Maid Cafes and Gaming…

maid-cafe-22814399As you know from my last article I spent several hours on Sunday in the Akihabara section of Tokyo.  There seems to be an abundance of what are called ‘Maid Cafes’ here.  While I did not go into any of them, I was confronted by several of these maids on the street handing out fliers and beckoning patrons into their ‘Best Maid Cafe in Tokyo’. 

From what I can tell these cafes cater to men (and women I suppose) with a maid fetish… and from what I am told they go all out.  The patron is welcomed into the cafe as if he is the master of the house, with WELCOME HOME MASTER! (Okaerinasaimase, goshujinsama).  They may be offered face cloths and a menu, which I am told would be similar to any cafe (except for the prices).

I admit that the picture I have posted here was found on Bing… I asked several of these maids if I could take their picture, but none of them were willing.  I am told that inside the cafes you can take pictures with your maid… for $20 a pop.  Should any of you be that obsessed that you need me to take that picture, I will gladly put your donations toward the cause.  Otherwise I am saving my money for … well, I don’t know what I am saving it for, but not for this.

Tokyo seems to be a city obsessed with fetishes… from these maid cafes to the anime porn I discussed in my previous article.  To each his or her own I say, I am content to just watching the people in the street.

DSCN3909Moving on: The loudest place you are ever likely to find yourself is not a rock concert or a night club; it is a pachinko parlour in Tokyo.  I would love to describe Pachinko to you, but I admit I do not understand it.  It is a gambling device as I understand it, where you pour little metal balls into the top of the machine, and they cascade down through a maze that seems to all lead to them coming out the bottom… but there has to be more to it.  I walked into one parlour in Akihabara that seemed to be themed after the immensely popular AKB48 – a Japanese girl group with eighty-odd members.  They are apparently one of the highest earning musical acts in the world, and they are truly a social phenomenon here.

If I understand correctly, the girls sign a contract that prohibits all sorts of unacceptable behaviour.  With that being said it seems that a number of them have moved on to break that contract, with a number of them finding their calling in the world of pornographic movies… and not the anime variety.  Power to them, those starlet/idols are immediately excommunicated from the group who seem to portray themselves and extremely sexy but purely wholesome.

More tomorrow… stay tuned!

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Akihabara

I hadn’t planned to get up particularly early, but I suppose i am still a little jet lagged; I left the room at 8:30, had breakfast downstairs, and headed to the subway.  While I grew up a master of the Metro system in Montreal, I am still not particularly familiar with the Toronto subway system, with the exception of the five or so stops I have taken on a regular basis.  Let’s assume that if I were to stay in Tokyo for a hundred years I would not get to know all of this system…

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So to answer your question, yes I did accidentally get a little lost… but not terribly so, and only on the way back to my hotel.  It wasn’t a big deal though – the line I was on is a loop, and I got on going in the wrong direction.  Once I figured it out I realized it was just as easy to stay put and get off when my stop does come around 🙂

DSCN3907I opted to visit the Akihabara area first because everyone told me to… it is an incredible collection of electronic retailers and more… on a scale that puts New York City’s to shame.  I had no interest in buying anything, but I did want to walk around and see what was on offer.  The simple answer is… everything… and more.

The building pictured (Akiba Zone) is not nearly the only one of its kind, and I am not entirely sure how to describe it.  It seems to be a vertical shopping centre that focuses primarily on anime-type goods, but there is also an army surplus store in it, and a cafe at the top.  The bottom line is that it is a shopping complex that you would think was devoted to kids, except that there are areas of some of the stores that are 18+ only… and for good reason.

I have been here four days and I have yet to figure out if in Japan the porn is anime, or if anime is their pornography.  I think might actually be a little of both.  I will say that there seems to be an unhealthy focus on these characters – they are everywhere – and some of them are not things that children should be exposed to.  However it is not simply animated movies… there are DSCN3879comic books and figurines (shown) on a massive scale that can be overwhelming to the feint of heart.  Heck, it can be overwhelming to anyone!

Why are they disturbing?  The first store I walked into had a hundred displays like the one pictured here.  The figurines have prices that start at about $20… and some of them are in extremely disturbing poses!

I am not entirely sure which scares me most… that people think these up and create them, or that there is a market sufficiently large that there are stores dedicated entirely to this… genre!

DSCN3881Incidentally there was another block (this one only 4 stories tall) that was dedicated to adult entertainment.  There was an interesting twist to it… Each floor was dedicated to a specific theme (for example, Floor 2 was toys for women).  The 3rd floor was for men… and while men were allowed on the 2nd floor, women were forbidden on the third floor!  I thought this was weird… but hey, I am learning.  No, I did not take pictures! 🙂

I turned down an alleyway in the Electric Jungle and came across this scene… a very traditional Japanese dwelling, complete with the garden.  I am not sure if this is a private home or a memorial or something, but it was certainly anachronistic in this setting… and a welcome change 🙂

Speaking of anachronisms, The Yushima Seido is a shrine to Confucius, and  is an amazing structure just a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of Akihabara.  It cost me 200 Yen to get in (about $2) and it was well worth it.  here are a few pictures…

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…it is amazing to think that all of that beauty is right behind the trees on the other side of this roadway pictured:

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I must have done five miles of walking, so I am glad that I wore my sneakers.  I came back to the hotel to write (I haven’t forgotten my faithful readers!) and to rest up a little… Tonight is another adventure!

