Thursday, February 25, 2010

Out to lunch

I apologize. Maid Runner will be taking a short break until I can get a new computer. The screen on my laptop died and I don't have any way to get to my pictures on that hard drive, or to edit photos. Sorry about the inconvenience.

Monday, February 22, 2010

at_Sweet, revisited

Shortly after my first visit to @Sweet, I figured that it might be fun to go back again, assuming that there were still no customers and the same maids were on staff. Plus, it was just before Christmas, and they were advertising a Christmas event special (dessert and some items). It's just that I've had a lot of other things to write about up until now, and this is the first chance to get around to writing about it.

Unfortunately, the staff had changed and (for me) I wasn't the only one there at that time. So I didn't get the special treatment I'd had the first time. Instead, I just got the Christmas dessert special, with milk coffee and the fudge cupcake and ice cream.

The cupcake was a little drier than what I've had before elsewhere, but it still had the molten chocolate center, which was good. And the ice cream "reindeer" was cute, too. The milk coffee was one of the "milk drink" flavors they had that night. The idea is to create a crushed ice with frozen coffee, green tea, or strawberry juice, put the ice in the bottom of the glass and fill it with milk. It's pretty good, but it does weaken the flavor of the coffee. You're basically drinking slightly flavored milk, which is fine if you like milk.

The dessert set included a laminated card, which I could select from a stack of 5 different people and poses. The back of this one for Kana says, "best 3 - Kana likes hamburg (minced steak)".

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.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A digression

I've mentioned before how easy it is to suddenly stumble across a new maid cafe to visit when you're not planning on it. But sometimes, you just can't win.

As I've also mentioned, I work in Akihabara teaching English on Tuesday nights, so I'll usually try timing my weekly visits to the cafes on Tuesdays between 5:30 PM and 7:15 PM. Since most cafes can take 30-45 minutes to serve the food, I try to arrive at least by 6:15 so I can get out by 7.

Last week, I got into Akiba at 5:45, and I went up to Chuu-ou Dori from the train station, partly thinking that I might go to the newest Mai Dreamin' cafe, or maybe go on to Misty Heaven. As I walked north, I didn't see Mai Dreamin' Akiba, so I continued on to Misty Heaven because I'd been putting it off and I figured it was time to get it out of the way. Again, like previously, Misty Heaven had no customers. But this time, it also had no name on the door. Misty Heaven is at the far northwest corner of the Akiba district, just around the block from Mai:lish and Akiba Gakuen Grade 2, and it's been empty each I passed by. Deciding to keep moving on, I aimed back towards the train station when, after 2 blocks, I reached Moe Maiden. I hadn't been there yet, so I went up the stairs and just as I stepped through the door, I realized that it's a reflexology shop.

(Moe Maiden)

Reflex shops give massages for $30 to $60 and are generally strictly non-sexual. Most don't serve food. Moe Maiden had a couple small curtained tables near the windows, and a table for dispensing chocolate bars and tea in the waiting area. The one maid was wearing a black dress and white apron, and looked really cute. I didn't want to spend $30 just for a reflex session, so I asked a couple questions for a blog review, and the owner came out to show me a laminated card in English with the rules on it (first rule in big letters is "sexually harassing the maids is illegal under Japanese law", which he apparently wanted mentioned in the review). In any event, if you want reflexology, Moe Maiden looks pretty good.

(Queen Heart and Bar with Garcon)

I then tried heading towards Chuu-ou Dori, which took me past Queen Heart. I got up to the 4th floor and just as I was opening the door, one of the staff came out carrying boxes. She told me that they're strictly a bar and don't open until 7:30. Bar with Garcon is on the 5th floor, but I couldn't hear any sounds coming down from the stairs and I wasn't ready to go to a butler bar. So I went back out to the street.

(Candy Fruits Refresh)

I wasn't that far from Kuramaebashi Street, so I doubled back north to Schatzkiste, where Candy Fruits is up on the 3rd floor. I know that Candy Fruits has the eyeglasses shop and the reflex place, but they're also supposed to have a cafe. Unfortunately, the cafe's not on my regular map, and the place above Schatzkiste turned out to just be the reflex shop.

(Former Misty Heaven)

So I returned to Misty Heaven, and I looked more closely at the chalk board set out next to the door. Seems that Misty went out of business and was replaced by something having a theme night. But again, there were no customers and the staff didn't look like they were ready to open the doors yet.

