Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: Granvania

I visited Granvania about a year ago. At the time, it was a regular restaurant that took up most of the second floor of a building making up part of the radio land section of Akihabara. No maids, and the cup of coffee I'd gotten was still 600 yen (which is $6 USD for one coffee, no refills). It wasn't a bad place, but being on the high side and not having much else to recommend it I wasn't planning on going back. But, I kept seeing the name on the "moe" and "Akiba guide" maps, and I was wondering why it was being included in with @Home and Mai Dreamin' as a moe spot. Then, when I was talking to a customer at Seiyu no Tamago (Voice Actress Egg), he also mentioned Granvania as a possible maid cafe spot for me to visit.



So, I decided to drop by on my way to work a few nights ago, just to check it out. Looking in through the window, I saw "maids!" Therefore, I made it a point to come back when I had more time for actually sitting down and ordering something.

Granvania was "repurposed" as a maid cafe in 2009, but with a twist. To find it, take the north Electric Town exit from the JR Akihabara station, and face the UDX building. You should see the Gundam Cafe ahead and to your right. Turn left and head towards Chuu-ou Dori. About 50 feet before you get to Chuu-ou, you should see a small doorway leading into the building on your left, mixed in with the little electronics shops. Take the stairs up and you'll find yourself in front of a wooden door to the cafe.



The cafe itself is big and sprawling, able to seat at least 100 people at the old dark wooden tables and counters. There's an European beer garden feel to the place, with the green walls and wooden molding and beams. Signs on the walls advertise food specials and weekly events. For the first half of the week, it was "princess night", when the maids wore princess outfits; the second half was "free-style cosplay". When I arrived, the maids had on big, puffy pink and white dresses, with variations on the tiara theme for headpieces. At the front of the cafe, there are some video games, primarily electronic darts. And, there's various stuffed UFO Catcher dolls and anime figurines all over the place.

Granvania has a full meal menu, with salads, main dishes and desserts. Pricing is in"G"s instead of yen, with entrees like garlic chicken and curry rice for 500-850G. Soft drinks for 500-700 G, and desserts for 480-600 G. Mixed drinks for 400-500 G. And dessert and entree sets (orders include one drink) are around 800 yen. I ordered an ice coffee and a slice of chocolate cake, and my total bill came to only 800 yen. So, $9 USD for the night was really cheap compared to just about everywhere else I've been to over the last year.



There's the standard "welcome home master" and "the master is leaving" chants, and writing on the food in catsup. No added flavor chants. When the coffee arrived I was asked if I wanted cream and sugar, but instead of giving me the little plastic servings, the maid gave me decent sized pitchers of syrup and cream. The coffee was good and strong, and the chocolate cake was a medium-sized slice of sponge cake with frosting in the middle and a thin chocolate shell on top. The cake was also very good, and fancier than what other cafes offer. For 800 yen at Tokyo prices, Granvania was definitely a good value.

There's no maid photos on the menu, and this is where the "twist" comes in. There are two kinds of points cards. The first is a regular card - 1 point per 500 yen, and a full card at 50 points gets you a maid photo. 3 or 5 full cards gets you branded items. The second kind is a members card that you buy for 300 yen. You then get points for completing various missions, where the missions can actually end up costing you points if you're not careful. This is much like a video game, and the prizes for filling up the members cards are much better, including more maid photos and branded goods items.


(Regular points card)

The place was quite busy while I was there, with about 20 people at any one time. The staff don't have time to stand and chat, but they do speak some English and there is an English menu and rules card. The customers were about 5-1 men to women, but a fair number of women were coming in on their own to eat. The food that other people ordered looked pretty good, and since it's not that expensive, I'm tempted to make this one of my regular eating spots.

Simply on a value-for-the-price rating, Granvania gets an A. They also have various anime and game tie-in events during the month, so check the online calendar in advance. Recommended.


Summary:
Name: Granvania
Location: Take the north Electric Town exit from the JR Akihabara station, and face the UDX building. You should see the Gundam Cafe ahead and to your right. Turn left and head towards Chuu-ou Dori. About 50 feet before you get to Chuu-ou, you should see a small doorway leading into the building on your left.
Price: Reasonable.
Cover: 300 lets you stay 1 hour after 6 PM.
Food: A wide range of entrees, salads, desserts and drinks. In general, things are in the 400-800 yen range across the board.
"Love": Writing on the food in catsup, "welcome home master" and "the master is leaving" chants.
Outfits: The website shows a black dress over a white blouse, but various cosplay nights means that there's no consistent outfit all the time.
Photos: Only if you fill up the points cards.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: A regular restaurant-style menu, electronics darts games, and video game-style "missions" for those that have the members card.
Recommendation: The food's good, the prices are reasonable, and the "missions" might be fun. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Links to other websites from other websites

