Izumi was carrying a mystery novel with her. Was she planning to read in the maid café? Could she not at least carry in a bag, or would it clash with the maid uniform?
Tanaka was wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt with a circular emblem with geometric shapes inside it printed on its front. He also had a large backpack. Where did he think we were going to? Shopping in Akiba?
I, for my part, brought a notebook, and some writing utensils in case I needed to write some idea down. I was dressed normally, in kaki shorts, a white shirt and sandals.
“I have my doubts whether this trip is going to lead to anything fruitful but since you asked for it I’ll take you to the Maid Café.”
Yamada enunciated these words while adjusting his red cap with the Ferrari emblem on the front. Yamada, who was leading us, also wore shades, brown sleeveless gloves, a loose Large sized graphic t-shirt with the graphic anime illustration of a twelve year old-looking twin-tailed girl with bluish-purple hair and large eyes with a dead-pan expression. On the back of the t-shirt the words “baka bakka” (バカばっか) were printed. I guess Yamada’s parents didn’t really care about what he was up to.
Then again I suppose, he would blend right in, with a maid café’s patrons. I didn’t say that though, cause he might get annoyed.
After a short walk from the station we arrived at the main business centre and we stood in front of a well-known Victorian-styled bar in town called “The Moon Under Water.”
“By a Maid Café, you couldn’t have meant this place, could you?” Tanaka asked. “It’s a bar so I doubt minors like us are allowed to go there on our own… though I have been in there with my parents. The barmaids might look cute but they are hardly real maids.”
Well, it’s not like the maids in Maid Cafes are real maids either. Was that a bad thing? Well, in any case he was right though, this didn’t look like a maid café.
I didn’t mind being outside since it was spring and only a bit chilly, it was certainly better than being cooped up in that slightly disreputable club-room, but on the other hand I had my novel to write.
“Yamada, please explain what’s going on?”
“W-we could have this conversation once we are inside but since you asked, this isn’t a bar or maid café, it’s a Victorian pub, or public house, so children are allowed in there. Follow me. It’ll be easier if I showed you the way.”
We entered the “Pub” along with Yamada. As Tanaka said the barmaids looked quite pretty, they wore close-fitting bodices with a low neckline, a blouse was worn under the bodice, the look was completed with a wide high-waisted skirt and an apron. Although I was ignorant of Victorian era barmaid dresses, I thought their dresses looked more German than Victorian. Ah well, it’s all European anyway! They looked more like waitresses than maids, and no one welcomed us with “Welcome home, Master!” so this was wrong.
This was just a cosplay bar which served beer in handless glass mugs. There was a note at the counter next to the beer pump handles which explained the beer was served in “pints rather than litres,” whatever that meant.
Though for a drinking place it was rather quiet and cosy with no loud music. There were families at a few tables, though there were no teenagers and when I looked far I could see there was a dark corner with only middle-aged men playing darts and cards. And yet there were no violent thugs in bowler hats looking for a fight or detectives in trench-coats discussing a case while smoking tobacco, as I would have imagined a Victorian-themed bar to have, oh well this was still Japan.
There was a fake chimney fire which was actually just an electric heater. I guess they couldn’t get permission to have an open fire in a building in town.
I had a look at the menu written on a chalkboard hanging on the wall. There were items like liver-sausage sandwiches, boiled jam rolls, haggis, suet puddings, mussels, cheeses, pickles and large biscuits with caraway seeds. Some of the stuff I wanted to try out later. Although, then again this place didn’t look cheap so that’s out. Saizeriya was good enough for me. I mentally blocked out the food prices on the chalkboard.
After letting us linger there for a moment too long, Yamada motioned us to follow him with a wave of his hand and a furtive look while holding down his Ferrari-emblazoned hat with his other hand. Who was he hiding from dressed so conspicuously?
We went through a narrow passage leading out of the saloon, exited through a thin wooden door which looked like it was only for staff members, when I thought he might jus take us to a 1920s prohibition era American speakeasy, instead we found ourselves in an unexpectedly fairly large garden for a built up area in town like this.
There were little green tables with iron chairs round them. Up at one end of the garden there were swings and a slide for the children. And behind that playground equipment there was a café with a relaxed Mediterranean style, and walls painted pink, though what really gave it away was the anime-style life-sized maid plastic cut-out beckoning us to enter the “Moe Delight Maid Café Empire” with a manga-style speech bubble.
Yamada stood there in front of the cut-out like a scared lamb. After I had heard the sound of him swallowing his spit to gather his courage, I had enough of it, so I just went ahead and pushed the door open. A bell jingled.
A few seconds passed by and then…
“Welcome Home! Master!”
We, or rather I, was greeted by a girl in late teens or early 20s wearing cat ears and with pony-tailed hair and obviously in a maid outfit. Unlike with Izumi, who seemed like a robot, there was something sensual about this girl. Maybe it was her slightly larger personality but it was also the energetic way she acted. This was fine in short bursts but I naturally preferred quiet and peace. Yamada was holding the hem of my shirt like he was the heroine at a haunted-house attraction at a theme-park. I jerked my arm to get him off me, but how the hell was I supposed to respond to a greeting like that?
I slightly raised my hand, cocked an uncertain smile and replied with a nondescript:
“Yo. I am back.”
As I was led I was told I was entering “a new futurist nation” where Japan’s Post-War Constitution does not apply, and needed to pay a “passport fee of 900 yen.” I guess even if it was “a new futurist nation,” the yen still ruled.
Once I paid the fee I was handed a shiny card titled “maid café passport” and then I was shown to a table.