(Para Yuni)

I headed back towards the Mandarake used manga shop. Just past that is the maid-themed UFO Catcher shop, with @Sweet on the 2nd floor, and Para Yuni on the 5th. I hadn't been to Para Yuni yet, so I took the elevator up, just to find out that they were taking a holiday that day. Closed.

That only left Mai Dreamin' Akiba as one of the new places that I could remember at the moment, so I went back to the station. Going one block south from where I'd started, I found the entrance easily enough. But the elevator was stuck on the 5th floor. The entrance to the fire escape stairs was nearby, and I took that up to the 2nd floor, where there was a sign just inside the door saying "2nd floor is closed, please go to the third floor". From here, the fire escape door was marked "no entrance", so I figured that walking up to the third floor might be a waste of time. I went back down to the ground floor where I had to wait for several minutes for the elevator to start moving. When it finally did arrive, two young guys, looking kind of stupid, slowly got out and wandered towards the street. No idea if they had just been standing at the door talking to friends, or if someone else had monopolized the elevator. Regardless, I finally got to Mai Dreamin' on the 3rd floor, which was open and taking customers right away. But by this time, it was almost 6:30, and I was kind of cutting things tight for getting my meal and then getting to work on time. MD has a 500 yen table charge for 60 minutes, and when I was ready to leave, the maids couldn't understand why I wasn't willing to stay longer since I'd paid for the full hour.

I spent almost 45 minutes trying to find a maid cafe for reviewing here on Maid Runner. Sometimes you just can't win. Next time, I'll check my maps in advance, and have 5 places lined up just in case...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: Mai Dreamin' Akiba

A few weeks ago, I was walking along Chuu-ou Dori next to one of the electronics shops, just a short ways from the Akihabara JR station, when I heard a female voice doing the "added flavor" chant over a PA that's normally used for advertising the electronics store. Looking around, I finally noticed the ad for Mai Dreamin' on the side of the building, but I initially thought that they'd paid to promote one of their other locations farther north up the street. Then I realized that they'd opened up shop 4 - AKA: Mai Dreamin' Akiba Station.

This newest location takes up the second and third floors of a narrow building, and just opened up. Normally, you go to the second floor, and if it's full or if you want the smoking area they take you up to the third floor. But this one evening, there was a sign just inside the cafe saying "go to the third floor". If you like to smoke, that's fine. But I don't, and the area was heavy with it. I just wanted to let you know that I'll risk lung cancer if it means being able to get a review out for you.

MD Akiba is very similar to MD 1-3, except that as I say, the rooms are smaller and broken up over 2 floors. This makes for a cozier setting, and you're closer to the stage when they have events. There were 16 people tops at one point, making the room about 75% full. There are 2 counters, at the front and back of the room for 4 people each, and the rest of the space is for 2-person tables. Initially, everyone there was male, and mostly salarymen. Later, a foreign couple came in, probably from Australia, and what looked to be a group of 3 Japanese women dressed up in drag, at least one of whom seemed to know the bartender.

The staff is friendly, wandering the room to see if you need anything, but few of the Japanese customers wanted to talk to them. So I ended up spending a lot of time asking a couple of the maids questions about the place, and in teaching one of them a couple English phrases. They get a fair number of tourists and they want to be able to use English for those times. The stage is mostly for taking the maid photos, but there are occasional live events that cost either 4000 or 8000 yen to attend. The maids will also run a few variants on "rock, paper, scissors", with the winner getting a free photo, dessert or something similar.

I decided to get the omelet rice, soft drink and maid photo set for 2200, and with the 500 yen table charge for 1 hour, the meal came to 2700 yen (about $30 USD). I got the ice coffee, which smelled really good, and came in a big glass, but started tasting watery as the ice melted. The "omrice" came out in a big heart-shaped bowl, with a mound of spiced rice and a scrambled egg placed over it, with curry-like gravy. The maid conducted added flavor chants for both the coffee and omrice, and drew a picture of a cat over the rice in catsup for me. The omrice was good, and there was enough to be filling. The maid tried to sell me some ice cream for dessert, but I passed, since it would have been an additional 200 yen for just one or two small spoonfulls.

The maids are willing to do a variety of poses for the photos, including something like Street Fighter, and "cute cats". I decided to go with the Ultraman "beam" pose.