When you're done visiting a specific maid cafe in person, you can go on to visit their website. Occasionally, there are interesting things on the site that are worth checking out further. At a minimum, this is one way to learn about stores that don't advertise in the paper magazines, or only exist online. And at best, it's a way to discover PC games that you can play that are maid-oriented. What follows is a list of links I've accumulated by visiting the links pages of all the cafes I have URLs for. Of course, they're all pretty much only in Japanese but you can still look at the pictures.


Review and Events Pages
Boku no Akiba
G Para
Hagemaru Maid Link
Maid Cafe Maniax
Maid Cafe Times
Maid Kisaten Myahoo
Maid Kiss
Maid Kissa Journal
Maid ni Naru
Maid no Nikki
Maid Telephone book
Maiku Diary
Moeten Info
Moe Pota
MoExplorer

Maps
Akiba Map Info
Akiba TV
Otamap

Cosplay Supplies
Cospa
M.I.A Costume
Reticule

Misc
Circus

Maid Cafe (not in Akihabara)
Romeo + Giulietta

Maid Games
Melty Cure Games Page
Hiyokoya Game

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: Ichigo Milk



I'm a big manga fan, and currently I'm reading really old back issues of a magazine that initially came out in 1964, Garo. It's pretty easy to pick up copies at the Mandarake store in Akihabara, and they have pretty much the full collection, but there are gaps. I wanted to try to find some of the missing issues at the location in the Broadway shopping complex in Nakano, but it turned out that they had maybe a quarter of what Akihabara did. On the other hand, I did discover a maid reflex shop on the top floor of the Broadway building, past the Mandarake shops, near the back, if you're in need of maids giving you a foot massage in Nakano (Nakano is the first major stop on the Chuu-ou Rapid line heading west from Shinjuku).

So I tried going to the Shibuya location, where I discovered that they had even fewer magazines than Nakano did (almost none at all). But, along the way I noticed a sign for a maid cafe, called Ichigo Milk (Strawberry Milk). I was initially thinking that I was running behind schedule and I'd just blow it off for that day, but having come up empty at Mandarake, I changed my mind and went into the building to try to commiserate. That's when I found out that it's really easy to take the wrong elevator and end up dumped in front of a yoga studio.



Ichigo Milk is about 5 minutes northwest of Shibuya station, near the Parco department stores. It's a little tricky to find so you're better off following the map on their site. When you get to the sign on the street, you'll be faced with two entrances, one on each side of the sign. Pick the one on the right, and check for the signs in the elevator to ensure you're in the correct one. It's on the 8th floor. The cafe is pretty small, and if you want to smoke you have to do it outside in front of the elevator.

Ichigo opened in May, so it's still fairly new. The website looks like it's fully up and running, but they don't have scheduled events yet (not including the Tanabata event on July 7). For the most part, this cafe is like a transplanted version of Mai Dreamin'. The cash register is in an alcove on the left, and the restroom and kitchen are behind it. The main cafe space is straight ahead and to the right. There's a tiny pie-shaped stage right in front of the register which is used for the maid photos. The seating is then raised to look down on the stage. The first tier is a short counter with cushioned stools for seating 4 people, another tier with another counter for 6 more people, and then a final tier with a bench running along the back walls for 6-8 more people. When I arrived, there were 2 salarymen, and a young couple.

The walls are white, and covered with advertisements for maid photos, shop hours and menu specials, plus little rabbit dolls wearing cat pajamas. The counters are white formica, and the metal stools have red and white padding.

There's a 400 yen table charge for 1 hour, and a 1-drink minimum order. Soft drinks are 500 yen; alcoholic drinks from 550 to 900 yen; entrees like curry rice, spaghetti, hamburg steak and omelet rice for 800 to 120 yen; sandwiches and snacks from 300 to 500 yen; and 3 desserts in the 350 to 600 yen range. There's also a wide range of games you can play against the maids for 3 or so minutes for about 500 yen. And maid photos. A photo with you and one maid is 500 yen; you and everyone currently on staff is 1000 yen.



