Greetings from the future (as long as you're not in between me and the international date line, in which case I say greetings from the past)!
Let's see, where do I start talking about my time in Japan? I guess I'll skip the boring stuff (the original version of this rant had several thousand extraneous and boring words about the plane ride over) and get to:
The Highlight of the trip so far
After landing at Narita Airport in the evening, my friend Mikelurker and I went to Saitama and met up with Asmodeus, who welcomed us to the area and took us to a restaurant. While we were eating dinner, he let slip that he really wanted a black Nintendo DS Lite, and given that my DS Lite had seen about a total of one hour of use and I honestly liked my old DS better, I pulled it out and gave it to him on the spot. It was honestly no skin off my back, since the main reason I had the Nintendo DS on my person was to make up for the fact that there was no phone in my right pocket (I felt unbalanced without its familiar weight).
Asmodeus was surprised and thankful, given that the Nintendo DS is about as hard to find in Japan as a french fry in a fat farm. He mentioned that in a few hours, it would be the 28th and his birthday, so it became an impromptu and awesome birthday gift for him. This fact became important about 14 hours later.
By the time we were done with dinner, it was about 11 PM Japanese time, or 6 AM Pacific time, but we weren't allowed to sleep yet. Asmodeus took us to a karaoke place, where we sang all sorts of obscure or nerdy songs (Example: did you know that on some DBZ CD somewhere, Vegeta sings a song that teaches children how to make okonomiyaki? It's strange and utterly awesome). Two hours after THAT, we were ready to roll over and die, so it was definitely time to head to Asmodeus' overly large 2 bed/1 bath/7.5 tatami apartment and die, which we did.
Now, the day of the 28th was the designated day for us to walk Akihabara, so that's what we did. Starting at around 11, we made the rounds in Nerd Central, looking at everything from USB trinkets to action figures. Exercising surprising restraint, I was able to avoid buying an entire figure store and just stuck to the items that were actually on my shopping list, like Wild Arms V and a couple of music CDs. All in all, it was kind of a boring day of toy shopping, except for two incidents that turned it from a day of random shopping
First, we ran into pixiebell (another old college buddy of mine) at the Yodobashi Camera store in Akihabara. Now, pixiebell is the last person you'd ever expect to meet in Akiba, given that individual pieces of her wardrobe tend to cost more than most game consoles. After falling into old habits like me making jokes at her expense and her taking advantage of her shorter stature to deliver well-deserved punches to sensitive areas of my body, Asmodeus, Mikelurker and I ran off to keep wandering the town.
The second story is much more amusing, and I'm not sure how I'll be able to tell it properly.
So, because Mikelurker and I had never been to one before, we ended up wandering into one of Akihabara's fabled maid cafes. The particular cafe we went to, @home saboh, had a maid section and a kimono section, and given the choice between a 5-minute wait for the kimono-clad waitresses or a one-hour wait for the maids, we chose the less frightening option.
The moment we came in, we were greeted with cries of "okaerinasaimase, danna-sama" (a slightly archaic version of "welcome home, master"), and I felt distinctly uncomfortable and ready to leave, especially since Asmodeus kept grinning and goading me to act like I was a 16th century samurai and master of the house. As one of the youngest of 20 Asian grandchildren, I'll never be comfortable with people acting subservient to me, because it just doesn't happen, and when these girls kept bowing and calling me master, I felt like screaming and fleeing from Bizarro World.
Despite all of the distractions, though, I eventually relaxed and discovered that the whole experience was really soothing. While my image of most maid cafes involves frighteningly peppy girls and terrifyingly obsessed customers, the atmosphere at @home saboh's non-maid floor was very mellow. The cutesiness was kept to a minimum in favor of an old-style Japanese feel complete with faint koto and shakuhachi music, while the services intended for lonely customers were also absent ("play games with a maid!" "Get a foot massage from a maid!" etc.). The tea was good, and, as I noted to our guide, there weren't any frightening fanboys to disturb us while we waited for our snacks to come out, which was conducive to quiet conversations over tea, which is as much as you can ever hope for at a cafe.
Asmodeus explained that ever since Densha Otoko made it less freakish to go to Akihabara, maid cafes have become less of a sideshow and more of a place for people to go while they're in Akiba. Thus, the improved ratio of crazed fanboys to normal people coming in for sweets and a good atmosphere.
Then he pulled out his new Nintendo DS Lite, and all hell broke loose.
One of the waitresses came by to refill our teacups and noticed his DS, commenting on it as she poured. He mentioned that he'd received it as a birthday present, and at that point she put down the teapot and clasped her hands over her mouth in surprise.
Aside: have you ever brought a friend to some place where they have loud and embarrassing birthday songs just so you can watch the combination of anger and embarrassment as the entire waitstaff comes out and does all manner of obnoxiously loud birthday celebrations? They have nothing on maid cafes, lemme tell you.
So anyway, she clapped her hands over her mouth and asked in surprise if it was Asmodeus' birthday. When he said yes and showed his ID as proof, she started talking about how maid cafes have special services just for people on their birthday. As she excitedly bustled her way into the back, it was Asmodeus' turn to look anxious and want to leave, while Mikelurker and I just grinned at him and started making jokes about how we were going to go maid cafe-hopping for the rest of the day (we didn't, but it wasn't for lack of effort) just to see what each place was going to do.
After a few anxious minutes of us taunting him for the "special service" he was about to receive at the hands of the waitresses, Asmodeus rolled his eyes toward heaven and apologized to his ancestors for being a horrible person. He still didn't quite have a good idea of what they were going to do to him, and the anticipation of embarrassment was excruciating to him, which only made it more hilarious to the two of us.
A few minutes after that, we looked around in surprise as the lights dimmed. The waitresses filed out of the kitchen area and solemnly-and, it must be noted, in the most subservient manner possible-announced to the entire cafe that it was our friend's birthday, and that they wanted everyone in the cafe to express their birthday wishes in song.
As we all sang Happy Birthday to him, the girls brought him a tea cake with a candle, then dragged him off to the side of the cafe for a special birthday-only picture of him surrounded by girls (note that under normal circumstances, photos in a maid cafe are strictly forbidden, though they sell "bromides" of the most popular waitresses/maids).
The two of us waved cheerily at Asmodeus as he was dragged off with the look of a man condemned to death, and when he came back, all he could do was hang his head in shame at giving us such great blackmail material, while we kept telling him that he's probably the only one of us who'll ever live through that experience, and that even if he feels ashamed now at being caught in a maid cafe, some day he'll look back on the whole thing and laugh.
Or he'll still feel ashamed, but really, that's not our problem, we got a great story out of it.
Anyway, It looks like Mike has just fallen asleep watching Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu, so I think that's my cue to end this rant and go to sleep myself.
Tomorrow: Disney Sea.