Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review: Cafe Triomphe

Cafe Triomphe is actually a small coffee and tea shop just north of the traditional Kuramaebashi Dori boundary that marks the Akihabara maid cafe district. To get there, take Chuu-ou Dori north from the Akihabara station, turn right at Kuramaebashi, go two very short blocks, turn left and it'll be on your right halfway down the block. I've seen it marked on every maid cafe and moe spot map I've picked up, and every time I've walked by I've never seen a single maid in it. Then, when I was looking at the "Kaicho wa Maid-sama" anime promo flier, I noticed that Triomphe was specifically mentioned as part of the tie-in. So, I finally decided to check it out.

Turns out that while Triomphe has a "sitting room coffee shop" atmosphere, and a wide selection of teas to pick from, it also acts as a rental space. And, occasionally it's been used to host maid cafe events. In fact, one of the uses is to allow people to "run" their own cafe for a day. A price sheet is available on the little fliers table next to the door. I asked about the next upcoming maid-related event and was told that there's nothing on the immediate horizon, and to check the events calendar periodically. On the other hand, there was a stage magician scheduled to perform that night (right about when I had to start work, of course).

Triomphe offers some dinner entrees, as well as having a tea time service, and lunch. I got the "cake set", with my choice from three different cakes, and soft drink. I went with the apple custard cake and hot coffee for 900 yen (about $9.50 USD). The cake was a thin slice with sponge cake on the bottom and an apple glaze on top. The coffee was good and strong, but served in a small cup with no refills. The room is bright and airy, even at night, with cushioned chairs and benches along one wall. Seating for about 30 people unless the tables in the middle of the floor are moved out of the way to allow for some event.

I didn't ask about a points card, although I expect there is one. And they really did have a maid on staff that night. One of the servers arrived after I did, and changed into a long brown dress with a white apron and frill cap. But, I didn't see anything on the menu about maid photos. If I pressed them, I might have gotten a photo with the magician.

Cafe Triomphe is definitely worth keeping an eye on, since they routinely host maid events. And, they're a really nice place for just sitting down with friends for a cup of tea.

Name: Cafe Triomphe
Location: Half a block north of Kuramaebashi Dori, two short blocks east of Chuu-ou Dori.
Price: Moderate
Cover: No cover.
Food: Coffee and teas in the 500 yen range, cakes and desserts around 500 yen. Entrees (pastas and curries) for 800 yen.
"Love": No love.
Outfits: Generally this is not a maid cafe or cosplay shop, per se. However, at least one server wore a long brown dress with a white apron.
Photos: N/A.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: This is a coffee and tea shop that rents itself out for magic shows and maid events. You can use it to see what it's like to run your own coffee shop for a day.
Recommendation: If all you want is a nice cup of tea and a slice of sponge cake while you chat with friends, Triomphe is a good place to hang out. If you're interested in the events, such as magic shows or maid tie-ins, check out the events calendar first. Recommended.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Yet another company putting out a map of shops in Akihabara is Otamap, an otaku-themed advertising forum. There's really no difference here between Otamap, BIZS and ASCII Weekly. Primarily it's just a question of which shops paid to advertise through which agency.

However, Otamap's website does have a fairly complete map for Osaka, which does set it apart from the other two, which are Akihabara-centric. And it does list upcoming events for doujinshi at Big Site, and anime releases at other venues (Japanese only).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Review: Dear Cafe

Dear Cafe is quite close to Honey Honey, in Yokohama. While you can get there from the south side of the Yokohama train station, if you already know where H^2 is, just go straight west from the Lawsons 1 long block, turn left and it'll be close to your left in the same building as the cat cafe.

H^2 and Dear have a lot in common, from the similar black dress and white apron outfits, to the open, airy feel of the cafe interiors. Dear is split up between smoking and nonsmoking, with 4 two-person tables each, and 4 stools at the bar. There are some posters on the walls, including one advertising an anime series, as well as pictures of the maids. The bar has a small selection of alcohols, but it's the shelves of dishes and cups that make it feel like someone's dining room. Plus, there's a big green wood cabinet dominating one wall, with a TV, stereo, shelves of manga, and albums of photos from past events. I arrived right after visiting H^2, at 1 PM, and there were just 2 maids, one working the floor and the other at the bar, and 4 male customers. The customers included one visually impaired person, 2 salarymen still in business suits, and a college student.