There's the "welcome home master" chant when you arrive, and "the master is leaving" at the end. You can have a design written on the omelet rice in catsup, and there's an added flavor chant when the food is brought out. I decided to get the curry rice, water and a maid photo (with the table charge it was 1700 yen ($19 USD) total). While I was waiting for the food, the maid brought me over to the stage for the photo. She asked what pose I wanted and I asked for her suggestions. The first one was the typical heart pose and when I didn't look that impressed she offered the cats paws pose. We compromised with a combined heart and cat paw pose. She then disappeared to the back tier behind me to work on the photo, which I think came out pretty good. She also handed me a personalized business card, which reads "Thank you for visiting today. Your fluent Japanese surprised me. Remember 'Turn the Kurumi'". (The last part is a play on her stage name, Kurumi; "kuru" means "spin" in Japanese.)



A little later, the curry rice came out. It wasn't a really big serving, and it only had a couple small pieces of beef in it, but it was filling enough, although a little sweet. The maids automatically refilled my glass with water when it became empty. When the maid set the plate down, she told me that she's really weak, so I had to beam energy to her to build her up for the added flavor chant. I did the beaming, and then she did the "oshikunare" (become delicious) chant.

As the other customers filtered out, the maids came over to talk to me, constantly praising me for being able to speak Japanese in any form at all. They do speak a little English, but they're not comfortable with it. I then spent the next 40 minutes discussing the current anime shows on TV, as various anime TV themes played on the speaker system. I asked what kind of events the maids would like to do if they have the choice and they start offering regular events, and the reply was "cosplay". Particularly dressing up as the main character from the Vocaloid games. After that, we talked about Soul Eater, and who their favorite Soul Eater characters are (thumbs up for Maka, Soul and Franken, thumbs down for Medusa and Maka's father).



The points card is 1 point per visit. 5 points gives you a free 1 hour table charge for one visit. 10 points is a free soft drink, 15 is a maid photo, and 20 is a free soft drink with a maid photo.

When I finally left, I was walked to the door and given "the master is leaving" chant. Overall, I enjoyed myself. Recommended. Ichigo Milk also gets high marks for being one of the few, if not the only, maid cafes in Shibuya now.



Summary:
Name: Ichigo Milk
Location: Shibuya, about 5 minutes from the JR Shibuya station, near Parco 1.
Price: Moderate.
Cover: 400 lets you stay 1 hour (300 for women).
Food: Soft drinks are 500 yen; alcoholic drinks from 550 to 900 yen; entrees like curry rice, spaghetti, hamburg steak and omelet rice for 800 to 120 yen; sandwiches and snacks from 300 to 500 yen; and 3 desserts in the 350 to 600 yen range.
"Love": "Welcome home master" and "the master is leaving" greetings, writing on the omelet rice in catsup, and added flavor chants for the food.
Outfits: Pink jumper and skirt over a white blouse, plus pink frill hairpiece.
Photos: 500 yen with one maid, 1000 yen with all of the maids on staff at the time.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: A prototypical maid cafe, in Shibuya.
Recommendation: This is a good place to visit if you're on the west side of the Yamanote loop, in Shibuya. Recommended.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A search for Kawasaki maid cafes

Yokohama is about 30 kilometers from Tokyo Station (25 miles), and Kawasaki is 20 km out almost along a straight between the two. Akihabara is about 2 miles from Tokyo station the opposite direction. Obviously, if you had a car and an open freeway, you'd be able to get anywhere along this route within 30 minutes, which isn't that long a drive. Since the roads are rarely free of congestion in Tokyo, you'd be better off taking the trains, which makes the trip closer to one hour. All of this is to make the point that Yokohama, Kawasaki and Akihabara aren't that far apart. And, since I've been able to find 2 maid cafes in Yokohama that it'd be an easy bet that there'd be something in Kawasaki.



I've been wanting to visit Kawasaki again for some time, and I finally took the opportunity 2 weeks ago. In preparation, I searched all of the Japanese maid directory sites online, and asked at several maid cafes in Akihabara if anyone there knew of anything. But, I kept coming up with blanks, until I found a flier for Tsuke-Yume, an "anisong" bar, at St. Grace Court. Figuring that a bar that plays only anime theme songs would be a good place to start for finding fliers for more maid cafes, I headed out.



On a side note, there was supposed to be an attempt by Honey Honey (the maid cafe in Yokohama) to open "American Dinning Cheers" in 2008 across from Kawasaki station. But either the attempt to run a cheerleader cafe fell through or it went out of business fast because I couldn't find a trace of it.

Tsuke Akari Yume Terasu, (Tsuke-Yume for short, or Moon Dream in English) is in the red light district, 3 short blocks southeast of Kawasaki station. It's best if you follow the map from their site, because it was a little tricky to find. In any event, they normally don't open until 6:30 PM, although they occasionally have events like the Overdrive Cafe and Bar, which runs during the day from July 16-25.



