Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review: Hogushi Chaya Kasumi

Hogushi Chaya Kasumi is a combined reflexology shop and maid cafe, on the second floor of the building 1.5 blocks west of Chuu-ou Dori on Kandamyojin Dori (just beyond @Sweet and the maid-themed UFO Catcher shop, and across the street from the @Home cafes). The room is long and narrow, barely wide enough to have rows of wooden 2-person tables and chairs along each wall. The front end of the room is curtained off for the reflexology sessions. In that room, there are three chairs, easily visible from the cafe so there's no "hanky-panky" going on, although no one had come in for the reflex while I was there so I couldn't watch. According to the price sheet, you can get reflex sessions for 30, 40 or 50 minutes, and some of the packages include the tea service.

"Hogushi" means "soften" and "chaya" is "tea shop". "Kasumi" is a female name. So, essentially we have a relaxation center named Kasumi that offers green tea. The rest of the room is dedicated to the cafe, with 11 tables for about 22 customers. The walls are starting to turn a dingy off-white, but it's still not too distracting. No one was smoking while I was there, but I can't say if the entire cafe is non-smoking. There are a couple Edo-style paintings of women in kimono on the walls, and a couple bookshelves near the kitchen holding fliers for other cafes, plus reading material if you want it. One thing I found interesting is that one of the books was a collection of early girl's magazine illustrations from the 1920's and 30's, published by the Yayoi Museum. Some of this artwork also appeared in the Shojo no Tomo (Girl's Friend) magazine exhibit held at the Yayoi last Fall, and that I wrote up in my History of Manga series on my ThreeStepsOverJapan blog. I haven't seen this book anywhere else.

The maids are dressed up in modified miniskirt kimono, similar to those worn at @Home's Hana cafe. They also have an interesting variant on the slippers, which are made up to look like the front portion of a tabi sock (split toe sock) attached to a traditional Japanese thong slipper. The maids themselves are friendly and willing to talk to the customers between orders, although they didn't spend that much time with me. There were 6 other customers while I was there, all male, but a mix of artists, businessmen, general workers, and one older guy that was dressed up really elegantly in a fedora and 3-piece suit with pocket watch. All of them talked with each other as well as with the maids, making for a very informal atmosphere that's unusual in Tokyo. Several of them seemed to be regulars there.

The food is an eclectic mix of curry rice, onigiri (rice balls wrapped in seaweed) and gyuudon (boiled beef over rice in a bowl), between 500 and 1000 yen. The focus is on the green tea service, at 700 yen, but I didn't see anyone ordering that. Other soft drinks are 500 yen, beer for 600 yen, and cocktails for 800 to 1000 yen. The desserts range from anmitsu (a combination of agar jelly cubes, mixed fruit and bean paste), pancakes, sponge cakes, ice cream and parfaits, between 500 and 1000 yen. I ordered the deluxe parfait for 950 yen. The drink sets include hot or cold green tea for an additional 200 yen. I got the hot tea. Along with the 500 yen maid photo and the 500 table charge, the meal came to 2150 yen.

There is an English version of the menu, but it doesn't list everything the Japanese menu does. After about 30 minutes, my order came out on a nice lacquer tray, with the tea served in a traditional ceramic mug. I really wanted to take a photo of it, but was told "sorry, no cameras". The maid seemed apologetic at turning me down, and returned with a copy of the BIZS magazine with its mention of the cafe inside, as consolation. The parfait consisted of some ajar jelly, sponge cake squares drizzled with chocolate syrup, a scoop of green tea ice cream, some corn flakes at the bottom, some brown sugar syrup, and a couple pieces of canned fruit. It was a little small for the 950 yen price tag, but did taste really good (assuming that you like the flavors of matcha (green tea powder) and Japanese brown sugar, which I do). The green tea also went well with the dessert.

There are a couple variants on the maid photo, with one or more maids. Plus, there's kind of an "idol" atmosphere in that they have sets of bromides (glossy photos) for 1000 yen each. You can buy them individually or in sets. I went with the standard 500 yen maid photo. After the meal was done, I was brought to the back near the cash register, where they clipped a spotlight covered by tissue paper to the side of the register, and we did the classic heart pose against the back wall. After the shot, the maid disappeared to frill up the photo. Because I was sitting near the front of the shop with the entrance way between me and the register, I couldn't tell if anyone else had gotten a photo, but it kind of looked like 2 people had.

The points card is 500 yen per point plus one more point for a "rain day" (it was raining that day). Every 10 points seems to be good for free menu items, although the points card doesn't actually explain the details (i.e., a free drink versus a free entree). The card seems to be one of the better deals in Akihabara, in that it looks like a 10% ROI (5000 yen spent would get a 500 yen drink) compared to places that are closer to 1 or 2%.

When I left, the maid walked me to the elevator and chatted while we waited. When the elevator came, she gave me a really deep bow and asked me to come back again. In terms of feeling like they wanted me as a return customer, Kasumi was a lot more outgoing than many of the other places I've been to recently, and I did enjoy myself there.

Name: Hogushi Chaya Kasumi
Location: Kandamyuojin Dori, 1.5 blocks west of Chuu-ou Dori, just past @Sweet, second floor.
Price: Moderate.
Cover: 500 lets you stay 1 hour.
Food: A selection of semi-traditional Japanese foods, including the green tea set, onigiri (rice balls wrapped in seaweed), and anmitsu (agar jelly with fruits and/or bean paste). Entrees are in the 500-1000 yen range; soft drinks and tea are 500 to 700 yen; mixed drinks between 800 and 1000 yen; and desserts between 500 and 1000 yen.
"Love": Drawings on some of the desserts in chocolate syrup.
Outfits: A modified kimono mini-skirt similar to the ones worn at @Home's Hana tea room.
Photos: 500 yen. Bromides (glossy photos of the maids only) for 1000 yen; more for sets of multiple photos.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Kasumi is a maid cafe and reflexology shop. You can get hand, foot and scalp reflexology sessions for 3000 to 5000 yen. On the cafe side, you can get traditional Japanese green tea, various agar jelly-based Japanese desserts, and rice balls. There's a kind of "idol" element in that the maids have posed for glossy photos, and you can get just one, or the whole set.
Recommendation: Kasumi has kind of a "old home" feel at times, when various regular customers come in and chat with each other or with the maids. In the evening, customers are as likely to order a beer as they are green tea. Recommended.

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