Monday, October 25, 2010


Sex Malls, French Maids, Cute Geeks in Akiba, Tokyo

On the last day of auditions for ‘Starstruck V’ in Tokyo, some of the guys working at the Koozy Bar where we held the auditions gamely took us around their city, despite them having no sleep from working the night before, and being up the whole day in support of our auditions. Most of my female colleagues would rather go shopping for souvenirs; I'd rather walk around aimlessly exploring this fascinating, ultra-modern metropolis. Our hosts decided that Akihabara or Akiba would be the best place to explore on a Sunday night since it will surely be bustling with life, it has some of the best stores for discount, souvenir, and electronics shopping, and it has that night market vibe that truly gives you a clue about the people and the culture of the foreign land you are in. But to say that Akihabara, also known as Electric Town or Denki-gai, is to Tokyo as Divisoria or Greenhills is to Manila and Chatuchak and Pratunam is to Bangkok might be an understatement.

Check out Akihabara on my favorite photoblog on Japan,!

From the Filipino Koozy Bar at the heart of Kinshicho, probably among the most multi-cultural in Tokyo (there are lots of Russian bars, and there is a genuine Filipino restaurant down the street from Koozy), the train station is a few minutes walk away. Crossing the busy streets is a breeze because aside from the traffic lights, sometimes there are policemen wielding lighted sabers to signal cars to stop and pedestrians to cross. The overpass over the intersection to the station even has outdoor escalators. Our good-looking Pinoy hosts, TJ (sister of Nina Kodaka) and another whose name eludes me now, pointed out the ridged gray bricks on the streets are so the visually impaired can easily navigate the city.

From the Kinshicho station, we took the Japan Railway Line (JR Line) to Akihabara, which is just three stations away. Tokyo’s highly efficient and very, very busy train system has about 20 lines (Manila has LRT 1 & 2 and MRT Lines). The umi-ispaghetting system map can be daunting even to locals but I’m glad we aren’t taking the subway this time because we’d get to glimpse this great Asian hub from the elevated railways.

Akihabara Station, even on a Sunday night, proved to be crazy busy. If you’re not careful, the polite crowd could carry you along. Just finding the right exit from the station can be intimidating at first but there are lots of maps and English signs, and station staff knows some English. The Japanese commuters may be infamous for their haste but amidst the throngs of students, salarymen, women, elderly, cute boys, and colorful teens rushing to and from every direction, one would endlessly hear their wakarimasen’s (Japanese for "Sorry"/ "Excuse me"). They also do not hog the escalators, the few willing to wait for the moving steps to run its course will stay on the left side so the more typical on-the-go Japanese could pass through the right. Such displays of organization and consideration are clues on why Japan is successful.

Emerging from the station to the street would be much like how Alice felt squeezing out of a rabbit hole into Wonderland. Akihabara, much like most of Tokyo, is an assault to the senses. It’s like waking up early in the morning and turning on the TV to a violent anime scene on full volume! The narrow street where we emerged is lined with electronics shops to the left, and makeshift outdoor food stalls and restaurants serving international foods and snacks to the right. ANG GULO! ANG INGAY! ANG SAYA!

The busiest areas cover I think about 2 kilometers of tall, brightly-lit buildings selling everything – electronics, computers, cellphones, manga, anime toys, sex toys, porn! The sidewalks are filled with foreigners as awestruck as us, serious bargain-hunters, and geeky Japanese yuppies. The stunning, mouth-watering stores, afraid you won’t notice their bright neon colored signs and billboards, sing out sales pitches from blaring speakers as salesmen recite them while wearing head-worn microphones and passing out leaflets. But the most attention-grabbing street ads are the Japanese girls dressed up as scantily-clad French maids inviting you for a drink at their “maid cafe” (quite a few are dressed as pastel-colored furry animals, too). I didn’t bother visiting this only-in-Japan establishment…until the next day. But tonight, I will check out those sex malls, er, shops (yes, there were more than one)!

One of the adult stores I checked out was four-storeys high, and the topmost part is restricted only to men, thought it seems to me that the merchandise at the non-restricted areas are just as raunchy. The excitement and 'feeling like a pervert' were soon overwhelmed with the humor and normalcy in the way the adult toys, goods, costumes, and porn are sold. Nor will you feel guilty just browsing through them the way I felt when I once dared walk through Greenbelt 5. The Japanese are very friendly and eager to help out, a surprising fact after bad experiences with masusungit locals of Singapore.

The next day, I returned to Akihabara alone to again meet with Lara. Most of the time I just rely on my LonelyPlanet Tokyo Encounter guidebook but asking for directions won't be a problem because despite their reputation, most Japanese could functionally converse English since learning English is given premium here. Lara, a college friend who followed her family to Japan right after graduation, earns well in Yokohama (the second largest city in Japan) teaching English at the International School, pero parang hindi niya ini-imbibe ang Japan. First time daw niyang mag-subway nu’ng naandu’n na’ko kasi natatakot daw siya. Anyway, we decided to talk to one of the French maids. Based on the number of French maids giddily campaigning for their cafes out in the streets, I estimate 20-60 competing cafes in Akihabara. When Lara and I were decided, the girl left her post to walk us to her café (it will be both our first time). Finding places in high density Tokyo is a difficulty compounded by a tricky address system (blocks, rather than streets, are named; houses are numbered by the order they were built, etc.) so this is another great service. The MaiDreaming maid café is a small restaurant located at the sixth floor of a narrow building. This was around 9PM but it seemed we were the first customers. We spent about thirty minutes in there, and only because we felt it rude to leave immediately, but maybe the French maids should’ve figured that we are not at all their target market. A large group of young Japanese salarymen I judged as textbook ‘otaku’ arrived as soon as Lara paid the outrageously humongous bill (good thing Lara was paying). Down the street, we both felt bad not warning the young African-Westerner male tourist we saw as we stepped out of the elevator. He seemd as clueless as we were as he was accompanied by the maid café temptress.

Akiba was a littler less busy by then. Lara treated me (again) to sushi and beer, we walked a bit, even saw a store selling second hand digicams (pero sa standards natin bagu-bago pa at napakamura at about 2,000 pesos) but it was already closed. ‘Di bale, I thought, I’ll just come back. Soon i hope.

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