Fortunately, I spent so much time trying to find the place that it was almost 6:00 when I arrived, and one of the bartenders was setting up before the doors opened. I asked him if he knew of any maid cafes in the area, and he shook his head, saying that there had been something a while back, but nothing now. I followed this up by asking if they had any fliers for maid cafes in the bar. The answer this time was yes. Turns out that the one flier they had was for St. Grace Court. Funny.

In summary, if you live around Kawasaki and you want to go to a maid cafe, your closest options currently look to be Dear and Honey Honey in Yokohama. But, if you want to hang, drink beer and listen to anime show tunes, check out Moon Dream.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review: Queens Court

Queens Court is also a newly-opened cafe in Akihabara, having opened its doors on July 7. It's still in the early formation stages, but is shaping up pretty nicely. The website is still under construction, missing pages for the menu and details on the membership card, but the current appearance of the main page is very promising.



Billed as a guild cafe, the idea is to come in, sit at the bar and chat with the staff for a while. You choose either the cafe menu, which is 800 yen for 30 minutes, all-you-can-drink soft drinks, or the bar menu (3000 for 30 minutes, all-you-can-drink mixed drinks). Obviously, it's not all you can drink, because the staff is going to try to get you to drink slowly, but in the case of ice coffee, which generally costs 500-600 yen at other cafes, I went through 3 glasses at one sitting - not a bad deal.



Queens Court is located just west of Chuu-ou Dori and just north of the JR station, in the same building as Cafe Mermaid. From the Akihabara station, go straight west past Chuu-ou Dori one block. Turn north, and go one more block, then turn west again. It'll be 1.5 blocks down, on the left, on the 4th floor. It's in the same area as Akiba Itchome Theater, Pondichery, m-FACTcafe, Candy Fruits Strawberry, and of course, Mermaid.



As you get out of the elevator, the red curtains and white lace covering the entrance will be on your left. Past the curtains is a long, narrow room running left-right, with counter seating facing away from the entrance. The room is brightly lit, with white walls and ceiling, and red cushion seats for about 15 people. There's more seating for another few people along the other wall closer to the front of the building. To be truthful, I spent so much time talking with the staff that I neglected to check out the room all that closely.

There were four maids, all wearing a kind of mauve school girl's sailor dress uniform, plus the dansou bartender, Kazuma. Kazuma had a very flashy black dress vest and slacks, with a white dress shirt. At 5:30, it was still too early for serious drinking, so Kazuma had a fair amount of free time, allowing us to talk for the full time I was there. I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to refer to Kazuma, because a "dansou" is a woman playing the role of a butler (literally "dan" is "male" and "sou" is "resembling"). I don't think putting "he" in parentheses is appropriate, and I'm expecting Kazuma to be reading this entry at some point and don't want to insult him by accident. Just for convention's sake, I'll use "him" without the quotes.

Dansou in Tokyo all tend to follow the same dress codes and behaviors, and I wanted to know if there was some kind of school or training one needs to take to become a proper dansou. Kazuma's answer was "no", that he was doing this just as his hobby. On the other hand, Queens Court has only been open for a week, so I asked if he'd been at another maid cafe before this. He replied that he'd worked as a bartender at a kind of hostess bar in Ueno previously. Queens Court is planning on having various events in the future, but there's nothing on the calendar right now. I asked what kind of event Kazuma would like to see, and he answered "singing"; turns out he's a big fan of karaoke, which I think would be pretty fun to see.



The cafe was pretty busy during the entire time I was there, with about 8 guys sitting around the place at any given time. No female customers this specific night. One person was working on a laptop, so there's a chance the cafe has wireless internet, or maybe he was just using a cellphone link. Everyone was drinking tea or soda, while I was having ice coffee. No one had ordered food, so I can't comment on that. As I mentioned above, the idea is to order off the soft drink or mixed drink menu for 800 or 3000 yen, and then get free refills for 30 minutes. (At the moment, there's a discount on the prices to celebrate having just opened). There are snacks for 400-600 yen, and some entrees for 1200-1400 yen. I was planning on getting a curry rice or something similar, but didn't get around to ordering right away, and then decided to just settle on the coffee. The coffee was good, very strong, and held up against the ice very well. As soon as the glass was empty, the staff asked if I wanted to have the same thing, and brought me my refill within a few minutes.


(The poker chip.)

