i-dollatry 26

My goodness, was it three weeks ago already?  For those who may not know, Batsu is a freelance translator.  I like it, really; but on occasion I get sucked into the void for days (weeks?) at a time, a mere shadow of my former self, soiled and sullen before the luminescent screen.  Then the project is complete, the deadline is met, and I have a couple weeks off.  Hooray!

Ah, yes, so the weeks have passed since I visited i-doll 26. I-doll is one of the few recurring doll events in Japan – along with Doll Show (Tokyo only), Dolls Party (Volks sponsored/only), and the recent Dolls in Wonderland (held by second hand shop Mandarake).  At at most of these events you can find many dolls and doll related items – apparel, accessories, foods, furnishings, hand-made articles, and so on from the many independent and professional dealers.  They are packed tightly into rows upon rows and sometimes spread across many floors of the convention hall.

On this particular day, I was on a mission to find buttons.  As I usually go in trying to pitch a story, negotiate an interview, or traipse the boundaries of trust just to snap a photo, the scene was quite refreshing.  I didn’t many get many good photos, but walked away with a world of buttons.  Good friend Shikaku was also in attendance and all googly-eyed over pretty much everything; it seems I even missed dealers I was looking for.  But never matter – did I mention I purchased a world of buttons?

There were of course many cute dolls in various cute dresses.  The majority of these being sold by girls decked in lolita-style fashions.  However, the newest accessory for these eternally young maidens would seem to be their own children.  I think this was the first time I’ve ever seen such a frilly dress paired with a baby harness; not one, indeed the vast majority seemed to sport this new look.  One table had a living doll dressed like the models for sale – though she was a bit older, maybe 2.

My purchases, aside from the buttons, included a summer SD dress, a doll-sized whiskey rocks, a tiny rabbit for a tiny Alice, and some hangers for my daughter’s increasing wardrobe.  I also managed to meet an artist who had an exhibition at Angel Dolls last year – but she somewhat incomprehensibly (?) refused to acknowledge that I was familiar with her work until Shikaku intervened and therefore receives no further mention.

We finished the day at Pinafore, which was great despite, or perhaps due to, the presence of numerous customers from my former maiden days.  I took great relish in drinking beer in front of them (a big no-no!), but felt a bit awkward at first, admittedly.  Even after such a short stint, going to a maid cafe will never be the same.

The photos:

Maid Crime Prevention Seminar

In order to prevent crime and encourage precautionary action, another Maid Crime Prevention Seminar has been organized by the Manseibashi Police Station in Akihabara. The seminar will be held tomorrow at Maid Cafe Filles; contents will include instruction on women’s self defense and dialing 110, the emergency hotline in Japan. Though entrance is free, only 30 seats will be available and attendants should reserve in advance.

The first Maid Crime Prevention Seminar was held last summer in response to the influx of organized crime and other incidents involving the assault of maids in the area. Held at the Manseibashi Police Station, it mainly consisted of a distributing a prospectus designed to raise awareness of crime prevention, including the formation of volunteer patrol groups, and cooperation with the police. Representatives from three maid cafes attended to disseminate information.

Though maidblog’s recap of last year’s event is rather, well, lackluster to say the least – highlighting the giant stack of paperwork handed to each participant – perhaps awareness is greatest preventative measure in this situation. Many of the assaults that happened at the time included girls following or leading strangers into secluded areas; things most people would consider to be foolish lapses in judgment. At the time of employment, many maid cafes now educate staff by contractually prohibiting them from doing things that compromise personal safety, to avoid both incidents and accountability.
Source: Hagemaru

Source: Maidblog.net

Miniskirted Miko – Knife in the Heart of Moe?

Whether or not a deathblow can be deemed victorious, it doesn’t feel as good to be on the receiving end.

LINK-UP Inc., the parent company responsible for @home cafe, @home sabo (tearoom), @home Hana, and most recently Miko-san Cafe, more or less invented what is know as the “entertainment-kei” variety of maids and moe. They opened @home cafe three years ago with the intent of bringing a new type of “idol-maid” to patrons who were perhaps in need of something more to worship. In effect, pairing the rather ambiguous maid character with a singing and dancing short-skirted idol created a new precedent in the industry, and pretty soon everyone was trying to hop onto the bandwagon. The barrier between maid and customer began to erode, performance and exhibition became seen as part and parcel of the job, and the already suspicious general public actually began to suspect something more than tea and cakes. That something more has been theorized many different ways, but the effects of this merger more or less defined if not redefined the one-word mantra for a generation of Akiba geeks: moe. (Pronounced “mo-ay.”)

