Sunday, 4 June 2017

Week 4: An Idolized Paradise

Back to Akihabara: Starstruck

Welcome back to the Senshu 2017 café tour for our final blog! Unfortunately we had a change of plans, originally we planned on visiting an anime café but due to the immense popularity, most of the cafés were busy to the point where there were hour long waits. Anyways, back on topic. This week we decided to visit a idol café, AKB48 café, housed in Akihabara. The café is based on the idol group AKB48. AKB meaning "Akihabara" and 48 which is a symbolic number indicating the variety of members.

Meeting Your Idols
By: Chantelle

The café carried through the concept of AKB48: “idol you can meet”. In the café, they were collecting birthday messages from fans for members and the walls inside the café were full of signatures of 48 group members. That feels like you are in the same space with the idols, but it takes time if you are looking for signature of one specific member. It is also a paradise of AKB48 fan meetings. In the café, everyone interested in AKB48(at least they are all have positive feelings toward the group) so the fans can talk about their idols freely while watching AKB48 shows on screen. For idol fans, watching idols is like charging batteries of your soul. The café provides them a place to jump from the real life to the dream place so they can escape from the stressful life for a few hours. They will become energetic again because they are moved by the idols who were trying hard on stage and they want to pay the same effort in work. I strong recommend this café to who are fan of AKB48 or interested in Japanese idols.

Learning How to Become an Idol
By: Marc

In Japanese culture アイドル or "aidoru" is a young media personality. Usually, idols start their careers at a very young age, around teenage years, and is depicted as a cute and innocent image. But where did this all start? Well in the 1970s a french movie called "Cherchez l'idole" ("Looking for an Idol") under the Japanese name, アイドルを探せ ("aidoru wo sagase"), aired in Japan. The movie featured a young french actress by the name Sylvie Vartan. When the movie was released in 1964 she and the film saw huge popularity in Japan. So the term "idol" was donned, meaning a young girl who has started her career in stardom.

For someone to become an idol they would need to go through auditions held by talent agencies and afterwards, if they are selected, go through training such as dancing and singing. Since the idol is the center of attention for idol-frenzied fans they must display the ideal image of a perfect girl. For idol otakus, this means a pure, sweet, innocent girl; oh, and of course pretty. As for skills it is necessary for the idol to be able to sing, dance, act, and even model. Truly a life of an idol is a road filled with hardships.

Idolized Fantasy 
By: Alvin

About half of AKB48 members’ ages are under 20, and the youngest member is 13 years old who was born in 2004. Many of AKB48 members are working as idols while they are still under compulsory education in Japan, which is obviously not a good stream. Japan is a society which sets a greater value on the academic career of an individual than on his or her real ability, they are basically become the leftovers and unable to find another jobs to support themselves after they graduate from the group, In fact, 7 members in the past became “stars” in some other special industry in Japan after they left the group. Rather than educational problem, maybe it is a little bit go over, but it maybe considers as symptoms of pedophilia which people prefer watching performances by minors. Actually, according to the report released by National Police Agency, there is a rising number of crimes that is related to boys and girls under 20 years old.

The Remains of Idols
By: Betty

When we entered the AKB48 café, we have recognized that messages and drawings from some of the AKB48 members were framed in gold to welcome customers, that gave us a very homely feeling. However, since we chose the seats in the theatre area, we were able to watch the latest concert of AKB48 on the big screen while we ate our meal. For people who have ordered food in the café, there was a one-time chance for each order to win a coaster with a member’s face. This gives customers, especially fans of AKB48, an exciting experience since you won’t know which member’s coaster you will be getting until you draw. Again, it will be pleasant if the coaster that you won is your favorite member. We also recognized that messages from the members were written on the walls of the theatre. Members tend to express their ideas through these messages for customers who come the café and thank for their support. In addition, an AKB48 shop is connected to the AKB48 café on the other side. After the meal, we browsed many AKB48 goods such as small panels and rulers with pictures of members on them. Most of us only have chance to watch performances from video clip, however, there was also an exhibition of a member’s live-performing cloth in the front of the shop that customers can get closer to have a look and take pictures. This gave us an unforgettable and rare experience as usually these clothes are only worn for live performances. Moreover, there was another side of view in the hallway to the washroom, we have recognized that pictures of all AKB48 members are on both sides of the wall, that customers can take pictures. We have also recognized there were also messages written in Chinese from SNH48 (another 48-group idols) as SNH48 members mainly active in China. We have felt that all idol groups bring people all over the world together, and the café gives them an opportunity to share the same interest and the enjoyable atmosphere that customers have a feeling in which they are getting closer to the idols.

