Day 177 - Ueno Zoo and the Maid Café

Surprised me
Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
4th Day in Japan; Tokyo 

Pokémon are everywhere, and I'm going to catch some of them. While Shimou gets ready, I pop over to the bakery and gather some breakfast, including a Totoro bun. I'm an illiterate mute, which the locals seem to assume, luckily. Whenever at a cash register, they say a lot of things before accepting the money. Usually it's "this is X yen, this is X yen, total is blah," which I see on the display and just place the money in their little money tray. It makes sense to do it like that, but took me a while to adjust to always putting the money in the tray and not handing it directly to them. Why is handing money directly to people sometimes considered rude?

After returning, consuming, and leaving, we pass a girl dressed as a maid. She's handing out fliers near the subway, and appears discouraged. I want to check out a maid cafe and hope there's a map on the card, so I ask for one. She was overjoyed that I took it, thanking me both in Japanese and English. 

Ueno Zoo

Shimou wanted to take me to the Ueno Zoo. Why not? They had mostly the same sort of animals that most people want to see: lions, tigers, elephants, monkeys, etc. Then they had some of the weirder ones: lemurs, red pandas, shoebill storks, and okapis. A zoo is a zoo, not much unique to Japan, other than some of the architecture, a pagoda, and vending machines that wouldn't accept a bill.

After cooling off in a cafe, chatting and eating matcha shaved ice, we started to move toward meeting Shimou's friend from university, Yuki. On the way, Shimou stopped in a cosmetics store while I hunted pokemon outside. I put some money in the bowl of a monk. I'm not sure if the cultural situation is with them, but I assume you shouldn't take pictures of them without donation. I plopped ¥100 coin into his cup. His mouth and eyes popped open in surprise, and he gave a warm smile, a slight nod, and rung his bell three times. It felt good, like genuine appreciation. like I felt the maid handing out fliers had given me. That seems a common trend among the Japanese people I've met – they feel genuine. Not that the rest of the people I know are fake, but... Maybe extra genuine? Possibly more present? It's hard to pinpoint. 

Japanese Deer
Language Barriers and Dating
Bro.. let me out.

We met Yuki in the subway, and wandered a long, long time deciding where to go. They kept speaking in Chinese or Japanese, as Yuki wasn't confident about her English skills. As a result, I tend to zone out, not pay attention, don't talk, and can get bored or tired. Then came the questions of "Are you ok? why are you mad?" and both of them asking if I'm ok.

Word of advice: if you have a partner who doesn't speak all the languages you do, and you're speaking exclusively in another language, either switch to a shared language, or just leave your partner alone. The constant checking in is extremely awkward. My Chinese is nowhere good enough to listen to two women catching up after not seeing each other in a long time. That shit is advanced in any language.

Not sure what this is called

Maid Café - Maidreamin

After eating at some western-ish place, we went to a maid café. Geez, these places are weird. I was both uncomfortable and fascinated that this was even a thing. First impression: a very pink room with women in maid uniforms, a lot of pink and flashy lights, and almost all male clientele, some of which are wearing animal ears. I was not prepared for this.

That's the café's actual name, by the way: Maidreamin.

What is a maid café? It seems like taking the female stereotypes from anime and imposing them on a real girl who dresses up and acts cute while serving you. When you arrive, they say "welcome back, master." When the girl came to serve us, we had to repeat a phrase 3 times and then she blew on a 'magic candle' to light it.

An Okapi
It's kind of like a non-sexual strip club: you have to pay for something to sit there – strip club: drink minimum; maid cafe: admission fee. In this case it was ¥600 ($7.20 CAD). The food and drinks are all fairly expensive, and you can pay the women to do things for you. Creepiest examples from the menu, their wording: "Maid will squeeze squeeze squeeze grapefruit juice in front of you" and one where the Maid will shake your drink in front of you... while saying your name.

Yuki read online that this one is a tame cafe, and a good place to test it out for travellers. This one "won't shock you" they said. Apparently, there are ones just for the locals which are way more out there. It was also pointed out that the Maids would probably treat me a lot more cutely if my girlfriend wasn't with me. 

Did I mention you're not allowed to take pictures in the Café without paying? (I pulled some from Google and tossed them at the very bottom of this page)

Matcha Shaved Ice. I promise it's not mold.
Academic Insight

Our Sundaes
While they continued to catch up Chinese, an Italian guy at the table next to ours started a conversation. It turns out, his grandfather is Japanese, which is what lead him to be attracted to Japan in the first place, and why he studied maid cafés for his thesis. He said it's ¥2000 JPY ($24 CAD) for unlimited alcohol, so he thinks it's worth the visit. Plus, cute girls.

In his research, he said that the Japanese have a word somewhere between "cute" and "love" that nerds feel toward these maids. I've asked what the audience is to several people, and they said "otaku" which is akin to the English word "nerd." Don't quote me on that, but that's what 3 or 4 Japanese women told me. Anyway, these cafes are usually for the locals who can't even dream of having a girlfriend, let alone even touching a girl. They might see sex as something dirty or perverse that will taint this girl for them, which is why they'd prefer some sort of idol worship through these services. To each their own.

Outside Maidreamin
He works here as a programmer, and lives 2 hours out of the city. I asked him, after a year of working here, if it becomes blaze, or if things still surprise him. He said that Japanese people tend to be very uptight and stiff in professional settings, but then they all are expected to go out drinking together after work. None of that is surprising. He said the times things go off the rails are usually near the end of the night drinking, some of the female coworkers will just take their clothes off. "It's happened a number of times" he confessed.

We said goodbye to my Italian friend at 11, and he decided to hang back and talk to the maids. Onward to an arcade where we can take silly photos in a booth. Apparently it's something you have to do when in Japan, Yuki was telling Shimou who told me.

On the train home, Yuki said how there are suicides by train on a daily basis. Just the night before, she had seen someone jump. It didn't seem to bother her, and they acted like I was strange for asking if she was alright. Maybe it was just to avoid dampening the mood.

Either way, we crashed back at the pad. 

Tomorrow, the rest of our travel party arrives!

Word of the Day - Japanese Edition
English - Mandarin [pronunciation]

Good Morning
[oh-hi-oh go-zye-E-moss]

Drums in my Head

Bonus: What the hell is this? Hotdog with a deathwish?

Extra Bonus: Stolen Maid Cafe Pictures from Google!

This is what the paid pictures can look like

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