There's no real table charge, but there is a one-time 300 yen fee for a membership card. I'm not exactly sure how the card system works, since there's no details on the card and and no write up yet on the website. I do know that the receipt showed 3 points for my 1500 yen bill. So, maybe there's a membership upgrade based on points. One interesting twist is the poker chip system. If you get a maid photo, stay for longer than 1 hour, or get a 30-minute reflex session, you get 1, 2 or 3 poker chips, depending on what you did. If you want, you can hand the chip back to the maid as a "thank you" gift and she'll spend more time talking to you. Or, you can save up the chips for a free drink, food item or maid photo. The most expensive item on the menu is 100 chips. (There's a joke about trying to gamble with the chips at Akiba Guild, the maid casino down the street, but the Queens Court staff don't expect you to get away with it.)



I also decided to get a maid photo with Kazuma, for 500 yen. Along with the membership fee and the drink charge, the evening came to 1500 yen, which wasn't too bad. Because I'd mentioned that I had to get to work in a little while, Kazuma suggested we get the photo right away. Unlike other cafes which use a Polaroid instant film camera, Queens Court uses a digital camera with a photo printer. This lets you preview the photo and retake it a few times if you're not immediately satisfied with the results. We stood along the wall behind the bar near the door in order to get the cafe's sign in the shot. Afterward, Kazuma tried to fancy up the photo from behind the bar, and ended up getting bullied by the maids pouring the drinks for the other customers. Kazuma and I had spent a fair amount of time talking about the manga in Garo magazine, and he wrote on the photo that he'll try reading the Kamui manga in the future (which should be easy, because Mandarake carries collected sets of Kamui, and it's only 2 blocks away).

I have member's number 190, indicating that there've been 189 members ahead of me, which is pretty good for a 1 week span. With luck, Queens Court will be around for a while. I enjoyed myself, and may try going back soon to check out the food. Recommended.


Summary:
Name: Queens Court
Location: West of Chuu-ou Douri, in the same building as Mermaid Cafe.
Price: Moderate-high
Cover: No cover per se. 800 or 3000 yen drink charge per 30 minutes depending on the menu.
Food: The main soft drink menu is 800 yen for 30 minutes, with free refills. The mixed drinks menu is 3000 yen/30 minutes, again with free refills. There are snacks for 400-600 yen, and entrees like curry rice for 1200 yen.
"Love": No love, but the staff will pour the creamer and sweetener syrup in your ice coffee or tea for you, and you are greeted as you arrive and leave.
Outfits: The dansou bartender wore a very classy black vest with trousers and white dress shirt. The maids had a kind of mauve school girls' sailor dress outfit.
Photos: 500 yen for a maid photo
Wireless Internet: Apparently yes. One person was working on a laptop while I was there. But he could have been using a cellphone link.
Specialties: A conversation lounge with free drink refills from the regular menu (special drinks don't get refills).
Recommendation: If you can speak Japanese, this is a great place for relaxing and talking with the staff. The layout is comfortable without being cramped or too spread out, and the staff are very outgoing. Be a little careful of the time, or if you order food, because it can get expensive fairly quickly.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tanabata, 2010

Tanabata is a Japanese festival originating from a Chinese event. You can read the details on the wiki page. Suffice it to say that one of the features is that people wear yukata (a summer version of the kimono), and visit shrines in order to write their wishes out on paper and tie them to tree branches to make them come true. It's typically celebrated on July 7.

When I visited Seiyu no Tamago, the customer seated next to me was trying to decide where to go the following day, Tanabata Day, to see maids in kimono. One of his choices was
St. Grace Court, and I figured that this would be a good chance to check out something. A few months ago, a visitor to Maid Runner wanted suggestions for maid cafes to visit during their vacation in Tokyo, and I'd made up a list of names. When checking the websites to verify the list, the website for St. Grace Court came up as a broken link. It looked like SGC, which isn't on the beaten path, had closed. But, a little later, I encountered a dansou (woman dressed up as a priest) on Chuu-ou Douri handing out fliers for SGC, and I told her what had happened to me. She answered that the site had been taken down for redesign, and that the cafe was still alive and well. So, for Tanabata I stopped at SGC to see if the physical location had changed.

Actually, the cafe is the same as before. On the other hand, they did have some changes as part of their event. The main difference was that the "sisters" were all in kimono. That, and there was a small fake tree on one table with photos of the maids tied to the branches (the photos, not the maids, sigh). For 500 yen, you could take your pick of one photo. Normally, SGC doesn't offer "2-shot" photos (2-shot is the standard Japanese phrase meaning a photo with two people in it), but for Tanabata you could get your photo taken with a "sister" for 1000 yen (the 500 yen photos were "1-shots").



