Since yesterday we did something I wanted to do, today we're doing something Soymilk wants to do. Ever since the first time he visited Toukyou four years ago, he's wanted to take me to a maid cafe, and for just as long, I've steadfastly refused. But now I have a blog. Soymilk is determined that we look our best, because he “feels sorry for the girls when they have to talk to ugly loser guys all day.” He isn't satisfied with my clothes and makes me wear some of his. Then he does my hair. I look in the mirror and have to admit that, hey...I actually kind of look fucking good. I resemble a fashionable and fairly stylish Japanese guy. He goes for the suave schoolteacher.
Rude Boy: So are we ready for Akihabara? Or Akiba, as the uncool kids call it.
Soymilk: Or Seichi, as the even uncooler kids call it.
Rude Boy: Seichi?
Soymilk: As in “Sacred Land.” An actual Japanese otaku taught me that one.
My interests have broadened since high school so the impact has dampened, but Soymilk thinks it's the greatest place ever. Our first stop is a seven-storey manga shop next to the Taito building. The first two floors are mainstream, the next one up is doujinshi, and then everything after that is three solid floors of porn. So is the basement. It's a truly staggering number of volumes, shelved floor to ceiling in narrow aisles, organized by fetish. The clerks greet us with an unnervingly casual “irasshaimase,” and I really wish they wouldn't, because in a place like this, I'm pretty sure I'd rather be ignored.
Many titles are labelled “for adult only,” just in case you couldn't guess from the covers. Customers are of all ages and all walks of life, and Soymilk and I discuss what it must be like to run into, say, your teacher. There is also one couple, and the girl is quite adventurous about picking stuff up and flipping through it. She's pretty good-looking. So is the one girl working the register, which I would think would be a sales deterrent. Soymilk once left with two full bags of interesting stuff, and is convinced that we're not going to leave until I buy something. I don't.
With that done, it's time for the maid cafe. I almost die of humiliation en route. Basically, I can see no conceptual difference between maid cafes and prostitution. And I don't have any moral objection to either, but I the idea of doing either one myself makes my skeezes me right out. Soymilk assures me that embarrassment is normal, and maybe part of the fun.
We're handed a list of rules in English and Chinese, the last of which is “no asking for maids' personal information.” Makes perfect sense, but it raises some interesting questions. What constitutes “personal information?” No asking for mail addresses, sure, but how about whether or not they're originally from Toukyou? Their opinions on current events or cultural fixtures? What about their job? Obviously they'd say they love it, if they said anything at all, but what if I asked why they took it? What do their friends think? And, by the way, what do their boyfriends think? Cause Soymilk and I would both totally be ok with it. Also, how stringent is this rule? Will first-time transgressors be given a gentle reminder, or will the slightest intimation be met with the sole male employee leading them out by the scruff of their necks?
A maid appears, leads us to our table, and all but sits on the floor beside us, which makes me feel all gross again right after I'd pushed it down. Then she tells us to ring a bell when we're ready to order, and I nearly start formulating a graceful exit strategy right then and there. I take a look around the cafe. There are a few scattered tables, a single long one, a bar, and a stage. The customers, contrary to my imaginings, are mostly college-aged, with one rather smarmy older guy buying a ton of stuff and strutting around the place as if by winning the girls' attention he has accomplished something. On Soymilk's recommendation, I take the A Course, which includes a photo and a souvenir box of cookies. He gets a “furifuri shakkashakka” drink, which is made up of two random flavours chosen by the maids, then mixed in a cocktail shaker in front of you...with an accompanying song. That you have to participate in.
I'm handed a cork board of pictures that look like they were taken by a serial killer, and instructed to pick a maid from amongst them for my picture. It's a tough call, but one stands out, partly because she's kinda my type, and partly because in her photo she's kneeling on the ground, leaning slightly forward, and making an extremely sexual face at someone or something off-camera. Mortifyingly, they call my name over the speaker when it's time, and I have to go up on stage. My fears that she might be less hot in person are very much allayed. Pro tip: When they ask you which set of animal ears you want to wear, ask them to pick for you. They like it. Then you pose together and they write on your photo, which you treasure forever and keep in your wallet for four years. Or you do if you're Soymilk, anyway.
