips. We took a cute photo with our "favorite maid" and paid our bill, a whopping 6,800 yen for three people (almost $80).
One more funny story--one of the "maids" we ran into was dressed as a policewoman. We looked at the flyer she handed us and were trying to decipher what was 2200 yen, 1800 yen, and 1000 yen. We see on the 2200 yen one 足に踏まれる and say "What??? Doesn't that mean 'to be stepped on by a foot?' Trying to figure out what this crazy place is, we look at the 1000 yen one, びんたされる. After Somin looks up びんた on her dictionary, we realize it means "to be slapped in the face." Finally, the last one meant "to lie on someone's lap while having ears scratched." Curious about this ridiculous place, we walk to the location and see a promotional video outside of a man tied up and lying prostrate while a policewoman gives him a back massage by stepping on him. Okay, that's not too weird--back massages like that are common in Asia...although not with women dressed as policewomen...the hilarious part of the video soon came though when the man on his knees is then given two slaps while the screen flashes "1000 yen!" He then apparently goes for two more rounds as he's slapped two more times "2000 yen!" then another two times "3000 yen!" I guess there must be some people in this world who will pay almost $40 to be slapped by a policewoman...
On another note, as Akihabara is known for anime geeks and crazy gamers, we knew we had to hit up one of the arcades. Gabe challenged some guy to Tekken while I played some crazy dancers in DDR. What an experience haha.
Gabe against a Tekken pro

Random pictures for the week!
Amazing pastries my host mother made: some chicken alfredo like sauce, shrimp with pesto, and maple butter with walnuts. Ahhh I miss those pastries.
Delicious meal at an expensive French restaurant (about 60,000 yen per person yikes!) at the top floor of Mitsukoshi, a department store in Ginza. It consisted of appetizers (did not know most of what was there except the gazpacho), foie gras with some salad, duck, a mango sorbet, and a cappuccino/cinnamon/ice cream dessert. This place complies with the fact that once you get above $25, the amount of food you actually get severely drops. We came here to celebrate my host mom's father, brother, and sister's birthdays.

Meeting with Kawai Chikao 河相周夫, a prominent politician.
A visit to the Ghibli Museum, which was quite the green wonderland (Miyazaki Hayao is well known for his environmentalist position).
Eunbi and I hang out with Chihiro and Chiharu in a quaint cafe in Harajuku.
Dinner with Seto-sensei!

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