Monday, November 30, 2009

Maid non-cafes, part 6 - Bars

There are bars, and then there are Maid Bars. In effect, a maid bar is simply a regular bar where they serve some snacks, and the staff is in costume. And the drink prices are almost double the norm. Plus, there's probably a house special drink that the maid shakes and pours at the table in front of you. And, the possibility of a maid photo. But really, it's just a bar.

Many maid cafes do serve beer and mixed drinks and some have fairly well-stocked shelves, such as is the case with JAM. And bars like Nagomi Bar and Cafe have a full kitchen for preparing hamburg steak, omelet rice, curry rice and pasta. So, there's a wide gray area between what makes a maid bar, and a maid cafe.

Places that specifically identify themselves as bars are:

Queen Heart
Heart Aid
Basic Bar bB
Nagomi Bar and Cafe

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Review: Royal Milk

Royal Milk is kind of a strange beast. They advertise themselves as "Aroma Therapy and Cafe", yet the website doesn't list their menu, events (deactivated button) or links (deactivated button) while focusing on listing the prices for their aroma therapy and reflexology service. Yet, at the same time, the actual location on the second floor just seemed to have the cafe; I didn't see anything related to the aroma therapy. Didn't see anyone walking into strange little backrooms for 10-20 minutes and coming out grinning, either.

(Sign at street level.)

The cafe is fairly easy to find. Head north on Chuu-ou Dori from Akihabara station. When you get to the corner of the Donkey building, turn left down the side street. Royal Milk is 1.5 blocks down, on the 2nd floor on the right. The cafe is in a medium-size room with 2- and 4-person white Formica tables and wood-and-metal chairs for holding about 30 people. There's no real non-smoking area; the smoke fills up the place even if only one person's lit up. The cash register and goods counter is right next to the bartender's station where the food orders are delivered. One shelf to the side has lots of little anime figures and a weird-looking female tanuki statue. The opposite wall has a case filled with various books if you want something to read, and there are some Pikachu hats scattered about. Opposite the cash register, there's a table with a small grill, where they were slow cooking a fish. I doubt the fish was part of the aroma therapy. At one point, the chef replaced the fish with a slab of some kind of meat, and the maids ate the fish with cries of "oishii".

I was greeted with the "welcome home master" chant when I arrived, guided to a table against the wall, and given a menu in English. The maid told me about the day's specials, and set a small bell on the table for me to ring when I was ready with my order. I decided on the daily special entree, which in this case was a pork cutlet pasta and a cup of soup for 800 yen. The dinner set drink is an additional 300 yen, but only if you choose tea, cola, or melon soda. I got the melon soda. There is a 300 yen cover charge, which they didn't mention when I came in, and they don't offer maid photos. So, the meal came to 1470 yen total (with tax), which was actually very cheap for a maid cafe. There's also "no camera" and "no cell phone" signs all over, so I couldn't get a shot of the food.

The melon soda arrived first, in a fairly large glass with not too much ice. No added flavor chants, though. About 10 minutes later, they brought out a cup of a thick mushroom cream soup that was good but not outstanding. After about half an hour, the maid came over to apologize that the food was so late and that it would be done soon. A couple of minutes later, she arrived with a medium-sized bowl filled with noodles covered in a curry sauce, with 3-4 strips of grilled pork on top. The pork was juicy, the curry slightly spicy and very tasty, and the noodles al dente. Over all, it was just the right amount of food and I decided against getting a dessert.

(Logo on the receipt.)

I'd arrived at 6 PM on a Tuesday night, and there were only 5 guys then. Most of them had left when I was done and no one else had come in. A slow night. The maids were fairly reserved, polite but not really talkative to any of the other customers, spending maybe 3-5 minutes chatting. However, when I left, my maid walked me out to the stairwell, told me to be careful and then bowed during the entire time I walked down to the sidewalk.


There is a points card. 1 point per visit for the cafe; 2 if there's an event. 2 points for aroma therapy; 3 if you spend over 5000 yen. 16 points gets you a maid photo, a 500 yen discount, or some other kind of branded goods item.

The website does list the reflexology and aroma therapy services. Most are in the 1000 yen to 7000 yen range ($12-$78 US). If I ever go back, I may try asking for the details. As I mentioned above, the food is a very good deal for a maid cafe, and if I just wanted to get something to eat in a maid setting, I'd pick Royal Milk for it. But, I'm a non-smoker, and the heavy smoke in the cafe got in the way of my enjoying the meal. For that reason, I'd rather go to Cure Maid or Eine Burg instead. Even if it does mean not getting the 16 points for earning the maid photo.