Afterwards, they offered me a points card. This was the first time I've heard anything about MD having a points card, and it would have been nice if I could have used it at the other shops. 1000 yen per point; 10 points gets you a free soft drink or beer, and 50 points gets you a "rank up".

I generally have fun when I'm at Mai Dreamin', so I do recommend it, especially if you're a tourist looking to experience a maid cafe. I just wish they'd get rid of the table charge.

Name: Mai Dreamin' Akiba Station
Location: Just west of the Akihabara JR station on Chuu-ou Dori, 2nd and 3rd floors. When you're in the station, take the Denki Town exit, which has exits facing north and south. It's probably easier to go out the south side and turn right to go west. When you get to Chuu-ou Dori, the cafe will be on the corner to your right. If you go out the north side of the station, turn left, then left again at Chuu-ou Dori, and the cafe will be on the left just before you reach the next corner.
Price: Moderate-high.
Food: Large-serving specials for the omelet and curry, as well as regular-sized entrees of the same type. Hamburger patties and pasta. Entrees in the 800 to 1000 yen range. Soft drinks are 500, cocktails and wines are 1100 yen. Desserts include parfaits, cakes and smoothies, in the 700 to 900 yen range.
Service: Very friendly and outgoing.
"Love": "added flavor" chants over the drinks; a similar chant is made over the foods and desserts. Drawings of your choice on the food in catsup.
Outfits: Black dress with white apron and blouse.
Photos: 500 yen, with one maid; or as part of meal or dessert sets.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: 500 yen lets you play a game with the maid for prizes (maid photos, etc.) Various events throughout the year.
Recommendation: Like Mai Dreamin' 2, Mai Dreamin' Akiba is a very relaxed cafe and the maids have no problems talking with the customers. There's no real theme or gimmick here, other than the maids treating you like the master of the house, but the atmosphere is light and the food is good. Recommended.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Maid Punk

Karin Amamiya was the lead singer for punk band The Revolutionary Truth. She's also a writer and anti-poverty activist. Here, she has a column in The Big Issue magazine, which is a publication aiming to help the homeless in Japan earn a small living wage. Karin makes a good maid.

(Karin's regular article in The Big Issue.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: Kokumaro Milk

Back in November, when I reviewed Royal Milk, I'd taken a photo of the ad board in front of the building, and the banner for Kokumaro Milk on the 4th floor didn't really catch my eye. I remember dismissing it as something not maid related. However, last week one of the maids out on Chuu-ou Dori was handing out fliers for Kokumaro, so I decided to go back and check it out. On reviewing the flier, I noticed that it was also good for one free soft drink, which was a bonus.

It wasn't until I got to the building shown on the map that I realized that it was above Royal Milk. This place doesn't have an elevator, so I took the outer staircase up to the 4th floor. As I approached the door, a maid stepped out to greet me (turns out that the door has an electronic lock, and a bell sounds inside when someone reaches the landing) wearing an off-the-shoulder white dress (kind of like in the poster board in the top photo) not really suited for the slightly-above-freezing temps that night. She mentioned the 800 yen per hour table charge and asked if that was ok by me. Then we went inside and she went through the rules (standard maid cafe rules - no harassing the maids, no cameras, turn cell phone speakers off, etc.)

Kokumaro bills itself as a harem bar, meaning that the focus is on a variety of attractive young women. The hours are 5:30 to 11:30 PM nightly, and I'd arrived just before 6 on a Tuesday, so it was lightly staffed and I only saw one couple a few tables away. They're running an event this month where groups of 4 or more will receive a free food item, so I expect that the bar is more crowded later at night and closer to the weekend.

The room is fairly spacious, with seating for 48 people, and a small VIP corner towards the back. There's an 800 yen table charge for 60 minutes, or 1500 for the VIP room. The walls are a dark red, the booths and tables are separated by bead curtains, and the lighting is low to set a more romantic mood. It's kind of like if TGIFridays had been designed as a 1980's date spot. When you sit down, the maid places an electric candle on the table, along with a brass key representing your presence in the bar. The key has your starting time written on it, and you turn it in at the cash register when you leave. The maids are very attentive, but unless you're specifically placing an order or they're delivering your drinks, they stay off to the side and leave you alone. They don't chat with the customers like they do at other cafes.

