I was obsessed with lomography on a trip to Tokyo with friends 2 years ago, and decided to indulge this fixation by visiting the city’s electronic mecca, Akihabara, in search of the Diana.
We got out at the Akihabara Station from the clearly marked Akihabara Electric Town exit on a cold, rainy evening to bright flashy lights that blinded us instantly. We made our way to one of the multi-storey malls selling electronic ware floor on floor, jam-packed with people and machines alike. My friends bought a Fuji Polaroid camera that they would end up using in the States a few days later. I, on the other hand felt far too claustrophobic and rushed to kick-start the loom camera analysis.
Once done, we moved on to the anime comic book stores. Having watched a lot of Japanese (dubbed in English of course) cartoons growing up, the comic big eyes full of sparkles indigenous to Japanese anime characters, took me back in time. The stores were chock-a-bloc with comics, catering to any and every age group, kinky fantasy and preference. What surprised me was the lack of signage demarcating the regular/child friendly comics from their racier adult versions. Strange, although in retrospect you begin to think that weird and strange is pretty common in Japan.
No trip to Akihabara would be complete without a visit to the seemingly sordid but harmless Maid Cafes. The streets are lined with girls neatly dressed in French Maid outfits handing out leaflets advertising their respective cafes.
Maid Cafes in Japan fall under the ‘Cosplay Cafe’ category; albeit less seedy. They were originally designed primarily to cater to the fantasies of male otaku. Otaku is a Japanese term used for people with obsessive interests in anime, manga, and video games, where the concept of a maid, French or regular, is a popular fantasy.
We walked into one called Popopure Maid Cafe and were immediately greeted by a string of Japanese girls dressed in French maid uniforms happily singing ‘Welcome home, Master’, ‘Welcome home, Mistress’. A maid showed us to our table, carefully knelt down next to us and in a child-like tone read the menu out with the day’s specials. We ordered a coffee each and an omelette to be split between the 3 of us (she insisted on the omelette, apparently it was a maid cafe classic!?!).
When our coffee was placed in front of us, our hostess gestured for us not to touch the cup till after she blessed it. She asked us to repeat after her and follow her (weird) hand gestures of heart formation, birds, back to hearts until the limerick was over (all we understood was pew pew pew pew), the coffee blessed and we could finally take a sip. Our omelette arrived a minute later and I have to admit it was the creepiest plate of food I have ever seen. It was a pale white flat mass of egg with a huge ketchup smiley adorning it staring right back at you.
Sitting at the maid café that day, was a mix of amusing and awkward. The couple on the table next to us had brought their 2 little girls with them, while most of the other patrons were men. A large screen that took up most of the space of 1 wall, broadcasted maids interacting with other café guests, again, predominately male.
Our hostess wished us the very best when we paid he bill and asked to return should we find ourselves in Tokyo again. On exiting, we crossed their ‘wall of fame’ and saw a photograph of the Backstreet Boys at the same café posing with maids smiling from ear to ear.
Oh dear Japan, you so keep it interesting! I will be back.