Name: Royal Milk
Location: West side of Chuu-ou Dori, down the side street just opposite the Donkey Building, 2nd floor.
Price: Moderate
Cover: 300 yen lets you stay 1 hour.
Food: Some dinner entrees, soft drinks, beer, desserts and mixed cocktails. Entrees include the regular curry, omelet rice and pasta, plus daily specials.
"Love": No special "added flavor" chants or drawing pictures on the drinks.
Outfits: A light pink or dark blue blouse and skirt with white apron and lace.
Photos: Maid photo only if you fill up the points card.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: This is an "aroma care" cafe, which includes reflexology sessions and aroma sessions. However, all I saw was the cafe, so I don't know where the aroma therapy takes place.
Recommendation: In terms of maid cafe food, this is one of the better deals in Akihabara. The pork cutlet pasta I ordered was very good, and the soft drink came in a large glass. Although there was the 300 yen cover, it still came to only 1474 yen. Which is a good deal for a maid cafe. I just wish they had better ventilation. Recommended if you're a smoker.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maid non-cafes, part 5 - Treading

Ok, I know that I mentioned "Akiba Treading Girl's Academy" in part 4 under Reflexology. But this one needs it's own blog entry.

People of a certain age may remember a time when Asians were known for being light and petite. Because of this, if an Asian woman took her shoes off and stood on your back, it actually felt good. In fact, various movies around the 1960's would occasionally include barefoot massage scenes.

Akiba Treading Girl's Academy is a barefoot massage shop. And, it looks to be the only one (at least, based on the name) of it's type in Akihabara, along with offering regular reflexology. It is in a seedier part of Akihabara, in one of the buildings under the tracks just beside Kanda river, so you're kind of taking your chances with the shops there, but again, I haven't tried spending the money on the non-cafe maid places and can't make comments one way or the other here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: Cafe Mermaid

Cafe Mermaid is one of the newest shops to open up in Akihabara. The maids started handing out fliers about 2 weeks ago, and when I was offered one last Sunday I accepted with the intent to visit 2 days later. The coupon offer on the flier for a free soft drink was an additional incentive.

The weather on Sunday was sunny and pleasant. Tuesday night, not so much. Cold, dreary and raining. When I got out of the station, I noticed one of the maids - shivering under an umbrella - from Mermaid handing out more fliers and I approached her for directions. Because the signs for the cafe are not out in the open and easy to see, she volunteered to guide me. Turns out that it's next door to Pash Cafe Nagomi. We went up to the third floor and through the door, where I was greeted equally with cries of "welcome home, master" and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. I was given a table at the back, next to the kitchen, in the non-smoking area. I showed my flier with the free drink coupon and was assured that I'd be able to use it to get a cup of hot coffee. I then ordered a "lagoon parfait" and a maid photo. At the other end of the room, a few people sat or mingled, and occasionally one of them would play darts against one of the maids.

Although Cafe Mermaid advertises a "mermaid" theme, it really only extends to tacking some ocean-themed names to some of the menu items, and in having light-blue dress uniforms. The interior of the cafe is an uninspired paneling, with metal chairs and glass tables. The space for taking the maid photos is right in front of the door, so you want to be careful if you hear the elevator doors opening up outside. The menu is limited compared to many other maid cafes in the area, but it does include pasta, omelet rice, a few desserts, soft drinks and mixed drinks. They offer catering if you have a party. The most expensive thing on the menu is the $350 USD bottle of Dom Perignon.

The coffee came out first; a small cup a little over half full. The maid automatically set one packet of sugar and cream next to the cup and left. The coffee was watery and tasteless. Then came the parfait - a small fluted glass half-filled with corn flakes, with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, a piece of banana, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup on top. The syrup tasted good, but it definitely wasn't worth the 800 yen price.

Next was the maid photo. This was a simple heart pose, and the maid brought a set of markers over to decorate the photo at the table. This was actually the highlight of the evening; none of the other cafes I've been to let the maid do the photo mark-up right in front of you. There's not a lot of decoration, but it was fun to watch it being done.

Then came the low point. Although the order slip had "service" next to the coffee (meaning "free"), one of the other maids told me that I should have specifically said that I wanted to use the coupon to get the coffee right at the time that I placed the order (which I had done). There's no way I could have won an argument like this, so I let it slide. But, 500 yen for a tiny cup of bland coffee, 800 for a plain, tiny glass of corn flakes, 500 cover, and 500 for the maid photo comes to 2300 yen ($25 USD), which is twice what the evening was worth. Yes, I'm feeling ripped off, and no I'm not planning on going back.