They also had a seasonal menu, with a curry rice plate for 1200 yen, or shaved ice with ice cream for 1000 yen. I decided to get the peach-flavored shaved ice and vanilla ice cream dessert and a 2-shot photo. The dessert was very good, but way too small for the price. Along with the 500 yen table charge, the total of 2500 yen ($27 USD) was on the very high side. Then again, it was a very hot, muggy day and the peach snowball felt really good. Plus, the maids were friendly. One other point is that this particular maid photo specifically included having the "sister" sitting at the table for 3 minutes touching it up. She even had a stopwatch out to measure the time.

Coincidentally, or maybe not, the customer from Tamago was also at SGC, and we were the only two in the cafe then. However, he was a lot less talkative to me, choosing to spend all his time with the "sisters".

Happy Tanabata to you.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Review: Seiyu no Tamago

Seiyu no Tamago translates directly as "Voice Actor/Actress Egg". This doesn't come across as well in English, so I'll refer to it here as "Tamago" for the review.



Tamago is just outside the regular Akiba district, on the east side of Showa Douri. To find it from inside the JR Akihabara station, follow the signs for the Showa Douri exit, keep going straight to the street light, cross Showa Douri, and follow along the train tracks on the right side for about a block. Tamago will be on the right side of the street, on the second floor.

Unlike most maid cafes, Tamago embraces the modern elements of concrete and glass. There's no paneling on the walls, and the entire space has the feeling of being in a small warehouse. The room is maybe 20' x 80', with smoking and nonsmoking areas split up on opposite sides of the bar. Mostly, it's counter seating at the bar, for 10 people, and another counter row closer to the front window for another 5-6 people. There were 8 people while I was there, 3 women and 5 salarymen. The only posters or wall hangings consisted of ads for a tie-up event with Yaen Meikyu (the vampire bar), although none of the Tamago staff had been to Yaen yet.



There's a small space on the nonsmoking side of the bar that is glassed off and could be used as a sound room, I guess, although it seems to be set up more as an office. So, I'm not sure where the "voice actress" part comes in. None of the staff did any singing or acting while I was there, and other than for the glassed-off room, there's no space for a separate stage. Actually, the guy sitting next to me had come to Tamago 5 times before, and he commented that he'd never seen the room with the curtains open before, so it doesn't appear to be part of the regular bar space either.

The staff is very friendly and attentive, stopping to talk with the customers between mixing drink orders. My maid spent quite a while mixing up one drink, switching between sampling the mix and reading the recipe book. She looked very serious about getting the drink right, but had no idea what the final result was supposed to be. The costumes consist of a yellow vest jacket with separate collar piece, white skirt and stockings, and the yellow winged cloth "tiara". The jackets have little white angel wings on the back.



Maid photos are not listed on the menu and no one asked for one while I was there. You can get a maid photo if you fill up several of the points cards. It's 1500 yen per point, and 15 points per card. If you fill up enough cards, you can get a photo with the entire staff. Otherwise, just filling up one card will give you a free menu item. There's a small goods stand near the door, and you can get laminated cards or small posters of the maids, and they also have CDs of the maids performing a "voice drama" for 1500 yen.

You may have picked up by now that Tamago is a bar and not a cafe. The emphasis is on mixed drinks (800 yen) and beer (700 yen). Soft drinks are 500 to 600 yen. There's a limited food menu, mostly snacks for 300 to 500 yen. The really interesting item is the "Tamago Kake Gohan". This is a bowl of rice with some shaved dried fish and a raw egg on top, for 800 yen. You can then select from 21 different flavors of soy sauce, and another 21 toppings. The egg gets stirred in with the rice, and there you have it. I tried ordering the Tamago Kake Gohan, but was told a few minutes later that the rice wasn't ready this early in the evening yet. So I settled for a hot sandwich and an ice coffee.

The coffee came out first, in a tall glass filled with ice. The coffee was good and strong right at the beginning but quickly became watered down. The sandwich was two triangles of bread with the crusts removed and the edges crimped down to create bread pockets, with slices of ham and melted cheese inside. Good, but the serving size was too small for the 800 yen price tag. There's also a table charge of 500 yen for an hour, so with the coffee and the sandwich, the meal came to 1900 yen ($20). Kind of on the pricey side.


(Yes, I'm a fan.)

I was able to strike up a conversation with the guy next to me and one of the maids, and that caused the time to go by very quickly. As I mentioned, the staff are friendly and willing to talk. The other customer suggested various other cafes to visit, with a recommendation to go to Little BSD when they have their "newtype" event. I'll hold off on talking about that until later. There was also a suggestion to go to 1 of several different places the following night (July 7), which is the Japanese holiday Tanabata, where the maids dress up in kimono. St. Grace Court was recommended highly for this.

