This is a post about the good, the great and the kooky of Tokyo life.
- Maid cafes
For those of you unfamiliar with maid cafes the first thing to note is that there is nothing untoward or salacious about them. Whilst a kinkier version almost certainly exists in the weird and wonderful place that is Tokyo, the mainstream locales are rated “U”. “What’s it all about, then”, I hear you ask. Well, have a little patience and I will try to explain.
Japanese culture, particularly among the teens, has become obsessed with “kawai”, for which our closest translation is “cute”. Think pigtails, teddy bears and squeaky voices; now magnify that a hundred-fold and turn it into a life philosophy. Maid cafes, a manifestation of kawai, have three main markets:
- Those who like to be kawai
- Those who like those who like to be kawai
- Those who like to observe both those who like to be kawai and those who like those who like to be kawai (mainly tourists)
Although these cafes have proliferated across the city, their point of origin is the kingdom of kawai, Akihabara, a couple of stops north of Tokyo station.
Maidreamin’ is one of the biggest chains so, not knowing entirely what to expect but having done some background reading, I made my way to the address marked on TripAdviser.
On exiting the lift on some floor between 4 and 7 – let’s say it was 6 – I was greeted by a gaggle of diminutive “maids” (waitresses) doing their best impersonations of a baby smurf with a helium addiction.
Calling me “master”, which I felt more than a little awkward about, they showed me to a seat. The cafe was set out like an American diner from the’60s, had its interior design been sponsored by My Little Pony. Other clientele already seated comprised a table of 18-25 year old Japanese girls from clan Kawai, three very shy teenage boys enjoying the pressure-free attention and an American family of eight doing the tourist thing.
I sat and was provided with a menu that was rudimentary at best (people don’t come for haute cuisine) and was informed that a picture with a maid would cost extra.
To bump up the kawai, all orders had to be preceded by a “meow, meow” to get the server’s attention. Surrendering my final shred of dignity, I mewled an order of the katsu curry that you see below.
At the same time as my curry bear arrived, so did a Japanese businessman. He stuck out like a sore thumb. When he then turned out to know all of the ordering protocol I concluded that he was a regular and that this was his thing. It takes liquorice to make a world.
We, his fellow diners, had to be thankful for his advent because he forked out for a dance from the maids, who jumped up on stage and gave a singing and dancing performance so cloying cutesy it haunts me to this day.
I quickly donned a pair of bear ears, got my maid photo and made swift my escape. Highly amusing and a definite must but never to be repeated.
2. Ninja House, Shinjuku
One of the more regrettable decisions of my time in Tokyo was my visit to a “ninja house“. I had some dead time before a dinner with friends and came across this idea online. The child in me was lured by the idea of throwing stars, secret passageways, Home Alone-style booby-traps for intruders; so I showed up, paid for my ticket and waited.
Turns out the child in a large group of children was also lured by the idea of throwing stars, secret passageways, Home Alone-style booby-traps for intruders. They arrived, with parents in tow, and we were all ushered into a small room where a ” ninja” fitted me and the small children with wooden swords whilst the parents looked on, no doubt wondering why a fully-grown man had chosen to sign up for a kids activity.
I was mortified. I wanted it to end immediately but, minute by tortuous minute, the tour dragged on. “Let’s go through this secret passage. Sorry sir, you won’t fit….”
I momentarily forgot my embarrassment as I threw ninja throwing stars, but quickly remembered I was a 34-year-old in a group of nine-year-olds.
Verdict? You couldn’t pay me enough to put myself through that again. If you have kids, however, do take them. It’s designed for them.
3. Sumo Wrestling
If I tell you that this was my second time at a sumo tournament you will get a hint of my view of the sport. I’m a fan. I would say a huge fan, but calling myself huge in the presence of these leviathan is to underestimate what huge is. They are huge. (See examples below.)
Sumo is the beautiful union of tradition, theatrics, skill, aggression and obesity. Not a common mix.
The rules state that a wrestler has won when his opponent US forces out of the circle or touches the ground with anything other than his feet. Sounds simple, right? But in truth, there are up to 48 different strategies to win a bout, including sidesteps, trips, lifts, pushes and pulls. I shan’t go into minute detail because it’s hard to appreciate unless you’ve had first-hand experience (not so good on TV), but watch these juggernauts below taking the stage to be introduced and tell me you’re not curious to see them fight.
I would go once a year, if I could. It’s spellbinding. There are only a few tournaments in the whole of Japan each year so, if you’re planning a visit, do see if you can make it coincide.