They do have a points card. 500 yen per point, 50 points per card. You have to present the filled card to the maids to find out what it gets you (nothing's printed about that on the card and there's no online goods shop from their webpage). They offer "reflex", darts and games against the maids, so maybe the points card gets you a free drink, photo or darts game.

The place was almost empty - just a few guys hanging around, including one who was apparently a friend of one of the maids. No female customers. The staff was friendly, and I did feel sorry for the girl that had to stand outside in the cold rain in a frilly dress to hand out fliers. But, overall I was disappointed with the entire experience. Maybe with luck Cafe Mermaid will improve over time, but right now I have no interest in returning anytime soon.

Name: Cafe Mermaid
Location: West of the JR Akihabara station 2 blocks, behind the Sega Building, near Pash Cafe Nagomi. On the 3rd floor.
Price: High.
Cover: 500 yen lets you stay 1 hour.
Food: A limited selection of entrees and desserts. The main focus is on the drinks, and the $350 bottles of Dom Perignon.
"Love": Standard "welcome home master" greetings when you enter and "please come back" when you leave. You can request having things written on your food in catsup if you want.
Outfits: A light blue dress with white apron.
Photos: 500 yen.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Mermaid is sea-themed, with drinks named "Lagoon", and the ocean-colored dresses. It's also a darts bar, if you want to play darts against the maids.
Recommendation: The food's ignorable, the coffee watered down and the staff are just moderately friendly. Granted they've only been open a couple of weeks, but the overall effect left me unimpressed. Not recommended.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maid non-cafes, part 4 - Reflex

Reflexology is a popular massage form in Japan, kind of related to shiatsu. You can find places all over Tokyo that offer it. Usually, the advertising photos outside the shop show a hand or foot being rubbed. According to the wiki entry, reflexology is an alternative form of medicine that consists of applying pressure to the foot, or maybe the hands, to improve general health. Of course, it's impossible to discuss massage without people immediately thinking "massage parlor", especially when talking about places in Tokyo. But, the places listed below are strictly non-sexual (as far as I know, I haven't gotten around to actually going inside them). I'm not reviewing any of the places here, just listing the ones where the staff is in maid outfits.

(Candy Fruits Refresh Club.)

Some of the maid reflex shops also offer food, making them "reflex and cafe". The two ear cleaning shops in the previous post may also offer reflexology. I'm having trouble finding a URL for My Cure, since the name is so non-distinct. At some point, I'll have to drop by there and see if I can get a flier.

Akiba Head in Lap Nurse Station
Akiba Treading Girl’s Academy
Candy Fruits Refresh Club
Cutie Relax
Angel’s Door
Nagomi-ya (Ear Cleaning)
Happy Honey
Plarna Reflex
MIA Relaxation
My Cure
Melty Cure
Yamamoto Ear Cleaning Lovable Retreat
Your Maiden

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: Eine Burg

Yuurei Maid Cafe Eine Burg, like the name implies, has a German theme. But, unlike Schatzkiste a few blocks away, Eine Burg is an upscale restaurant in a haunted German castle setting. Heavy curtains hang from the ceiling and walls amidst the little chandeliers. The walls are lined with heavy oak woodwork, and the chairs and tables are also made of dark hardwood. Various classical pieces play in the background, including a few by Mozart. There are some special rules here, above and beyond the normal ones for maid cafes, including a request to keep your voice down to avoid disturbing "the others".

It was raining the night I visited, and rather cold, so I put my backpack, jacket and things on the other chair at the table and sat with my back to the wall. When the maid arrived to give me a glass of water, she placed an empty glass in front of the other chair, saying that it was for the one that should be there. The "yuurei" in the name means "spirits", and the stamp for the points card is a ghost, so there's something of an "occupied" vibe going on here. Along with the glass of water, I received a small plate of sweets and cookies to snack on. There's a small bell on the table that you're supposed to ring when you want to order your food.

The entrees are fancier than at most maid cafes, including an herb roasted chicken, a steak sandwich, and a special omelet (800 to 1000 yen). There's a wide range of teas on the menu, plus the regular soft drinks (500 to 600 yen), a few desserts (700 to 800 yen), and some cocktails, wine and beer. The prices are fairly reasonable. There is a 300 yen cover for 90 minutes, and photos with the maid of your choice for 500 yen. Even with the cover, the entree, ice coffee and maid photo came to only 2300 yen ($25).

