I think it was the Discovery Travel and Living Channel that says, ‘sometimes the best plan is to have no plan at all’. And that was exactly how this trip to Tokyo was — I had no itinerary, other than to visit my old friends, because I felt that after living there for a year I was not exactly a tourist. And because of this completely open agenda, I found myself doing some very unexpected, and unusual, things that I’d never done before.
For example, my friend Kyoko called me on my second day there and asked me out of the blue, ‘Do you want to go to a maid cafe today?’ Now for those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s a type of place where the girls wear black and white frilly lace French maid costumes, and guys pay a lot of money to go to the cafes and get fawned over. ‘You want to go to a maid cafe? Really? Why?’ I asked Kyoko, as it is quite unusual for girls to go. ‘I don’t know… I’ve never been. Why not?’
We met in Nakano, and after killing some time wandering around this massive toy building and then having a cold beer and some grilled liver, we worked up the courage to go into the cafe.
The door opened with a ring of a bell, and a maid rushed to the entrance, singing out a perky welcome. When she saw it is just the two of us, she asks if we are with any men. Nope, it’s just us, two girls, we reply. I can tell this is a bit weird, but nonetheless she ushers us inside, and sits us by the bar. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was just a normal cafe with girls in costumes — didn’t seem like anything kinky was going on here. It was quiet, since it was just 6 pm and they had just opened, so there were only two guys there, one of which was playing darts by himself.
We take a seat by the bar, and order a beer. The young maid who brings us our drinks asks us a few polite questions (even though usually the guys are supposed to pay the girls to talk to or sit with them). This was a great chance for me to practice my Japanese, since she didn’t speak English, so Kyoko and I ended up getting into this long discussion with her.
Her name was Haruka, was very cute and bubbly (naturally, not just for the job), and she told us her story how she came from Yamaguchi-ken (countryside of southern Japan) to try to become a professional singer in Tokyo. Small town girl with a big city dream, I guess. We ended up chatting with Haruka for a good hour, and even as a few more guys began to trickle into the bar she seemed to prefer to stay behind the bar talking to us. Can’t say I blame her… who’d want to have to be all sweet and nice to scuzzy guys who have to pay girls to talk to them? We had a really good time, and I was surprised to see how normal these girls are. I guess I did not realise that I too had bought into the misconception or stereotype that Japanese girls, especially those who work as French maids or hostesses, are weird or have some kind of kinky fetish. I suppose there always is room to learn more about a foreign culture, even if you think you know a lot already.
Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the cafe, so we have no pictures of dear genki Haruka-chan. But here are some other highlights of the trip:
Although I lived there for a year, and have visited Tokyo many times, the city still manages to amaze me. The thing that I love the most about Tokyo is that inevitable moment when you are out somewhere in the city walking about, suddenly stop and look around, and get this giddy sort of feeling of ‘what in the HELL is going on here?’ It is a sort of complete bewilderment that comes over you, this awareness of finding yourself somewhere that is just so completely foreign, so utterly different and unique and just downright FUN, surrounded by bright lights of signs you can’t read, listening to voices that you can’t understand, not knowing what is going on at all, observing everything, and all in all just in awe of this megacity and all its wonderful weirdness. Some people hate Tokyo, and say it is just a giant oversized neon concrete jungle, but I love it. I really do consider it my second home.