“Where do I even start? On the list of typical Japanese things to do, we seem to have packed nearly all of them into 1 day. And this was all after spending the morning in bed planning our next travel moves and booking things up!” I reflected, as I saw from the corner of my eye, a squatting Japanese man really put effort into lathering up his nuts…
An odd mix of Victorian maid service coupled with over the top Anime cuteness hiding a repressed undercurrent of sexual tension. Table for two please. Would you prefer fluffy bunny ears or fluffy puppy ears? Well it must be the bunny ears I suppose. Aimi popped them on her head to giggles from our maid.
We are at Maidreamin, a Maid Cafe recommended for new comers to the cultural quirk. Having seen lots of girls dressed in anime maod outfits in the red light district, this is where some of them work. Its on the 3rd floor of a block in the arcade sector of Tokyo, probably located here as it’s conveniently close to shy gamer guys hang outs. When we arrived, the immediately noticed and squealed with glee and one came frolicking over to the check in desk where she explained the deals. We chose a package deal which she was very excited about, clapping and giggling…. In fact from here on, assume everything they did was like an excitable cute school girl and you’ll not be far off. Having chosen bunny ears and our food they then arrived with our drinks and made us join in a song repeating what they chanted till we got it right, which triggered some more squealing. The drinks were non-alcoholic, quite tastey and very colourful but the food was by far the worst food I’ve had in Japan. Im sure there were other things on the menu but included in our deal was a wet sludgy omlette with rice and ketchup inside. The saving grace was a passable side salad and the bunny picture our made drew on it in ketchup. Very cute.
I sound grumpy, but honestly it was great fun in a sort of uncomfortably aware I’m a huge hairy 6ft man, in a pink fluffy cafe surrounded by sexy-cute maids, sitting opposite my new wife on our honeymoon…. Im not sure exactly how to process everything that was going on. And thats before they did their show! It sort of sucked us in and we got into the hyperactive giggly cute enthusiasm of it all.
Then they started to dance. The lights turned down low and a maid went up onto the low stage at one end. She then posed for a second before rapid K-Pop music triggered really exhuberant dancing. Like a little girl showing off to her parents, but with sexy hip thrusts and bouncing. Again, its very strange, exciting, colourful and captivating. Especially when 2 extra maids come down to the front with glowsticks and then start frantically waving them them about like they are having a choreographed fit.
I wish I could have taken photos or recorded what was going on in there as it would make a lot more sense than my ramblings. But, expectedly, they charge for photos with the maids as its a very visual experience. These are the photos we got as part of our package and the few we sneaked.
By the time our hour was up, I was fully cute-ed out. I’d gone a bit british and embarressed but surprisingly Aimi had had a great time. We were both very impressed at how hard the girls worked. They really put effort into the experience and the dancing was hard work, as cute and bouncy as they made it. They came off stage and immediately back to serving and giggling away. The funny thing was that it wasnt just groups of awkward lads. There was a family having a young kids birthday here, two girls sitting next to us and a businessman sitting behind us. It was honestly a wide spectrum of people that came to enjoy the show. It might be a bit pervy to us, but it seems perfectly acceptable here.
From an extremely loud, colourful & overt experience to the polar opposite, I now took my lady on a tour around a Japanese formal garden. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is an oasis of calm, right in the heart of Tokyo. It’s open to the public, but costs 500Y each to enter. No grudge about the price, you can see where the money goes, it’s immaculate. Honestly it’s depressing that the lack of litter in a city is a surprise, but it keeps surprising me.
We started off with an ice cream that looked way more colourful in the picture than in reality and then started toward the Kami-no-ike pond. There were lovely low bridges over the water to small islands with stone lanterns on them. We also saw some turtles hanging out in the shallows. We both really like the carved stone lanterns dotted around the gardens, reflecting in the still water.
At one point we were up at a tea house, complete with paper walls and mats to sit on. I looked down the grassy slope to the water as if looking into a picture. I could see people sitting in groups like the famous dot painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” – 1884 to 1886 by Georges Seurat – except the trees where a little differently shaped.
It was a welcome relief strolling calmly around this garden, enjoying the views, the flowers and the buildings. We toured the whole place, just in time. Before it closed at sunset, we passed a giant magnolia tree which were as large as London Plane trees (examples of which they had in long rows leading to a rose garden) There was one flower we could get close to, on a drooping branch, and it must have been bigger than a dinner plate!