This brings into question what is moe – or in the case of LINK-UP, which parts of moe are the most profitable?

“Moe” is a part of Japanese slang, a double entendre pronounced “burning” but written with a character that means “sprouting” or “growing.” It can be both an adjective or a noun, even a verb at times, and is perhaps best translated into English as “passion.” A non-otaku Japanese associate speaking to a salary man once explained, “Moe is when guys look at young girls and getting excited – the same way girls get excited when they see Mickey (Mouse).” His statement beautifully articulates the ideal “sexlessness” of Utopian moe. However, as @home boasts at least 40% female patronage, and many of their female clientèle are regulars, the gender exclusion in his statement is perhaps a bit of a misunderstanding. Even before @home, it’s safe to say that moe captured a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for youth, beauty and all things “cute.” Because after @home, things started to change.

Though not always and for everyone, idols remain to be sex symbols at some level. The idea of openly mixing the images “maids” and “idols” leads to a definite conclusion – supported with the various photos, hand-drawn art, and various goods (such as beach towels and body pillows) emblazoned with maids’ images. That is, the sex appeal of the maid image can be materialized commercially, while still contained within the safe and friendly container of a moe-cafe. This is pretty much what LINK-UP has accomplished, and as sex is a more basic human interest than moe, more and more maid-related businesses are taking this angle in both Akihabara and beyond.

In recent times, LINK-UP has worked towards ever more aggressively towards their brand of moe-capitalism. Their most recent venture into moe enterprise is Miko Cafe. Miko means “shrine maiden” – the girls dressed in red and white at Shinto shrines. In recent times, they have become something of stock characters in popular literature – perhaps most recently in the anime series Lucky Star, in which two sisters dress as miko to help out at the temple every New Year’s holiday. However, as most things LINK-UP, these girls are miko with a twist, namely: short skirts and microphones.

Miko Cafe takes up two floors of a predominant Chuo Dori building, which isn’t saying much considering floor size; however, the top floor is reserved for song and dance performances by the miko (currently once a day weekdays, multiple times weekends and holidays). The lower floor is run sort of like a cafe, with a 1000 yen seating charge. They give cute greetings when you enter and leave, such as, “We welcome your worship at Magokoro Shrine,” and “We hope your dreams come true.” They “pray” over your food before you eat it as well, emulating @home’s patented “ai-kome” or “love infusion” magic spells seen in LINK-UP’s other venues. Performances are given at a set time at an additional price.

@home certainly garners a substantial number of regulars who fork out for special services, but by and large their clientèle could be described as tourists. It’s this author’s opinion that Miko Cafe, with set performance times, will be even more popular with casual curiosity seekers yearning to gawk at otakudom. The most regrettable part of this venture is the substantial departure from most things otaku and moe, making Miko Cafe just another cog in commercial entertainment at the expense of the girls working there.

Cheers for American “Maids”

Though the actual occurrence of a foreign – let alone American – maid is quite rare, Maid Cafe and Dinning (sic) operation Honey Honey based in Yokohama is opening up a new style of theme venue in early July.

The sister store, called “American Dinning Cheers” will pair “a bright, casual-American style atmosphere” with “cute, cheerleader-inspired uniforms.” It will be located in a prime spot, right across from JR Kawasaki Station. Management is currently recruiting staff for the grand opening, but no more details have been released.

Since the invention of the maid cafe, many similar “spin-off” venues have come to the foreground, but this is perhaps the first American inspired moe diner. No word yet if Cheers will be filmed before a live studio audience.

It’s Boxes for Cardboard Meat Buns

Back in 2007, a sensational story hit the press: due to a burgeoning food crisis and dwindling meat supplies, the Chinese were substituting ground cardboard for the ground pork generally found in meat buns. Add to this a growing food scare in Japan, where longtime household name manufactures were shut down one after another for food safety concerns. Mix in a dash of playful cynicism for most things Chinese, and pour into notorious otaku bulletin board community Ni-Channel. Let it sit for a few months, and you’ll get an amazingly funny result that inspired corporate hand Shuman Shuman to open “Cardboard Meat Bun Shop Maririn” last December in Akihabara.

Instead of producing meat buns made with cardboard, Maririn instead serves their large gourmet-style steamed buns in cardboad, selling both “Mens’ Salt Flavored” and “Ladies’ Soy Sauce Flavored” varieties at 420 yen each. The filling includes a blend of oregano, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg mixed into Ibaraki Prefecture natural-fed “Herb Pork,” overseen by a Yokohama Chinatown Meat Bun Specialist to ensure juiciness and flavor balance. To make the experience complete, Maririn is staffed with “Red Chinese” in cute pink Mao-era costume mock-ups.