Pictures from Day 2…

I have been in Japan since Wednesday evening, and it is now Saturday morning.  For my readers in North America the time shift is simple… this morning in Japan is yesterday evening for you, and this evening in Japan will be this morning for you.  I think…

I have been promising that I would start taking pictures, and I am true to my word.  Here are just a few from yesterday.

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The sashimi was absolutely wonderful, and as the night before much fresher than I had ever had.  However I also love the elegance with which it was served.  I am not entirely sure what fish I was eating, but it was all scrumptious.

 

 

 

 

 

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I have eaten tempura in many Japanese restaurants in North America, and it is always the same… some is better than others, but the concept is almost always identical, as is the batter and the sauce.  This was my first Asian Tempura plate, and I was amazed.  The batter was completely different, and notice that in lieu of sauce they gave me a plate of salt.  It was a new way for me to eat it, and it was delicious.  As with the sashimi, I did not recognize a few of t he pieces… especially the thing with tentacles (which i suspect may be squid).

DSCN3847I do not know if this is the Japanese equivalent of a hot dog stand, but as I walked along the street at 11pm I came across this cart.  The man in the white shirt appeared to be a regular Japanese salaryman who had stepped out for a bowl of fast food noodles on a street corner.  In contrast to so much bling and neon ads, I loved the elegance of this vendor’s cart, with only the lantern advertising what he is selling, and what I assume is a menu posted at the top on a sheet of plain white paper.

 

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In contrast to the next photo, this was quite obviously an eatery… people were enjoying themselves after a hard day at work.  There was food and beer on the tables (which appeared to be beer barrels with a table top).  The beer was not in tiny elegant glasses by the way… these were very generous sized steins.  I do not know what the lanterns and signs say, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they read ‘You want to be where everybody knows your name.’

 

DSCN3851 It is hard for me to identify what a lot of businesses are unless they have the pictures in the window.  It was late and I was exhausted, but I thought the staircase leading to this business stood out; I would have had to step into traffic to photograph it as well as I would have liked, but I hope this is okay.  I assume that it is either a restaurant or a bar, but in truth I do not know.  Maybe the next time I walk by (it is only a few blocks from my hotel) I will venture upstairs and see what wonders await… or will I be disappointed after setting my expectations too high?  We’ll see…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I am venturing out for lunch at a colleague’s house, which means I am getting onto the subway for the first time since I arrived.  After lunch I will probably hit downtown Tokyo… tomorrow’s pictures will be plentiful I promise!

Japan: Day 1

Akachōchin lantern outside an izakaya; the cha...

Akachōchin lantern outside an izakaya; the characters read “izakaya” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I arrived at the hotel thoroughly exhausted yesterday, which I suppose is to be expected.  Fortunately the check-in process was smooth and simple, and I got into my room within five minutes.

If I had to pick a single word to describe Japan so far it would be Efficient.  Certainly it is clean and everyone is polite, but those could both be turned off in a heartbeat.  The country just seems to be designed with an efficiency second to none, and from the ground up.  Most of that is wonderful; as it pertains to the size of the guest rooms in hotels, less so… but that is fine, because it may be small but it has everything that I might need.

I have had my first two meals.  Dinner last night was absolutely delicious – Mark-san met me at the hotel shortly after I got settled (okay, maybe settled is the wrong word; after I dropped my gear in my room), and took me to the Izakaya in the lobby for dinner.  Fortunately he ordered… everything was delicious, but there was no indication that anyone there spoke English, nor was the menu translated.  It’s a good thing there are pictures on it!

I was asleep by 9:00pm… I could have stayed up later, but it would have involved using toothpicks to hold my eyes open.  I woke up refreshed after eight hours plus, but that still had my eyes open at 5:30am.  I got onto the computer and caught up on my emails, then called my wife before showering and heading down for breakfast.

I have said many times before that the only three things I need in a hotel are a comfortable bed, a good shower, and decent Internet.  This hotel absolutely delivers on all of those.  Something I might add to my list however is sufficient place to unpack my suitcases, which this hotel is severely lacking.  I have never been in a hotel without a chest of drawers… or even a useable single drawer anywhere.  Okay, everything that hangs has been hung, but for everything else it looks like I will be living out of a suitcase for the duration.  Not a cheery thought, but not terrible.