The maid was very outgoing, and after learning about the otaku map and my having been to other cafes in Akiba, became very excited about showing me the photo albums and talking about Dear. The college student and the visually impaired guy also chimed in and talked about places that they'd visited, too. Things got very friendly from that point, but of course, it was all in Japanese, and my (lack of) speaking skills left the others looking really confused at times. In any case, Dear is a cosplay cafe, with various event nights throughout the month. Past events included "nurse", "little sister" and some goth anime cosplays. Most of the photos in the albums are professional grade, and the staff looks like they really get into their roles. When I told my maid about Queen Dolce, she got all weak in the knees at the idea of attending a dansou bar. Although, "Garcon to Isshou ni", a shop where you can pay to talk to a dansou for up to 1 hour, left her less impressed.

Like H^2, Dear doesn't have maid photos on the menu. Instead, you have to fill up two points cards, or attend certain special events. I don't remember if it's 500 or 1000 yen per point, but my tab came to 950 yen and I only got one point on the card. For 5 cards you get a free dessert. 10 gets a group maid photo. 20 is a present, and 30 is a special.

For the menu, they have pastas, curries, rice dishes and beef bowls between 800 and 1000 yen. Snacks between 200 and 600 yen. Soups for 150 to 500 yen. Crepes, sponge cakes and parfaits between 500 and 1000 yen. Soft drinks around 600 yen, and mixed drinks and beer for 500 to 900 yen. Having just had lunch, I went with the dessert set, including an ice coffee and a chocolate mont blanc. The coffee came out in a tall glass, and the maid added the syrup and cream and stirred it for me. The dessert came out a little later, and was a hard-to-describe chocolate sugar thing. I've had a mont blanc at a maid cafe before and this one was very similar. Not that large, but tasty. I was surprised when, right after setting down the dessert, my maid asked for my cell phone in order to take a photo of it for me. I guess the staff are rightly proud of their artistic food skills and want to give the customers reminders of it. Fortunately, there's no table charge so the total price was good for a maid cafe.

I'm really beginning to realize just how much difference being able to speak Japanese makes at maid cafes. Very few people I've encountered in the cafes speak English, or are willing to even try, but they'll get very talkative and helpful if given the chance. Regulars especially like to show off their knowledge of the cafe to impress the maids, which in turn encourages the maids to do one-upsmanship. I've especially enjoyed being able to get into conversations at Queen Dolce, H^2, and now Dear Cafe. The point is, though, that if you don't speak Japanese, these cafes are going to be a lot less interactive and entertaining. Be warned. Regardless, or because of this, I had a lot of fun here.

Name: Dear Cafe
Location: 1 block west of Honey Honey. Starting facing away from the Lawson's convenience store, go straight west one long block, then turn left. It'll be on your left about 20 meters down.
Price: Moderate.
Cover: No cover.
Food: Pastas, curries, rice dishes and beef bowls between 800 and 1000 yen. Snacks between 200 and 600 yen. Soups for 150 to 500 yen. Crepes, sponge cakes and parfaits between 500 and 1000 yen. Soft drinks around 600 yen, and mixed drinks and beer for 500 to 900 yen.
"Love": "Welcome master" greeting when you arrive, and "please be careful" as they bow you out. Writing on the entrees in catsup, and the hot coffee drinks in chocolate syrup.
Outfits: Long black dresses with white aprons and white hair piece.
Photos: Only with the points card, and certain special events.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Cosplay cafe. Check the events calendar before you go.
Recommendation: Dear Cafe has some good desserts, the prices are reasonable, the staff is very friendly, and the photo albums from past event nights are fun to page through. Recommended, but try to go on an event night.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Maid Club / Toy Heli Museum

Sadly, Maid Club has closed its doors. This was the souvenir shop just off Chuu-ou Dori near the Akihabara station that had the huge billboard on top of one building facing the street. It was on the third floor above the Goodman hobby shop. In fact, a few weeks ago I'd gone by to visit Maid Club, and there was a sign on the door of Goodman that I thought was saying that Goodman was closing up. Turns out I was wrong.

