Jan 12, 2009

In Which I Drink Overpriced Coffee in a Pink and White Room

If you walk around Akihabara for long enough, eventually a girl in a maid costume will try to hand you a pamphlet. It's a pamphlet all about her place of work: a maid cafe, an establishment in which girls in ornate pseudo-French maid costumes will serve you overpriced coffee and sweets for about an hour.

Until this weeken, I'd never been to one of these places, but two of my old friends from Okayama were in town. Somehow when making the itinerary for today the idea of going to a maid cafe in Akihabara came up and stuck. I'll admit, I was curious. These things are something of a phenomenon, I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about. One of my coworkers went to one earlier in the week, and described it in positive terms.

So, we go into the place, and the decor is dominated by pink and white. I was pleased that the first thing that we got when we entered was a list of rules, printed in Japanese and English, not to be lecherous dicks while on the premises. That's good. Lecherous dickery is bad for the world, and I was happy to see that the customers were asked to touch with their eyes, not with their hands. Again , I looked around. The place was pink. Pink with shots of milky, unthreatening white. Soft and harmless like a marshmallow peep.

The maids themselves were all done up in piles of ruffles and lacy things, with various geeky flourishes thrown in. The one that served us had a fox tail sticking out the back of her skirt, and several others had plastic charms and bits of flair hanging from their uniforms. To be honest, a lot of them looked like they'd put a lot of effort into personalizing their costumes, which is cool, but they looked far too harmless and fluffy to be called attractive or interesting. I suppose that's all relative, though.

What I thought was kind of funny, was that this fluffy, cute place was in Akihabara, a place redolent of bizarre pornography and stale testosterone. A very solid majority of the customers and denizens of the place are male, and are very obviously the target demographic of maid cafes. Yet the inside of such a place (at least the one that we were in) looks like some sort of adorable Disney pink-princess room. It's all about cuteness, pinkness, ruffles, hearts, and bunnies. When I think of places designed with guys in mind, I think of pool tables, strippers, and beer. Not hearts and bunnies. Hearts and bunnies are for nine year old girls who think that "princess" is a valid career choice.

But apparently for quite a lot of guys hearts and bunnies scratches some kind of itch. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, I'm just saying it's not my cup of tea. I sort of wondered what my reaction was supposed to be. Was I supposed to be getting off on it, was I supposed to find it amusing in a novel or ironic way? Was I just supposed to sit there and drink coffee like it was a normal cafe, except more expensive and with a cover? I didn't really know what an appropriate social reaction would be, so I just chatted with my friends and ate an ice cream sundae shaped like a rabbit that had little hearts drawn on it.

Eventually, one of my friends (a married woman, funnily enough) told me. "It's okay to stare. You can stare. That's why we're here." I feel sort of bad staring at people though. I mean, really. You're just staring at them. You're just watching them do stuff. That's really weird. At least with, say, strippers you're watching them dance. You're appreciating something that's halfway aesthetic. There's music and performance and that's socially acceptable to look at, even if the performer is only wearing a soon-to-be-slid-down thong. But staring at people serving coffee and working in a cafe just seems kinda pervy.

It didn't help that most of these girls looked like they were about sixteen or so. I'm sure they were probably older than that, but still, it was weird. Really, I think that's the crux of it. I can't really see girls who look like that as anything other than overgrown kids. I guess all of my teacherly/fatherly instincts are in place- when I see girls like that, I don't want to stare at them, ogle them, or leer at them. I want to teach them how to write a five paragraph essay and use Mace. You know, the normal sort of stuff adult males do with young women.

Again, I want to emphasize that I'm not condemning any of this. Japan has a right to it's maid cafes, and people just like what they like. It's cool. The general populace of Akihabara enjoy different things than me, and that's perfectly alright. Viva la difference and yay pluralism and whatever. But, it's not for me. I like women, not girls.

As we were leaving, we noticed that in the same building there was yet another maid cafe in the same building. This one, though, advertised ear cleaning. Oh, Akihabara...

1 comment:

Kristin said...

"Hearts and bunnies are for nine year old girls who think that "princess" is a valid career choice." - hee hee: Awesome. I remember when I thought that I could grow up and be a Disney princess... Boy, things do change, eh?

Sounds like a pretty interesting experience though.