Spending our time untethering the mind, getting the fidgets out, exploring the in-between ideas, and learning kintsugi.

Tokyo Cafés: You are being served

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Click for Tokyo cafe slideshow

Click for Tokyo cafe slideshow

Contrary to popular assumption Japan is actually a big coffee drinking nation. Tokyo has many local and international cafés but the more interesting are the ones that offer ‘extra’ service.

Internet cafés

While looking for an Internet café near our hotel we stumbled upon this cultural gem- the ‘manga kissa’. It was hidden in a basement with no English signs up front. We would have totally missed it had a kind gentleman not directed us to it. There were two sweet boys at the reception who could not speak a word of English, so they thrust a large laminated card at us. It was a list of rules in English. Along with the hourly rates it mentioned that only one person is allowed per booth and that failure or refusal to pay according to the usage will invite harsh police action. So threatening us with dire consequences they smiled like angels and bowed twice before leading us to our respective booths.

Manga cafe

Manga cafe

Besides the booths lined up in a row, the walls were full of Manga books, there were a couple of comfortable sofas and a large table and straightback chairs for alert readers. And there was some excellent coffee. All complimentary, of course.

It has been suggested that if one is stranded in the middle of the night in Tokyo without a single available or affordable hotel around, Manga café’s are a perfect option for spending the night. Infact many Japanese often take refuge in these cafes after missing the last train home or as a cheap alternative to hotels.

For tourists, apart from the fact that they are really hard to find, and going by this one, obviously not all of them are appointed with luxuries and comfortable lounges. But if it is on your agenda to spend one night or sample the coffee in one of these places, then you must do the groundwork and find a few online before heading for Tokyo.

Maid cafes

Akihabara, the mythical land of gadgets, actually exists. Even then, don’t expect to just land there and be greeted by robots. It requires excruciating research through loads of sites most of which offer no English version, to find the stores and products you have lusted after. Finding shops in Japan is difficult if you do not know the language, but people on the streets are more than helpful. Even though they don’t speak English, they are very generous with their time and effort.

The one place you won’t have any trouble finding is the eponymous maid café in Akihabara. On the main drag you will find several young women dressed as maids in Victorian or French costumes handing out leaflets to potential customers.

Role playing 1 Role playing 2 Role playing 3

Visiting one of them has got to be on anyone’s itinerary. They are basically cafes where you are served by waitresses dressed as maids. The idea is to make you feel like a Lord and Master. Simple concept, but like in every other sphere, the Japanese pay great attention to execution, ritual and aesthetics of the presentation. Your waitress/maid will welcome you with a ‘welcome home, master’; she will serve you coffee, chat with you if you want, play games with you if you so desire and get a picture clicked with you, all for a fee. There is normally a cover charge on entry and you must order at least one dish.

Inside a maid cafe

Inside a maid cafe

It’s considered to be a hangout for shy, introverted, lonely young people, and it seems there is a large community of socially inept marginalized young people in Japan. Besides the Japanese geek there were groups of young boys and girls, pretending to be least affected by the suggestive nature of the whole ‘maid’ roleplay routine.

It is a large and lucrative business, which is now spreading to other countries. In Japan, the Maid Cooperative has even set up a Maid Standards Test to monitor quality control. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any young English speaking Japanese people to further elaborate on the subject.

Written by Ankur

September 2, 2009 at 10:40 am

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