I chose the herb chicken and a glass of ice coffee. The coffee came out first, and the maid poured the sugar and cream for me, and stirred it before returning to the kitchen. Pretty normal coffee. Later, the chicken came out, and I was asked what I wanted written on it in catsup. I decided to keep it simple and requested a heart. After drawing the heart, the maid spent the next minute writing out "Eine Burg" on the edge of the tray. The lighting in the room was too dark to take a photo and I didn't want to risk using the flash. The herbs included basil, among other things, and the chicken breast was very juicy and tender. The meal also included a small salad, boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, mixed vegetables and 3 pieces of bread with butter (you can get rice instead of the bread). The serving wasn't all that big, but it tasted very good and it was filling.

For the photo, the maid gave me the choice of standing or sitting in the chair, and just a simple "peace sign" pose. However, the camera ate the photo, so the other maid ended up putting a new film pack in the camera and took the shot a second time. The photo was then taken into the kitchen for embellishing. I like the little points of color she added to her own cheeks. That and the little ghosts at the bottom.

I arrived at 6 PM, so the evening was still young, plus with the rain there weren't many customers yet. Me, one other single guy, two women at another table, and a couple at the other end of the cafe. The two women seemed to know one of the maids, since they spent some time talking together. At one point, the lights were dimmed, and an announcement was made that the guy at the far table (one half of the couple) was celebrating his birthday. He received a cake with candles on it, and we all joined in singing "happy birthday". At the time, the customers were 50% female, and of the two other guys, the one in the couple looked like a businessman and the single guy was definitely an otaku. The maids were all very polite, but they were willing to stop at the tables and chat with everyone for a few minutes. None of them tried speaking English with me, and the menu was in Japanese only.

The points card is a bit unusual, too. Aside from having the ghost stamps and the German-style coat of arms on the front, there's no information on what you get for a full card. No details on the website, either. One point per visit, although I received 2 points that night, probably because it was a "rain night". There's a small selection of pins, laminated cards and postcards available for sale next to the cash register, so I'm assuming that a full card may get you a pin or something. If I go back, I'll ask for clarification.

When I got ready to leave, the maid bid me to be careful in the heavy rain, gave me the "please come back" chant, and walked me to the elevator, bowing as the doors closed. Overall, it was a fun experience, and in terms of elegance it ranked right up there with Cure Maid. Open from 5 to 10 PM week nights, 12 to 10 PM weekends.

Name: Eine Burg
Location: Tsumakoizaka, just short of Kuramaebashi, 3rd floor. Same building as Akiba Gakuen Year 2 class 1.
Price: Moderate.
Cover: 300 lets you stay 90 minutes.
Food: Fairly upscale selection of pastas, chicken and sandwiches, drinks and desserts. A separate tea menu is also available, if you like different kinds of teas.
"Love": Writing of your choice on the foods; maids prepare your coffee or tea for you at the table.
Outfits: When I was there, a white blouse with black skirt, and white ruffle hair band.
Photos: 500 yen with the maid of your choice.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Haunted German hotel lobby cafe. Very Gothic, with heavy banners hanging from the ceiling and walls, oak woodwork, and classical music playing in the background. You're asked to keep your voice down to avoid breaking the mood.
Recommendation: This is a very elegant cafe, with an emphasis on good food and drinks, in a refined atmosphere, and at a reasonable price. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Maid non-cafes, part 3 - hair

I've already mentioned Moe Sham, one of the more well-known maid-themed hair stylists. So far, I've only been able to find one other such salon. Both places offer hair cuts, shampoos, tinting, etc. On average, Moe Sham is 10% cheaper than Obu.

Prices for a simple cut are 5200 to 5500 yen. 5200 to 6800 yen for coloring.

Shops in this category are:

Moe Sham

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: Akiba Gakuen, Year 2, Class 1

Akiba Academy, Year 2, Class 1 is a slight departure from the regular maid and cosplay cafes here, as the staff takes on the roles of second year school girls, uniforms and all. The cafe doesn't quite have a classroom vibe to it, and few schools that I know of have a full bar in the room. Which is a pity, because that would have made most of my classes in school a lot more worth attending.

When I arrived, there were three customers sitting at the counter, comparing maid photos with the staff. I was directed to sit at one of the wooden tables, and then one of the girls came over with the menu. They were very relieved when they discovered that they didn't have to deal with me in English. Doesn't look like they have an English menu. The room is long and relatively narrow, located on the 4th floor of the same building as Eine Burg. To find Akiba Gakuen, head out across Chuu-ou Dori from Akihabara station, and when you reach Tsumakoizaka street, turn right. It's just before you get to Kuramaebashi street, on the right. near Mai:lish.

They have a full menu, including curry rice, omelet rice and the rest. The special for the evening was niku jaga (sliced steak and potatoes). You can get the entrees by themselves or as a set with a cup of soup. The prices are a little on the high side, and soft drinks are separate from the meal sets. They do have a range of desserts (between 500 and 1000 yen), beer (700 yen) and mixed drinks (900 yen). I decided to get the omelet rice set, plus hot coffee and a maid photo. With the 500 yen cover charge, the evening came to 2800 yen ($30 USD).