Almost immediately, Maid Club was turned into the Toy Heli Museum, a small shop that sells RC helicopters, boats and cars. They even have a few RC itasha cars (the sports cars covered in decals of female characters from video games or anime). There's a table in the middle of the floor with a miniature city mock-up, and landing pads on various buildings that you can practice taking off from and landing on. While I was there, two male customers tried their hands at a couple different models of small helicopters with fairly disastrous results. Several of the copters are only a few inches long and cost around 5000-7000 yen ($50-$75 USD). The blades are light plastic and spin really fast, but there doesn't seem to be a really scary cutting factor and the blades don't shatter if the copter runs into the ceiling or a wall. The bigger RC pirate ships and race cars run several hundred dollars. As I was leaving, I saw one of the little copters plugged into a USB cable, recharging its battery.

Why mention THM here? Because they're staffed with maids!

Yes, THM is a maid-themed RC shop. I love Akihabara. Anyway, they don't seem to have a website, but there are a couple of blogs that describe the place. Definitely worth checking out and playing with the smaller copters.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review: Honey Honey

There's this belief promulgated by the media that the only place you'll find maid cafes is in Akihabara, and that Akiba is somehow "marked" by being overrun by them. Of course, neither myth is true. It is true that Akiba has the most maid cafes per capita, but that's just because they've reached critical mass there. Most major cities in Japan will at least have an "anime center" or "anime town", and a few maid cafes will appear in order to fulfill the demand around those areas.

So far, I've only found the one "otaku guide" map, which is specifically for Yokohama (I think I picked it up from Cos-Cha) as mentioned earlier. While there's no URL listed for the publisher, it looks like it may have been sponsored by Honey Honey (H^2). Since Yokohama's just 15-20 miles out from Tokyo, and is easy for me to reach by train, I decided it was time to widen my field a bit.

From Yokohama station, take the west exit and follow the streets south and east to get to where a river (actually a glorified drainage canal) cuts in to parallel the tracks south. You'll know you're in the right area when you see Yellow Submarine and the Movil theater just the other side of the river. Follow the river 1 block east then 3 blocks south until you cross under the first major street bridge. Turn right for 1 block then go left (south). You should see Lawson's convenience store on the corner on the left, and H^2 is on the second floor above it.

H^2 is a fairly typical little maid cafe and bar, with a padded bench along one wall, and 7 laminated fake-wood tables for holding up to 12 people. Two large round tables in the middle of the floor can hold 5 more people each, and there are 5 stools at the bar. The space is airy and brightly lit during the day, with big plate glass windows overlooking the street. The bar is well stocked, although there's an emphasis on big sake bottles placed right in front of the customers.

(Be careful how you drink your coffee...)

I arrived right at noon, in time for lunch. There were 2 maids working the floor, a third behind the bar, and 1 male chef working the kitchen. While I was there, the customers consisted of 8 men, ranging from off-duty salarymen to a couple street rats. Most seemed to be regulars that the maids greeted by name. The staff do use the standard "welcome master" greetings when you arrive, and "the master is leaving" as they bow you out. They also draw the picture of your choice on the food in catsup, and on the drinks either in honey or chocolate syrup.

There's no table charge, and the food prices are fairly reasonable. I decided to go with the omelet rice and "choco latte", for 1440 yen total. Other menu items include omelet soba (soba noodles with an omelet on top) and the standard curry and snack items in the 400-900 yen range. Of course, there's soft drinks around 500 yen and mixed drinks and beer for 500 to 700 yen. And sponge cake desserts for 500-800 yen. My chocolate latte came out first in a small cup with lots of foam on top. My maid asked what I wanted drawn on it and I figured that a cat would be the easiest thing to go with. From this point, off and on, both maids came over to ask why I was there, to talk about the otaku map and various Akiba maid cafes, and about anime and manga in general. A neighboring customer ordered a foamed hot tea, and got Korosuke drawn on it in honey. After about 20 more minutes, my omelet rice arrived and I decided to get Korosuke as well, while learning two things - 1) that Korosuke was my maid's favorite thing to draw, and 2) that he's a character from a series by the creator of Doraemon. Both the hot coffee and the omelet rice were good. The rice had a good mix of vegetables, chunks of chicken and spices, although it could have used a little more salt. At least the serving size was big.