Over all, I had fun, but it was mostly because I could carry on conversations in Japanese. None of the staff seemed to speak English, and the menus and rules cards were all in Japanese. There are events at different times so check the website in advance. Otherwise, if you are just looking for a bar to sit and drink quietly, you may want to find one without the table charge and with English-speaking staff.


Summary:
Name: Seiyu no Tamago
Location: From inside the JR Akihabara station, follow the signs for the Showa Douri exit and keep going straight to the street light. Cross Showa Douri, and follow along the train tracks on the right side for about a block. Tamago will be on the right side of the street, on the second floor.
Price: Moderate high.
Cover: 500 yen lets you stay 1 hour.
Food: Tamago is a bar with some snacks in the 300-500 yen range; mixed drinks for 800; beer for 700; a small ham and cheese sandwich for 800 yen; and a rice bowl with a raw egg for 800 yen.
"Love": No love.
Outfits: Yellow vest-jackets with a separate yellow collar and "tiara", white skirt and stockings, and small white angel's wings on the back of the jacket.
Photos: Available if you fill the points cards. (1500 yen per point, 15 points per card).
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Maids as voice over actresses, wearing very cute pop idol costumes as angels.
Recommendation: If you're looking for a quiet bar on the outer east side of Akihabara, Tamago is a nice , friendly place to hang out. And, if you go on a hot summer day, they may even give you a free fan.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cosmate



There are a lot of places on the net that offer costumes for sale. However, being one of the main hubs for cosplay in Japan, Akihabara does kind of act as more of a central shopping area for cosplay outfits if you're looking for brick and mortar shops. Additionally, some of the maid cafes do their own shopping here for new outfits. So, it's worth mentioning Cosmate in this blog.



Cosmate is located down a short alley just west of JR Akihabara station. To get there, take the Electric Town exit from the station and go west to Chuu-ou Dori. Go north to the second intersection from the train line and turn west. You should see the back of the building on your left, with a small parking lot in front, before you reach the end of the block.



I'm not a big cosplay person myself, so I haven't tried going in to look around at the available outfits. But, I certainly see the shop often enough when I'm scouting out new maid cafes, and a couple cafes carry fliers for Cosmate in particular. If you are a cosplayer, you probably already know about Cosmate. However, if you're thinking about getting into cosplay as a hobby, this is a good play to start out.




(Back of the building, fronting the parking space.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review: Yaen Meikyu

Ghosts? - Check
Angels? - Check
Demons? - Check
Sisters and priests? - Check
Bunnies? - Check

Ok, so what's Akihabara still missing?

Vampires! Well, not anymore.



Listen well, Children of the Night, for there's a cafe just for you, located on the second floor of the building with Pinkie's. Yaen Meikyu bills itself as a "vampire maid cafe and bar", and the name translates roughly to Night Party Mystery. To find it, walk north down Chuu-ou Dori from the JR Akihabara station, on the left side of the street, until you reach the north end of the Donkey Building. Go one more block and turn left. It's 1.5 short blocks west, on the left, just above the public smoking and coffee vending space.

Yaen Meikyu is fairly small, with about 5-6 small tables set up in front of a long sofa-bench, each seating 1 person. There's stool seating at the bar counter for another 6 people. When I arrived, there were two women sitting in one corner of the bench area, and one "otaku" at one of the other tables. After about 10 minutes, the otaku left and was replaced by someone else who chose to sit at the counter. (Please see below about otaku.) There's a coffin lid painted on the wall near the entrance, and the upholstery and fabric covering up the windows is a blood-red velvet. There's a small chandelier, a diaphanous material hanging from the ceiling, and black trim. There's also a fake tiger skin rug hanging from the ceiling...



The staff is divided up into two categories, the dansou-like bartenders, and the vampire maids. The bartenders wore white dress shirts with black trousers and vests. The maids had elaborate gothic white blouses, with black vests and skirts, bow ties and the little pill box hats. The staff were very busy, coming and going to parts unknown out past the elevator, and at one point had been reduced to only two maids that were hard pressed to take and prepare the food and drink orders.