When the coffee came out, the server poured the milk and cream into the cup and stirred it for me, but there was no added flavor chant. When the omelet rice came out, she asked me what I wanted drawn on it in catsup. I figured I'd go with the standard "neko" (cat) and she acted horrified, saying that she can't draw cats. But, she finally settled on Hello Kitty, which came out well. When I asked if I could take a photo of the food, there was a long discussion which ended up with "only if you stand outside the door and shoot into the room". That seemed like too much work, so I passed on that. The coffee was good, as was the omelet rice (just a pile of spiced red rice with a scrambled egg on top). The soup was an onion soup, I think, with bread pieces in it. It was quite tasty. I liked the soup the best.

Maybe it's because the cafe hadn't started getting packed yet, but a couple of the "students" came over to my table several times to talk. This is where knowing at least some Japanese makes a huge difference between just having a meal in a cafe, and being able to enjoy yourself with everyone else there. Mostly, we talked about anime, and about the other cafes in the area. Also having my electronic dictionary with me was a good thing, because I had to look up a number of words I didn't know along the way.

Then came the maid photo. Akiba Gakuen has a slightly different system than other cafes that offer photos. Here, it's 500 yen for just the shot of the student of your choice. If you want to be in the photo as well, it's 800 yen. But, to make up for the extra cost, the servers go to great lengths to spice up the photo. They even have parts cases holding the colored pens, stickers, and other accessories. My student spent at least 15 minutes on the photo, going so far as to write on the back (which hasn't happened at any of the other cafes so far). The reason the photo looks blurry is that it's 3D; the scanner focused on the Minnie Mouse gummies stuck on the photo and couldn't see the photo itself some distance off the scanner bed. Because of the work done on it, my student took another couple minutes to wrap up the photo in a sheet of wrapping paper. It's certainly the fanciest photo I have in my collection.

There's also a points card. I like the design. 1 point per 1000 yen spent on food. Get 21 points to fill the card and get 500 yen off next time. Not one of the better return rates, but if you like coming here often, then the card gives you some benefit, anyway.

Name: Akiba Gakuen, Year 2, Class 1
Location: Tsumakoizaka, just short of Kuramaebashi. 4th floor.
Price: Moderately high.
Cover: 500 lets you stay 90 minutes.
Food: Along with the standards (omelet rice, pastas), they have more upscale dishes. Not quite upscale but filling is the niku jaga (potatoes with sliced steak). Set dishes include a bowl of onion soup. Prices range from 900 to 1600 yen for sets. Soft drinks are 500 yen. Desserts are 500 to 1000 yen. Beer is 700 yen. Mixed drinks 900 yen.
"Love": Drawing of your choice on the omelet rice. Staff pours the milk and sugar into your coffee and stirs it for you.
Outfits: Campus school uniforms (blouses, skirts and blazers).
Photos: 500 yen for just the maid; 800 if you pose with the maid.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: A recreation of an all-girls campus.
Recommendation: Akiba Gakuen tends to be more expensive than other maid cafes, but there's much more emphasis on prepping the maid photos. And, if you can speak Japanese they'll carry on conversations with you during your entire stay. Definitely recommended if you like collecting maid photos.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Maid non-cafes, part 2 - ears

There is a practice in Japan that's not really found in the U.S. I can't comment on other countries, but I'm willing to bet that this is largely a Japanese phenomenon. And that is of having someone else clean out the wax from your ears by using a long thin wooden stick, kind of like a little shovel. It's called "mimikaki" (mimi = ear, kaki = to scratch or shovel). This practice requires a great deal of trust on the part of the person being groomed, and the person doing the work is demonstrating their fondness for the groomee by doing something that's actually fairly disgusting. Traditionally, the husband places his head in his wife's lap, and then she cleans out his ears (however, a lot of manga artists show the guy just lying on a couch cleaning his own ears out with the stick).

Welcome to the world of "head in the lap ear cleaning". There are a few ear cleaners in Akihabara where the staff is in maid uniforms. Some of these places also offer "reflexology", which is scalp, hand or foot massages. Strictly non-sexual.

Prices vary depending on the shop. Figure about 1000 yen for the ear cleaning as a rough estimate (some places quote 500 yen per ear).

Shops in this category are:

Ramimikaki Yamamoto Ear Cleaning Lovable Retreat

I haven't gotten around to going inside either of these places yet, so I'm just highlighting them here, not reviewing them.