Of course no business would be complete without a spokes character, of which the shop has two, readily emblazoned on every promotional material. Spokes characters Maririn and Kourin went to kindergarten together and came to Akihabara with the intent of promoting food safety practices – or at least so says their debut single which released in March of this year. Entitled “Kowloon Baby,” it tells the story of how the duo came to be called the “unit saving the world through meat buns.”

In addition to the release of “Kowloon Baby,” Maririn also announced a summer manju parfait to compliment the rising temperatures. While hearty meat-buns are more popular as a winter-time snack, small and sweet brown sugar flavored sweet-bean filled snack breads are eaten year round. Topped with a little bit of soft ice cream, and still served in their namesake packaging, Shuman Shuman seemed to keeping up with the times.

However, what started as a profitable and popular business spawned from playful internet rumors is now closing its doors for good as of June 9, 2008. The announcement came from Shuman Shuman on May 11, along with a statement that they had intended to close the business in May from the beginning. Maririn fans are advised to come for a last tasting every weekend until the 9th, where maids as opposed to traditionally costumed staff will be serving from 11am-6pm. Customers lingering for that long lost taste in years to come should stock up now, as Shuman Shuman is also offering national delivery of frozen product for this limited time.

A recent visit of the shop showed it filled with boxes and covered with notices. However, some fans are trying to keep the spirit alive by showing their support in the form of cash, conspicuously taped to windows. Whether or not this act of good will can save the cardboard meat bun is as of yet unknown (we counted only 4000 yen), but the cardboard meat bun has definitely left its mark on Akihabara history.

Greedy Eyes for Greedy Catz

Last January Neko Ja-la-la, the first “cat cafe,” opened in Akihabara. They offered six (now eight) top breed and well tempered cats in a small but soft and cushion-y environment set to ambient jazz and classical music. 500 yen buys 30 minutes of kitty playtime and unlimited photo ops. Drinks, including a nice variety of coffees, teas, juices, and beer, are also available at an additional but reasonable cost.

On a visit in January most clientèle seemed to have never interacted with cats. The staff kept showing us and others how to pet a cat; all customers I asked were not cat owners. Considering the small living quarters of city dwellers combined with often strict pet policies, it’s not at all surprising that the invention of a pet space was necessary for curiosity seekers to have first contact with domestic cats. In turn, it’s not at all surprising that policy had changed by February, mandating appointments for weekend and holiday visits due to the apparent surge in popularity.

On April 26 a competing store opened on Chuo Dori, the main shopping street in Akiba – though their official grand opening was May 3. Greedy Catz, with glitzed-out “deco” style graphics and website, is potentially the “idol-kei” variation of the cat cafe. Though 300 yen (500 yen on holidays and weekends) buys 30 minutes of cat-time, there is also a one drink minimum order. With a second story venue, a signboard rests outside to attract and guide potential customers. They offer later hours as well.

Batsu and Maru are currently organizing a thorough investigation of Greedy Catz in order to test this hypothesis. More information on any new developments will be made available as soon as possible.

Let’s Drinking and Driving

Kyosho (http://www.kyosho.com/) opened another “circuit bar” location in Akihabara’s new Akiba Tolim building last month. Kyosho Corporation manufacturers and distributes a wide assortment of both radio controlled and die-cast metal vehicles. Ferrari, Nissan, Cadillac, VW, helicopters, boats, construction machinery, bipedal athlete robots – it’s not choice, but choosing that proves problematic. Sizes range from 1/8 to 1/64 scale. Though Kyosho offers an assortment of products sold at various shops across the country, truth be told they only have two official shops. Both are in Tokyo, bordering the East and West sides of the Yamanote loop, a train line that circles around central Tokyo.

In addition to product showrooms, both Kyosho Omotesando and Kyosho Akihabara offer two special features. The first is racing courses: either bring your own vehicle or rent one out. The second is a bar and lounge: sit around and throw ‘em back, waiting for your turn at the remote. Though they may be encouraging drinking and driving, I couldn’t think of a better arena. The staff kindly corrects all accidents. In the Akihabara location, there are three total tracks – two of which have digital monitors displaing lap time. The third track seemed more like a test drive track, created mainly for staff to play around during off-peak hours and to attract potential customers.