And that is it for our Piece of Cake blog. We hope everyone who reads this gets inspired to visit the myriad of café that Japan has to offer.
From all of the members of the Piece of Cake blog we thank you!!! 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Week 3: A Cat-acular Week!

Cat-stophe in Shinjuku

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to our Senshu 2017 week 3 café tour. This week’s theme is a cat café. Cat cafés are quite popular in Japan as customers are giving opportunities to play with cats in an enjoyable café environment. There we have visited Cat Café Calico, a café in Shinjuku, where we had a nice afternoon with our feline friends!

A Mew Experience: 
By: Betty & Chantelle

For pricing there was an initial entry fee of 1000 yen for 1 hour. Before we could enter the kitty wonderland we had to change our shoes into more comfortable slippers and right after we did quick scrub of our hands. The food/drink menu was in either Japanese, English and Chinese, making both native speakers and foreigners alike communicate effectively. After going through the initial cat room/reception we headed downstairs to the main room where the most of the cast of cats were hanging out. We have noticed that the café housed a myriad of cat toys and funiture, for example, a cat tower and a mini cushion, that allows customers to catch the cutest moment of cats. In addition, cat snacks were available for purchase to feed some of them, although the ones with scarves were not allowed any snacks.

After playing with cats, everyone was getting a bit tired, so we have decided to order some food. The café assistant has led us to an isolated room for food and drinks only. There we have ordered a Japanese style omelet rice and a slice of cheesecake to enjoy the rest of the time.

Are You Kitten Me?
By: Marc & Alvin

If you were a child in the western world then some of the first things you learned were animal sounds. For example, the dog goes "Bark Bark!" and the cow goes "Moooooo!". And of course for us we learned that the cat goes "Meowwwww!". However, different countries interpret sounds sometimes way different than how we perceive them. In Japan, the cat goes "Nyaaa~". Some believe that depending how intimate a culture is with a certain animal will result on the interpretation of that animals sounds. Regardless, of how a culture hears these sounds we can still hear a recognizable pattern that makes us associate that sound with a certain animal. Another possible reason for the different spelling is the limitation of the a cultures language. Japan's native language has 46 basic letters, each with its own specific sounds. While we have only 26 letters in the Roman alphabet but how we arrange them gives us a different sound. Whether, its "Meow" or "Nyaa~" we still have the ability to talk to cats... Kind of....

A Not So Paw-sitive Insight
By: Betty & Chantelle 

More than 40 cats were living in the cat café. Although the café was a great place for customers who are cat lovers and want to be surrounded by a lot of cats, it is questionable that whether the environment is good for well-being of the cats. As we have seen, the cats were not interested in neither toys nor interaction with customers. They would like to rest at the spots that are no customers rather than establishing contacts with other cats or people. We were wondering that if the cats enjoy living in the cafe. However, it is possible that cats prefer to sleep in the afternoon to save energy for the night. We visited the café in the afternoon, so they might be having rest and we were kind of disturbing them. Even though the cat café set up some rules for customers to follow in order to reduce the degree of disturbance, the living space for the cats were a bit crowded. We enjoyed the hour in the café with the cute cats and as a customer, more cats mean we can have contact with the cats more frequently. This is a joyful experience anyways and we would like to visit more animal themed cafés. 

Purr-ecious Visit
By: Marc & Alvin

The cat café we had visited is basically a mini theme park similar with Disneyland, although the mascot is changed from mice to cats. The only fee they are requiring to pay is the entrance fee, and then they solely no longer care about whatever you do in their café except terrorizing their feline friends  This Cat Café is a combination of cat and manga café which allows customers to enjoy manga and cats in the same time. There were a couple individuals here there reading a good manga but like us most of them had their attention on the cats. We took our time playing and petting the cats we even ordered some snacks to feed them. However  we found that without the snacks they would otherwise
ignore us. This reminds me how the animals are treated not only in this cat café but also other animals’ café since some animals, for example: owls, originally are not good for keeping as pet or having contact with human frequently. They are actually under high stress conditions and may develop self-injurious behaviors much easier than our house pet. But anyways, animals’ cafés are decided for people who cannot keep pets in their houses and apartments which is a common phenomenon in Japanese society by providing places for customers to play with animals in order to relieve stress. Nowadays, Animals’ café is another way, rather than playing games or watching films, to cure individuals’ harmed minds.

Well that's all for this week! Join us for our final stop, a subculture that usually comes to mind when we think of Japan, the famous anime café! Nyaa~

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Week 2: Living the Maidreamin

Akihabara: A Town Filled with Culture

Hello, everyone! Or as the maids at the cafe would say, "Nyaa~ Nyaa~!". This week the cafe tour crew headed to the electric town of Akihabara where we shared an experience that we will never forget. There we went to the Maidreamin cafe, one of the more popular and well-known maid cafes in Japan.