I had heard weird stories about the toilets here, but sure enough it is a contraption unlike any I have ever seen.  I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that it is very hygienically helpful.

Breakfast was (and will be every day) in one of the hotel restaurants.  It was a simple but complete buffet (making it easy for me to not make too much of an ass of myself).  The food is excellent.  In addition to the things I cannot begin to identify, there is also cereal, yogurt, sausages, croissants, juice, tea, and coffee.  I skipped all of that today and had a bowl of miso soup, some grilled salmon, a couple of dumplings and meatballs.  Yum!

Following breakfast I went for my first (of many) Japanese walk. People were right – I am by far the tallest person I have seen since I arrived.  It was raining but I didn’t mind – I wasn’t going too far.  I walked about a kilometre out and back down one main street – it wouldn’t do for me to get lost when I have a 10:00am meeting – and just enjoyed watching the people, looking in shop windows, and stretching my legs.  I even found one of the Rakuten Towers – I don’t know which one I will be working in – and Mark was right… it is definitely a close walk.

I don’t know why I was surprised to see people smoking in the restaurant last night… I know the non-smoking craze is chiefly North American.  However I was more surprised to see that there was not a single cigarette butt on the street anywhere.  As I mentioned, this is a VERY clean city.

I haven’t been able to get any Yen yet… I am told there are CitiBank machines that i will be able to use, the two that I tried this morning very apologetically could not use my cards.  Fortunately my Visa card worked at the train station yesterday!

I spent the morning at the office meeting what felt like everyone… Japanese offices, or at least the ones at this company, are very different from the ones I have seen.  They have an open concept – no cubicles.  Every floor has rows of tables, and people seem to work with their team, with the manager sitting on the end.  I will not be discussing much about the company, but I am told this is typical here.

The lunch room was jammed… wow, all I can say.  I had a great meal with miso soup, noodles, fish, salad, beans, and orange yogurt for desert.  It was great, and yes, I did eat it all with chopsticks without making a fool of myself!  (Okay, the yogurt I ate with a spoon… as did my Japanese colleague.

More tomorrow… the advantage of having a hotel right next to the office is that when I have two hours between meetings and am suffering from jetlag I can come take a nap.  More tomorrow! –MDG

P.S. For those of you waiting for pictures I assure you they are coming… I haven’t taken any yet, but this week-end I will!

Big in Japan…

There has been a rumour floating around that I was not happy at Microsoft Canada.  Whoever started that rumour was not me, and it could not have been further from the truth.  I have loved working with the DPE Team, I have loved almost everything about the past year.

With that being said, over the past few months I have come to the decision that my hands-on experience is getting a little long in the tooth.  I started thinking about taking on a new challenge where I could get my hands dirty again.  After all, one of the reasons I am as credible as I am is because I do have the real-world experience, and do not just live in front of a class.

A gentleman who has attended several of my sessions over the past year approached me in June and asked if I would be interested in discussing a project.  I told him what I tell most people who approach me about projects or jobs: I am always happy to listen.  We scheduled a meeting to have a cup of coffee later in the month.  That meeting turned into two and three and four, until we decided that we both wanted to do business with the other.

Knowing who this man was I was certain that whether we would be a good fit or not, it would certainly be an interesting conversation.  I was not disappointed.  The part that did surprise me though was that this opportunity was to take us both to the head office of the parent company… in Tokyo, Japan.

There is an old expression that says you should shoot for the stars, so that if you miss you will still hit the moon.  This opportunity in Japan is indeed shooting for the stars.  And so I am thrilled to announce that on September 24th I will be boarding Air Canada flight 003, Japan bound.

Unlike all of my previous overseas business trips, this is not for a week or two at a time.  I may get excited that I am going away, but I never have to write an article explaining that things will be changing.

Last week I announced that I was changing teams at Microsoft Canada.  My role there is essentially a Senior Server Champ… although that is not my title, and indeed I do not have one.  I was actually put onto that team because neither side wants to sever our connections, but I am obviously taking a bit of a hiatus from Microsoft Canada.

While this project will see me working with Microsoft Japan as well as some of the product teams in Redmond, I will not be working for them; rather, I will be working for the customer, and not representing Microsoft… for now.

I expect this blog, The World According to Mitch, will continue to thrive… but differently.  I expect that I will want to write a book about what I am doing, and not simply blog articles.

And as for the details… well, it is hard to say.  Until I get there and am told otherwise I do not intend to disclose any information about the customer I will be working for.  Will that change?  I don’t know.  In the meantime, I will be living in Tokyo, and I expect that there will be enough culture shock for me to post interesting (if slightly less technical) articles on a regular basis.  No, I do not expect to be like Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball, as I am going in with a much better understanding (and respect) of the culture.  That does not mean I will fit in… but here’s hoping I won’t make too much of an ass of myself!

In the meantime I will be in Redmond this week, so there just may be a technical post or two left before I leave!