When we decided to try our hand at the wheel, the staff was too busy playing around to help us. Nevertheless, we figured out the system with relative ease. The two types of cars available for rental were the 1/47 scale dNaNo and 1/27 scale Mini Z; a 15 minute rental course was 500 yen. Those who own or purchase cars receive Kyosho Memberships and can lease the track for 1 hour at 1,000 yen or 15 minutes and 300 yen. After deciding on our display names, we paid the fees and spent our wait time snapping photos. The staff even offered to assist.

Track A, on which we were racing, was a long winding course with one straightaway to display true speed. Having never wielded an RC car, one of the staff showed us the way and raced with us for a while until we got the hang of it. In no time at all, I had little control of my car but was still able smash my opponent derby-style, which offered a consoling vengeance if not victory. It was heartening to have the staff laugh around with us even though we were intentionally crashing their product. Indeed, it showed how serious they were at having fun.

Even other beginners on the course were treated with empathy and respect. The staff went out of their way to make sure everyone could control their car, and even when they couldn’t, staff corrected collisions and wrong turns. One salary-man gentleman who appeared in his late 30s remarked, “It’s like I’m driving drunk,” while jostling in an uncontrollable laughter. Another racer responded, “It’s OK, I don’t have insurance.”

Akiba Tolim, created with the intent to bring more female consumers to Akihabara, is filled with restaurants, sweets shops, hosiery, and other products more popular with the ladies. The addition of Kyosho Akihabra (lol) to the basement floor thus makes it a popular venue for couples as well as stray buisness men, as the basement also connects to the Tsukuba Express train line. Many couples, salary men, and even the stray foreigner were to be seen on our visit.

Cafe with Cat Goes to the Wolves

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From April 4-6, Cafe with Cat, located on the second floor of Toranoana’s Akihabara Main Store, held a special event celebrating the DVD release of Wolf and Spice.

Transforming into “Cafe with Wolf,” staff members dressed as Halo (patron Wolf Deity and character in the series) intermingled with the resident cats. Their costumes were incredibly ornate; both girls we saw on our visit had natural, long hair which complimented the ensemble nicely, though admittedly looked very hot on the mild spring day. In addition to wolf staff, the cafe featured three special menu items recreating memorable aspects of the series: traveler’s bed and breakfast, apple tart, and grape juice. Every customer received a black and white character design sheet, but those who purchased the DVD downstairs at Toranoana’s Akiba Main Store also received a lottery style chance at winning rare goods.

Batsu and Maru decided to visit Cafe with Wolf on the first day of the promotion, April 4, at about 3:45pm. To our surprise, the cafe was empty, but the manager was giving away tickets for the next seating at 4pm. Had we been aware of the seating processions, we probably would have killed more time at Radio Kaikan looking at figures. Then again, 15 minutes isn’t long. We wandered downstairs to ponder buying the DVD, but were dissuaded at the first sight of a 6,000 yen price sticker. I opted to watch the preview on the TV which stood before the entranceway for a few minutes, and then line up early to beat the anticipated crowd.

We stood first in line, and were thus first to enter at exactly 4pm, not a minute earlier. A wolfish staff member guided us to a table and explained the day’s special menu. As she walked away, I surveyed the surrounding area. In total, about five out of 20 tables were seated; the counter was empty. Perhaps this wasn’t their peak time, or perhaps the event wasn’t very popular; this is uncertain.

I decided to order the grape juice and apple tart from the special menu. The grapes used to make the juice were actually grown to make wine. After pressing, they have an extremely short shelf life – though the cafe promised there was not safety issue. I was surprised to be served a very healthy glass of virgin wine, about 2 cups in total, served over crushed ice. It was naturally sweet and delicious, giving me a bit of a head-rush as I struggled to finish it. The apple tart was simply delectable. The apples had been poached in butter and sugar with cinnamon, and the crust was sparse. Served slightly warm with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, I think I ate more than my alloted half. Sorry, Maru.

Other customers in the cafe were also ordering from the special menu. Most seemed to have gone for the chance at winning rare goods, quickly wolfing down their slop to get a grab at the prize. It looked thoroughly un-enjoyable from my angle, considering that Cafe with Cat offers some of the best foods to be had at a theme-venue, but for all I know they had four hour trains home to catch. Maybe they felt as if DVD purchase demanded an obligatory visit to the cafe, if only to drop 500 more yen on a disappointment. No one in our seating won the legendary rare items.

Overall, Cafe with Wolf was a very nice and refreshing twist to the always enjoyable Cafe with Cat, though the abundance of staff seemed to be mulling in confusion due to the lack of work. Oddly, none of them cared to speak with us at length, which seemed unusual conpared previous visits. I decided to make a point card which is actually a “Secret Contract” with the resident magical cats to try to remedy this is in the future.