A Discovery in Electric Town
By: Alvin & Betty

We visited the Maidreamin in Akihabara on May 17th, 2017. It is a very common chain maid café in Akihabara that you can find different stores easily there. Maids in Akihabara stand on the roadside as showgirls to welcome their customers(ご主人様 お嬢様, master & lady). In a few years maids in Akihabara become more concerned with foreign customers, they will tend to ask what language the customers want and try their best efforts to ensure that they enjoy their trips in wonderland(夢の国.

Many people may expect they will receive special services which are different than what experience in a standard café, for instance customers expecting free pictures with the maids, however, that is not true. Everything you wish to do or do with the maid will have to charge you for a certain fee. For example, live band show and cocktail show. Furthermore, the café menus are generally more expensive, but it is expected.  After our research at the café, rather than interacting with the maids, customers are willing to spend some money to get out of the reality and settle themselves in the wonderland(夢の国)through an immigration process hold by the café which is to light up the “Dream Candle”(夢のろうそく).

After we have done some research, there is a slang in Japan saying メイドはアキバのアイドル, “ maid is the idol in Akihabara”, in fact, when we were visiting Maidreamin, there was a mini-live show which we saw customers actively participate in. Maids in Akihabara basically become the symbol and idol of all otakus.

A Maid Education
By: Alvin & Betty

After going to the Maidreamin Café, we have learned that working at a maid café is not an easy task. The maids should satisfy all appropriate wishes from masters and mistresses. For example, singing and dancing in a living performance (if it was requested), and always was nice and energetic towards the customers. During our stay at the maid café, we were lucky to have experienced a living performance first-hand. Although we can tell by her face that the maid who was requested to have the performance was tired of performing, she still tried her best to perform. The maids also taught us a magic spell that would make our food become more delicious in this wonderland. All you need to do was to say, “moe, moe, cute.” before eating. Furthermore, because of some of the customers' busy life, we learned that most of them went to the maid café to relax and enjoy their time there. A maid café brings different people with same the same interests to a wonderland. It also shows you how to respect each other and make your food and experience become more enjoyable and unique.

Maids and "Moe"
By: Marc & Chantelle

While searching for the Maidreamin cafe we found a lone maid outside handing flyers, seemly targeting male audiences and that's how we discovered the cafe. As we exited the elevator we greeted with "Irasshaimase, goshujinsama~!" (Meaning, "Welcome Master") by the energetic staff, all dressed in a maid uniform. Our waitress then went through the menu, filled with cute, animal-shaped foods and desserts. The common theme between the food and the cute girls in maid uniforms can be considered to be "moe" or the Japanese slang for someone having strong feelings towards a certain topic. Kinda like how we audibly awe when we see a cute puppy, but with a more general and stronger kind of emotion/reaction. Usually, you will find otakus (The Japanese slang for someone who is obessed with computers, anime, manga, ect. There is even such things such as military otakus and train otakus) using the term "moe", geared towards their favourite anime character, however, in this case the term can be applied to maids as well and it's interesting how much to an extent the maids are willing to go to be "moe". In our outing to the maidreamin cafe the maids would end their sentences in "nyaa", the Japanese version of what a cat's meow sounds like. Or how to get a maid's attention we would have to call out "nyaa nyaa". We were also given a live performance with one of the girls dancing and singing on stage all in the name of "moe". Of course, this really was meant to draw in customers, focusing on the "otaku" demographic though other parties may be interested as well such as curious tourists or a couple of salary men looking to relax and have some fun. For us, while there were some embarrassing moments, we still found ourselves caught in this moe wave and went along with the ride.  

A Unique Memory
By: Marc & Chantelle

We found out that courage is important for being a customer in a maid café because we could not treat maid cafés like the other kinds of café. Our common sense could not apply to the maid café. The atmosphere and rules in maid cafés are so different from the other cafés we have ever visited. Every action required courage and we would be put in a more awkward situation if we did not follow the rules. In maid cafés, customers act as masters and audiences to satisfy their desires of role-playing. When a customer ordered a live show of a maid, the maid is going to perform on the stage with an original song written by the maid café and dance performance. We had the chance of being wota(maniac) of idol performer and did wotagei (cheering gestures to support the performer). Although we felt awkward doing wotagei at the beginning, we were gaining confidence by the encouragement from other maids. As we ordered a set menu, a bunny ears headband was included in the set and we could bring it home. Many customers in the café ordered, and were wearing the hairbands, we decided to wear the bunny ears to enjoy the atmosphere. 

Week 4: An Idolized Paradise

Back to Akihabara: Starstruck Welcome back to the Senshu 2017 café tour for our final blog! Unfortunately we had a change of plans, ori...