I picture the maids getting together on breaks and talking shit about their customers. “God I hate that guy. Have you seen the way he stares at us when he thinks nobody's looking? What a fucking creeper, no wonder he comes to us.” Soymilk is of the opposite view, believing that most of them probably have a sort of affection for their regulars. “They're so sad. That's why places like us exist. They just need someone to love them.”
As one final thing before we leave, Soymilk requests a game session with his favourite maid in the joint, and we approach the bench to play. The diceroll yields one where you have to steal bones from an electronic dog without it biting you. The two of us keep a razor eye on both the timer and the scorecard, and by the time it's finished it's terribly obvious that she's nudged her own significant lead into a tie. He wins a coin for his efforts, which she has him put into a machine and wins...a picture with her! And not a wallet-sized one, but one of the bigger ones that you normally have to pay extra for. Our chosen maids bring us our developed photos and chat with us until our time's up, and Soymilk pretends not to speak Japanese very well so that I can enjoy the attention. His follows us to the door to see us off. Pretty good service.
|I got a "box of cookie" with my A Course, you'll recall. Fancy box. Let's open this up...|
|A package holding eight cookies, which are all also individually packaged.|
Rude Boy: Good call on the clothes.
Soymilk: They seemed to be really interested in our ryuugakuing.
Rude Boy: Sure, they probably don't get too many foreigners they can actually talk to.
Soymilk: My maid was totally into me.
Rude Boy: That's what they all say.
Soymilk: I could just tell...it was in her attitude. Like it wasn't all fake like some of the others.
Rude Boy: Buddy. You're supposed to think that. It's literally their job to make you think that.
Soymilk: She let me win that game.
Rude Boy: Yes, but think about this, do you think she did that because she was into you, or because it's store policy to let first-time customers win? Or maybe even because we're foreigners and she cut us a break?
Soymilk: She was into me. I can tell.
He will spend the rest of the night bringing her up every fifteen seconds, and later find her ameblo.
Random foreign guy: Hey, excuse me, are you guys from here?
Rude Boy: Kinda. I'm actually from Kansai.
Random foreign guy: Oh, great. Do you guys know anything fun to do around here?
Soymilk: Have you been to a maid cafe? Or the arcade?
Random foreign guy: Yeah, we just came from there, actually...I'm pretty sure we've seen basically everything Akihabara has to offer.
Rude Boy: How about three floors of cartoon porn?
|In case you were wondering.|
|Hey, it's Cool Old Dude! I thought they'd have taken this down when he was defeated.|
|Hey, it's Akiabaoo from Akiba's Trip!|
|Hey, it's the Sega Building from Akiba's Trip!|
As our last stop before heading home, we hit the arcades for a bit, playing a couple rounds of MaiMai and then Pop.
Rude Boy: Is this song off?
Soymilk: Um, no...the whole game is off.
Finally, we locate a Gundam capsule machine. It looks kind of lame from the outside but if you like Gundam, trust me man, these things are fucking awesome. Basically Gundam is a large collection of loosely related anime series about various political factions waging war with giant humanoid robots called mobile suits. It's less stupid than it sounds. Although not by much. Anyway if you watch it enough it becomes very easy to imagine yourself as a mobile suit pilot, and this game lets you live out that dream. You can even connect to other people playing in totally different parts of the country and go on team missions together, acquiring better machines and stronger equipment as your infamy grows. You see? Arcades aren't quite dead yet.
The Internet doesn't have much in the way of instructions, and it's heartbreaking to lumber around stupidly not knowing how the hell to control your ZAKU II (or GM, if you're lame), even if it does have the effect of making you feel like a real pilot slowly learning the ropes. So here's a few pointers if you've never played: The hand controls operate your machine's feet (obviously!). To shuffle sideways, move both left or right; to turn on the spot, move one forward and one back. The right index trigger fires your primary weapon and the left one swings your melee weapon. The thumb buttons are for your special weapons. The right pedal boosts – maintain steady pressure because the boost ends immediately and becomes unusable for several seconds after disengaging, so you can't cheat the metre by feathering. The left pedal jumps, and a midair depression will fire up your jetpack, allowing a brief hover. It can be frustrating to start but it's rad once you get it down!