They have a points card. 1000 yen per point. The only way to get a maid photo is to get 20 points on the card. Unless you're female, in which case you can get the special 900 yen set that includes a dessert, the option to put on a maid dress, and the photo.

(A flower arrangement created by a customer for Honey Honey.)

The maids didn't speak English and the menu was only in Japanese (although all of the items are accompanied by pictures). The maids also didn't comment on other gaijin visitors so I assume that they don't have much in the way of tourist traffic. I hope that changes, though, because I enjoyed myself there and they deserve more customers.

Name: Honey Honey
Location: South of Yokohama station about 4 blocks, on the second floor above the Lawson's. From the station west exit, head south and try to stay near the tracks until you get to the river. Follow the river 100 meters east then head south another 4 blocks. Just past the first major street bridge, turn right, go down one block, turn left and it'll be on your left.
Price: moderate.
Cover: No cover.
Food: Standard curries, omelet rice and an omelet soba for around 900 yen; snacks for 400 yen. Various dessert cakes for 500-800 yen. Soft drinks for 480-560 yen, and mixed drinks and beer for 500-700 yen.
"Love": Standard "welcome" and "take care" greetings, writing on the food and drinks. Maid hand-stirs the coffee for you.
Outfits: Black dress with white blouse, apron and frill cap.
Photos: Maid photos only available if you fill the points card.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Basically, one of the few maid-themed cafe/bars in Yokohama.
Recommendation: So much depends on having the ability to carry on conversations in Japanese. If you can, then this place is a blast to hang out, and the maids like to stop and chat with everyone. If not, then you can at least come here for the food, which is also good and not all that expensive. Recommended.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Yokohama Action

It's easy to forget that not all maid cafes are in Akihabara. Most of them, but not all. And there are butler cafes (designed for female customers), concentrated in Ikebukuro with one or two in Shibuya and Akihabara. Places in Kyoto and Osaka are too far away from Tokyo for me to visit and see what they have, but Kawasaki and Yokohama are more manageable, being only 15-20 miles out from Tokyo station.

Interestingly, I found a "Yokohama otaku map" in one of the shops in Akihabara. Obviously, Yokohama, having a smaller population, is going to have a smaller number of shops, but there's still enough anime and video game fans to justify chains like Animate, Melon Books and Toranoana having outlets there. The Yokohama map lists 36 places, divided into categories including trading cards, plastic models, anime and manga shops, cosplay supplies and even cat cafes (small rooms where you can sit and play with some cats for an hour). Unfortunately, the map doesn't have a URL for the publisher so I can't include a link to it here. But, it does look like the publisher is related to Honey Honey in some way (since the H^2 logo character is used as a map guide). Sorry about the marked-up version of the map; I'll replace this one with a better scan if I can find another copy again.

Of all the shops listed in the flier, two stand out for me. First is Honey Honey, a maid cafe, at point #22.

Second is Bar Jaburo, a Gundam-themed izakaya not shown on the map.

H^2 is just south of Yokohama station and will be reviewed separately. Jaburo is maybe 1 km southwest of Sakuragi-chou station. For some reason Jaburo doesn't have any web presence, showing up mainly at review sites and in the blogs of people that have visited there. You can read about my attempt to find it on my main TSOJ blog, but if you're ever in the red light district there, you can look around for it yourself. (Bar ジャブロ - 横浜市中区長者町8-133、TEL 045-231-3035)

(Actually, there is a third spot, Dear Cafe, which isn't included in the flier, but is located in the same building as the cafe cafe at point #23. I'll review Dear in a separate entry as well.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Review: Para-Yuni

Para-Yuni is one of the easier cafes to find, being right across Kandamyojin Dori from @Home. Actually, it's in the same building as the maid-themed UFO Catcher parlor and @Sweet, on the 5th floor. Back some months ago, I'd initially been planning on going to Para-Yuni first, but as I'd gotten close to the top of the stairs, I heard a male voice shouting out that the food was bad. So I visited @Sweet instead that evening. A little later, I decided to come back and try again, but it turned out that they've taken to having Tuesdays as their night off, so it wasn't until just recently that I was able to drop by on a Wednesday before work.