One of the "only in Japan" elements is the "milk service" portion of the name "Kokumaro Milk". First, there are several mixed drinks on the menu that have a milk base, such as Kahlua and Milk. The menu also has a number of entree items, including hamburg steak and chicken, in the 900 to 1400 yen range. Mixed drinks for 800 to 1000 yen, and beer for 500. Some soft drinks (ginger ale, melon soda, tea) for 350 yen, but no coffee. And a range of izakaya-style single dishes like skewered chicken or fried oysters for 500 to 700 yen. The entree items have slightly erotic names , and I had to get the "sadistic steak" for 1000 yen just to find out what it was. For the free soft drink, I chose a ginger ale. Along with the cover charge plus tax, the total came to 1850 yen.

The ginger ale arrived first in a large glass with a lot of ice. Fairly plain, but a large size for the price by Japan standards. The meal arrived a while later, and it turns out that "sadistic" just refers to the chef's chopping the steak up into small bits. Actually, in Japan, when something is called a "steak", it probably means that it's chopped hamburger reformed into a steak shape, AKA a "hamburg steak". The sadistic steak had a brown gravy poured over the top, and a few lettuce leaves on the side. The maid then introduced the second part of the "milk service". Each maid has a small baby bottle on a strap around their necks, filled with milk. She poured some of the milk over the steak for flavor and then left. Naturally, because it's a large hamburger patty, the dish was tender and juicy, and the gravy was pretty good as well. The serving size was reasonable for the price (again, by maid cafe standards).

There's no mention of maid photos on the menu. The points card system works just like the @Home members card. You start out at bronze level and you get 1 point per visit. After 5 visits you go to silver level, where you get one free food item and a 300 yen reduction on the table charge. At 15 visits you go to gold, for a free maid photo and 2 free food items. Pink Platinum is 25 visits, and the "mystery card level" is at 50 visits. In comparison, it's a lot easier to get the Kokumaro mystery card than it is the @Home Black card (2000 visits). The Kokumaro card is also good for a longer time, until 2019.

Overall, I did enjoy myself, and the food is good. With the free drink coupon, the 1850 yen total was a very good price by maid cafe standards. However, if you're here to drink and party with co-workers, it's going to get expensive fast. Figure 50% to 90% more than at a regular izakaya. On the other hand, if you want a go-to place for after-hour drinks, once you reach gold or platinum level the prices get a little better because of the reduction of the table charge.

Name: Kokumaro Milk
Location: 1 block north of Mandarake, 1.5 blocks west of Chuu-ou Dori, on the 4th floor above Royal Milk.
Price: Moderate
Cover: 800 lets you stay 1 hour.
Food: Some hamburger and chicken entrees in the 900-1400 yen range, a wide variety of mixed drinks for 800-1000, finger foods for 600, and soft drinks for 350 yen.
"Love": No special chants or greetings.
Outfits: Low-cut white dress with lots of frills, and 2 white hearts over the chest area.
Photos: With upgrade to gold membership.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Kokumaro is a "harem bar", meaning that the focus is on having a variety of attractive young women on staff. The "milk" theme consists of pouring milk from a baby bottle onto the food, and milk-based mixed drinks (ala Kahlua and milk).
Recommendation: Kokumaro Milk is set up as a low-lighting romantic bar with booth seating and mood music on the PA. As such, it may appeal to couples out on a night on the town. The staff is outgoing and attentive, but not particularly chatty. Recommended.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Maid for You movie and Bizs

There's a free magazine, BIZS, that shows up occasionally around Akihabara that attempts to advertise some of the shops. The main focus of volume 3 is the new movie that came out Jan. 30 - "Maid for You". Looks like a weird combination of a murder mystery and a love story. Several of the scenes take place in a maid cafe in Akihabara that the female lead works in. The IMDB entry is missing the synopsis at the moment.

Volume 3 also has lots of ads for maid cafes, profiles on various maids from different cafes, and an area map showing locations of "moe" shops (not all of which are maid cafe-related).

EDIT: Along with the monthly magazine, there is a dedicated stand-alone map. On one side of the map are coupons and small banner ads for about 80 cafes, bars and reflex shops in and around Akihabara. The other side is the map itself, which is pretty much identical to what's in the magazine. The magazine can be found on the ground floor inside the Donkey building. The map is in a dispenser on the maid cafe map wall on the outside of the north wall of the Donkey building near the parking lot entrance. To find the map wall, go to Tully's coffee shop at the northeast corner of the UDX building. Cross the street and walk about 50 feet towards Chuu-ou Dori. It'll be on your left, really hard to miss.

BIZS Agency - Business Idea Zeal Success