The maid wrote my name on the maid café passport as Ishikiwa-sama with a pink marker, and noted today’s date, as the day I was “reborn as a citizen of this great new nation.” I was also made to sign a pledge of allegiance, saying I’ll obey the rules of the café, err, sorry I mean, of the new nation. Rules such as no-touching the maids without permission, no photos without permission, and no meeting with the maids after-hours.
A few more maids appeared and repeated the process I just described with the other members of the Light Novel Club. Yamada was a stone statue, Tanaka was all smiles even when he was told his camera would be confiscated during his stay, because this new nation was “only for your eyes, Tanaka-sama,” and “not for the camera’s lens or non-citizen entertainment.” Sounds like, ‘you’re either with us, or against us’ were it not for the beaming smiles and soothing voices with which it was conveyed.
Once we were all set and seated at a white table, we were told this “new futurist nation” had its own language which was not Japanese and if we wanted the attention of the maids we would have to use a series of nyans.
While she explained the intricacies of this new language I glanced at the contents of my newly acquired passport. There were pictures of previous maid outfits used at this café. There were Spanish Military-Uniform Maids, Ancient Egyptian maids, Maids as Heroes of Justice (Super Sentai), Dog maids, Butler Maids, and Vampire Maids.
I was told that in order to get a drink I would have to say nyan-nyan, and in order to order food it was nyaaaan☆nyaan-nya-nyan.
I ordered a drink. As did the others, for a moment we were all saying “nyan-nyan-nyan” at the table like that was the most normal thing.
The drink looked rather sugary and chocolatey. The maid uttered some kind of good luck chant which ended with ” Be delicious! moe moe kyun nya-nyan.” I was told the “new polity of the new nation” performed these chants for good luck. I had to repeat the chant after her too, or the incantation would not be complete, and I would be court-martialled and exiled by the “Fairies,” the non-maid workers in the café. This was not the hard part. The drink tasted fine but I could still feel a bit blood rushing to my head because from her looking straight at my eyes during the incantation.
Izumi repeated the incantation with no excitement but eerily accurately including the hand movements, while remaining seated, like some-kind of emotionless mimicking doll. “Perfect!☆” The maid exclaimed cheerfully as Izumi cheerlessly but effortlessly made the heart symbol which concluded the good luck chant. Yamada was a stuttering mess, his shades were falling off his nose showing his bewildered eyes while his ears and fat cheeks had all turned red. He was smiling, though somewhat helplessly. Even so the maids still smiled. I wondered if they would laugh about it later, after work, or never bring it up or think of it again.
Tanaka acted so normally, that I wondered if he had already been to a maid café.
“No, I have just absorbed maid culture through cultural osmosis or propaganda, by consuming various media, you see, it’s in my blood now.”
Well, with that unsatisfactory, meaningless explanation I looked at the menu and one item caught my attention. Something which I had seen many times in “various media” as Tanaka said, an “omurice (omelette rice) with a cute picture or a message drawn by a maid!”
As we absorbed our over-sized drinks through plastic straws we made chit-chat with the maids. Even Izumi had a conversation, or well what could be passed for a conversation. The twin-tailed maid who served her, had caught wind of Izumi’s mystery novel, and started some conversation about that. At first Izumi was reticent but then she started to describe the whole plot of the novel in one long statement, like a text-to-speech program reading an unpunctuated paragraph. The maid nodded while smiling. Had she created some new monster? Yamada and Tanaka seemed to be talking about their favourite manga and anime with their respective maids.
There was a heart-shaped staged in the café so I inquired the pony-tailed, cat-eared maid about that. The maid pointed to a middle-aged man with dark purple sunglasses, wavy-long hair, and a military-themed uniform sitting in a corner table. His head was resting on his hand hiding his mouth, I could not see what expression he made. He was also pointing at the heart stage while speaking to another maid.
“That’s the Heartbeat Memorial Stage, that master is going to pay for a cyber-performance-nyan.” Kind of an ominous name, if you asked me. I mean if it’s a memorial, doesn’t it imply that those heartbeats are dead? “I hope you will enjoy it Ishikawa-sama-nyan! No pictures are allowed okay!? This is for your eyes only-nyan!”
Then dancing ensued. All the lights dimmed and four-hyper energetic maids danced on the Heartbeat Memorial stage, singing along with the music, both maids were perfectly in sync, like they had practised hard on twister mats while following instructions from a computer. In any case both of them had to have trained a lot to pull this off. For four full songs, they danced.
Yes, four WHOLE songs, because one middle-aged guy paid for it. Then we were asked if we wanted to pay for a gachapon lottery to take pictures with maids. Whoever got number 1 would take a picture with the most popular maid and whoever took number 4 would be eliminated. I was through paying unless it was for omurice. Tanaka and Yamada had deeper pockets or were simply more gacha-minded, so I and Izumi watched over them as they took pictures with maids.
However once they were done taking pictures and taking their seats, by the looks on everyone’s faces it seemed like the mood among our group had finally set in to get this done and over with, so my omurice would have to wait. I asked pony-tailed maid if I could speak with management “to promote this maid café in a new local school magazine, in exchange for some help with creating a certain article.” It was difficult not to be vague because I didn’t know what the hell this magazine we were supposedly working on, actually was, or even what its name would be, but I hoped she would get the idea.
After disappearing into a room for staff for two long minutes she came back with a smile on her face, but since she was always smiling, it was hard to say what her expression meant. Was it a “sorry, master” smile or a “yes, come meet our manager master” smile?