Monday, June 1, 2009

Review: Heidi Club - Cafe and Goods Shop (R.I.P.)

Note: Heidi Club closed its doors at the end of December, 2008. What follows is the review I'd written in November. Heidi Club has since resurfaced as a "goods only" shop, and continues to promote Hayao Miyazaki's earlier TV series, "Heidi, Girl of the Alps". But, it's no longer operating as a maid cafe within Akihabara. Still, I consider it appropriate to reprint the review in Maid Runner.


When you think of Japan, generally "ninja", "samurai", "martial arts", "anime", "manga" and "tea ceremony" come to mind first. Mention Akihabara, and the list drops down to "anime", "manga" "electronics" and "maid cafes". Mention "anime" and you get the top titles, like "Dragon Ball", "Naruto", "Bleach", "One Piece" and "Pokemon". Mention "Heidi, Girl of the Alps", and you only get blank stares.

(Character goods to the left, high def TV playing the anime in the center)

"Heidi" was a novel written by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, and published in 1880. It was turned into an anime TV series in 1974, directed by Isao Takahata, with scene design and layout by Hayao Miyazaki (who both went on to found Studio Ghibli). The animation and designs were all very crude, but the story caught the hearts of not only Japanese viewers, but audiences around the world (it's been dubbed into Turkish and Arabic, no less). The series is still in re-runs on Japanese TV in the early morning when kids are preparing for school.

(Baked goods display)

Even so, "Heidi" isn't that popular with most western fans, and the percentage of such fans that do know about it isn't that large. I only knew about it because I ran across the show when I was flipping channels on Japanese TV a few months back. So, it's worth writing about now.

(The entrance to the second floor is behind the businessman on the right)

Anyway, what's really unusual is that there's actually a small cafe in Akihabara that's licensed to carry Heidi character products. The Heidi Club is on the second floor, located just east and north of the JR Akihabara train station, alongside the FujiSoft building (2 blocks east of the UDX building). I discovered it when I was exploring the area around my office. This is not a popular area for anime fans, since it is "off the beaten path", but even so, when I went there for a late lunch, there were 4 other couples also relaxing and watching the anime DVDs on the big screen TV.

Heidi Club is not a typical "maid cafe", but the workers are in period Swiss clothing, and the cafe does serve meals at the higher end of the price range. I had 2 large dinner rolls (baked on-premises, and very tasty) with butter, and hot coffee, and it came to $7. If I'd arrived earlier, I could have had one of the set lunches for about the same price (when I left, one of the workers was creating a pastry dessert that looked like it was being turned into a work of art; I need to go back and order one myself). But, people don't come here for the food - they just want to lean back and enjoy watching the TV show in a comfortable, western setting. Over half of the patrons were women, and the men that were there had come because their girlfriends insisted on it.

As can be seen from the photos, the shop is packed with licensed goods, from stuffed dolls to coffee cups, shirts, towels and everything else. The main clerk graciously allowed me to take photos, as long as I didn't go overboard, and didn't use a flash. The woman at the next table was doing the same thing with her cell phone camera.

What really amazed me was that the Heidi Club was right next door to me, and I hadn't seen any advertising anywhere to announce that fact. I'm thinking that they get most of their customer traffic from fans of their website. There's not that many shows on Japanese TV that get their own shop like this (Ultraman, Astro Boy, anything else by Miyazaki, Gundam all have toy shops dedicated to them, but none of them serve food), so it's pretty cool that there is a Heidi Club, and that it's so easy for me to get to.

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