PY is a prototypical maid cafe, brightly lit with white walls, sheets of paper all over advertising events, maid photos and food specials, and a stage at one end for the photos and various song events. One major difference is that there are a lot of windows on two walls, and they've been painted up to feature the mascot girl character standing in front of a night sky star field. Further, being above a UFO Catcher shop, they've decided to line the counters with the better quality figures from anime like Dragon Ball, Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler), Evangelion and others. A sign near the door asks you to not walk off with the figures. It's a smaller space, with a couple of tables able to seat 4 people each, and then counter seating along the opposite wall.

When I walked in, I was told not to come in much past the door, and wait for someone to take care of me. At the time, there was a party of 4 women at one table, although a little later 1 confused-looking young salaryman came in and ordered dinner. A maid approached and ran me through the rules, asking if I'd accept the 500 yen table charge. I was directed to the counter, and they brought out a glass of water right away.

The food entrees include the standard curry, hamburg steak, omelet rice, etc., plus katsu don and udon, in the 800 to 1100 yen range. Some of the dishes can be supersized for a few hundred yen more. Soft drinks for 500-600 yen, mixed drinks and beer for 700 to 800 yen, and ice cream and sponge cake desserts from 400 to 800 yen. I decided to get the curry (800), with ice coffee (500) and a maid photo. Along with the table charge, the total was 2300 yen, which wasn't too out of line.

There were two maids working the floor at that time, and they spent most of their time joking with the 4 at the table. My order came out pretty fast, indicating that the rice and curry had been pre-prepared and was just waiting to be shoveled onto the plate. The maid poured the sugar and cream into the coffee for me, and then ran me through the added flavor chant. The twist here was that she included her name in with the "moe moe oishikunare beam" (cute, cute become tasty beam) chant. It mostly worked - the coffee held up against the ice, but the rice for the curry was a bit mushy. On the other hand, the curry sauce itself was more like beef stroganoff gravy - very thick and creamy tasting, with lots of shredded beef in it. The serving was on the small side, but I could have upgraded it if I'd wanted to.

When the other guy's meal came out, both maids teamed up on him, having him go through a "stand on one leg, Ultraman battle action attack" routine for the added flavor chant. The poor guy couldn't understand why he had to do this, and the rest of us egged him on, applauding when he was done. PY is very playful that way.

After we took my maid photo, my maid came over to the counter along with a couple packs of markers. This was the first time that the maid actually fancied up the photo at the table with me. The up side to this was that we were able to talk for a while. Some maid cafes charge extra to be able to chat with the maid this way, so I took this as an added bonus to getting the picture. Mostly, we just talked about being in Akihabara, and her hobby of singing anisongs (anime songs). The music playing on the PA came from the CD that the maids recorded and sell for 1000 yen. When she finished the photo 5 minutes later, she asked what I thought of it. I replied that it was very cute, and she sighed with relief, adding that she didn't know what she would have done if I didn't like it.

Para Yuni has a points card. 1 point per 1000 yen, plus 1 point for a "rain day". 10 points gets you a 10% discount; 20 points is 20%, and 3 points is a free maid photo and a new card. They have periodic cosplay events, so check the online calendar in advance. We all had fun. Recommended.

Name: Para-Yuni
Location: Kandamyuojin Dori, 1 block west of Chuu-ou Dori, above the maid-themed UFO Catcher parlor, 5th floor.
Price: Moderate high.
Cover: 500 yen lets you stay 1 hour.
Food: Curry, omelet rice, katsu don and udon for 800 to 1100 yen, which can be supersized for a little more. Soft drinks for 500-600 yen. Mixed drinks for 700-800 yen. Ice cream and sponge cake desserts for 400-800 yen.
"Love": Added flavor chants, writing on the food.
Outfits: Blue skirts with white blouses.
Photos: 500 yen for one photo. A CD of the maids singing j-pop is also available for 1000 yen.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Standard maid cafe with more of a UFO Catcher toy figure theme, with cosplay events and singing.
Recommendation: Para Yuni can be very lighthearted, and is popular with female customers. Recommended.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Maid room

Just off Chuu-ou Dori, 1 block west of the Belle Salle building is Watabe, a small import foods shop. They had this little room model on a table in front of their shop. The coaster on the floor is from MIA Cafe.