One specific maid concentrated on working my table, and she was very patient with me, trying to understand my broken Japanese. Because I'm now working longer hours during weeknights, I have less time to spend at the cafes. This particular evening, I only had time for an ice coffee and a maid photo. The menu does have quite a few entree items, including rice bowl dishes, pasta, curry rice, and soba - all in the 1100-1600 yen range. Soft drinks for 700 yen, mixed drinks for 900. There's almost nothing in the way of desserts, but lots of snacks, like Pocky or mixed nuts, for 400-600 yen. However, the primary emphasis is on the bar side, with bottles of champagne and hard alcohol going for 3000 to 29,000 yen (about $300 USD).

Like some of the other themed cafes, Yaen doesn't list prices in yen. Instead, it's cc's, with 1 cc = 1 yen. There is a table charge, 500 cc for the bench seating, 800 cc for the counter for 60 minutes. And maid photos are 1000 cc for one. It's definitely one of the pricier cafes, and even with just the coffee and the photo came to a little over 2200 yen ($24 USD). I didn't have time for food, so I can't comment on the quality or amount. The two women did get a plate of takoyaki while I was there, and the plate looked pretty good, so that's promising.

The menu also offers "death games", which are basically just short 3-5 minute matches against the maids playing othello or Jenga, for 500 to 1500 cc each. If you win, you get 2 maid photos or something similar depending on the game. If you lose, you have to consume a special "death drink" as punishment. No one had gotten a death game while I was there.



My maid brought out my coffee very quickly. It was in a smallish tall glass, and brewed very strong. It stood up against the ice very well. A little later, we went up front to take the photo in the entry way in front of the elevator. I asked what the recommended pose was, and my maid initially suggested a cat pose before switching to "an angry cat with claws extended" pose. Afterward I returned to the table, and she came over with the photo and a small carry case filled with markers. During the 5 minutes she worked on the touch up, we talked about Akihabara and Yaen. They don't have special events yet, but there may be something in July for Tanabata. She sounded especially excited about maybe having a Halloween event. She mentioned my Japanese level, and I told her I'm studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), so she wrote "good luck on the test" on the back of the photo for me.



There is a point card. 1 point per visit. 5 points gives a 5% discount on the charges, and 10 points is 10%. There is a tracking system for how many 10-point cards you've filled up, so additional points may get you something else.



There's no added flavor chants, but they do have specialized greetings. When you enter, the maid rings a small bell and says "a guest has arrived from the real world to our realm". When they walk you to the elevator door at the end, the bell is rung again and you're bowed out with "the guest is returning to the real world".

Yaen Meikyu is an interesting concept, basically employing elegant goth Japanese vampires rather than some Twilight-inspired red-eyed fanged blood suckers. Although, these maids would look really cute with red eyes and a little trickle of blood along the side of their lips... If you don't mind the inflated prices, I recommend it.


Summary:
Name: Yaen Meikyu
Location: 2nd floor of the building with Pinkie's.
Price: High.
Cover: 500 yen lets you stay 1 hour at a bench table; 800 yen at the counter.
Food: Rice bowls, pastas and curries for 1100-1400 yen. 700 yen soft drinks and 900 yen mixed drinks. No desserts, but snacks for 400-600 yen. Bottles of hard alcohol for 3000 to 29,000 yen.
"Love": No added food chants. "A guest has arrived to our realm" and "a guest is returning to the real world" chants when you arrive and leave.
Outfits: White dress shirt and black trousers for the dansou bartenders. White blouse, black vest and skirt for the maids, plus the little pillbox hat. (The bartenders were also wearing white rabbit ears.)
Photos: 1000 yen.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: A gathering place for creatures of the night, plus chances to play death games against the maids.
Recommendation: The vampire theme is actually rather subdued, with the emphasis placed on goth elegance instead. This is one of the pricier cafes, but it's probably best approached as a hangout for a few beers and a snack or two. Recommended for at least one visit just to check it out.


A note about otaku. "Otaku" is used in Japan to refer to people that are fans of Japanese "subculture" (i.e. - anime, manga, doujinshii, video games, trains, j-pop idols (if the subject is a middle-aged man)) in the way Americans would refer to fan boys. It has generally been a derogatory term until recently, but the public has slowly become more accepting of otaku, and there are now more women that describe themselves as otaku as well. Unfortunately, writers like Patrick Galbraith still use the term as an insult against a very small sub-set of the sub-culture, which is why I try not to use it in these reviews to talk about patrons at maid cafes, to avoid giving the wrong impression about them. But, there are some guys that fall into the stereotype, and then it's really hard to not use it. In this situation, the stereotype is a guy in his mid-20's to mid-30's, short, overweight, wearing a t-shirt, thick black-framed glasses, and with greasy hair and no appreciable social skills, who is always seen alone and apparently still lives with his parents.