Leaving the garden – because it was now shut – we headed off into the city to find some food and found the perfect place. A little googling found us a cheap sushi chain called Sushi Zanmai that was located very close by near Shinjuku Station. It was on the 3rd floor and was already busy so we put our name on a sheet and took a stool, waiting to be seated. But before long we had our table, and were ordering sushi left right and centre on an ipad.
This was great because whatever you wanted, it was there on the tablet. Just select a few, click confirm and probably 5-10 mins later your fresh
cooked assembled sushi arrives. This was alongside lots of other types of sashimi (just beautifully presented slips of raw fish without the rice rectangles) and much free green tea as I could drink! I made sure we had a range of choices and some types that I’d not had in the UK. It was really quite cheap here, and I expect we will find this chain again. I can just eat sushi all day till I’ve got roe spilling from my ears.
After Aimi teared me away from the ordering tablet, we went in search of pudding and Aimi made a bee line (I’ve never understood that turn of phrase because bees don’t really fly in straight lines, they wiggle all over the place, granted they have purpose, but if I was describing someone heading in a direction with purpose, sure I’d say something like “she shot like an arrow from a bow straight for her target”… or more simply “made an arrow line”…?) for a crepe stand. The Japanese restaurants nearly all have 3D life size models of the different foods that they produce shown in the window glass. They are all beautifully made out of plastic and resin and look convincing enough that sometimes you just have to poke them to see if it’s real!
We chose our desserts and then had great fun eating them from a paper cone. It was only when we got about 50% of the way thru that Aimi accused me of eating hers…. Which was true. It had chocolate icecream and I’ve no idea why I would have chosen one without Chocolate Icecream so when I handed her one, I kept the chocolate Icecream one. It’s not my fault I forgot what I’d ordered and slipped back to rely on deductive reasoning within the time it took to deliver it from the stand to our coffee table… Anyway, ridicule of my worsening dementia aside, obviously once it had been pointed out, I dutifully handed over what remained of her crepe and she immediately spilt it all over her hands, her phone and her shorts. Now I really was in trouble! But we got her cleaned up, sacrificing her Totoro flannel to sticky chocolate doom before heading home.
Public bath house:
I had planned to go yesterday morning but it was closed and then we head out for the day. But it closes at midnight today so there really is no way of getting out of it. Aimi sitting on my shoulder as the voice of my inquisitiveness wouldn’t let me chicken out from going, so I’m going. Going to be the 1 nervous naked western guy without a clue how to wash himself in a room of contentedly naked Japanese men going about their normal life. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Literally. Have a hot communal bath.
Apologies to any Japanese reading this. I hope I didn’t get it too badly wrong, but this was my experience and how I understood the process to work.
You enter the bath house and immediately (forget the word Kon’nichiwa, so you say “..hello” like Hugh Grant in Notting Hill) take off your shoes and put them in a locker secured by a piece of wood with cuts in it that you take with you. Mine had to go in at an angle they are so long, then you pay your 500Y (£2.50) double check that the blue door is for men and walk into the changing rooms.
Here, you get bollock naked, immediately, then get your stuff ready. I brought my whole wash bag of stuff because I had no idea what would be needed or allowed. Most locals have a small plastic shopping basket with their products in it and, importantly, a yellow flannel about the size of a standard issue UK tea towel. I had no idea what to do, but no one seemed to have towels with them. So I put all my stuff in another locker, took the key and my wash bag and strode into the next room thru a frosted glass door.
Before me is what we will call the main wash room. On my left were 4 rows of men, facing mirrors washing themselves, and on the right taking up that whole side of the room was a big bath with some jets at one end. I didn’t have anyone to copy, but it made sense to wash before getting into the communal bath. The men who has arrived before me were all squat-seated on small baby blue plastic stools washing themselves. The sets of taps were all at floor level coming out of a low wall, there was a mirror on top of the wall, and then a pipe above that with a shower head you could turn on or off. To me, the shower head was at waist height, so has to be used sitting on a stool. Each man also had a yellow bucket, so I grabbed one of each from a stack by the door and went and found myself the least crowded spot.
This bit, at least, I thought I knew how to do. Ok we are sitting on a pot, but I competently went thru my normal washing ritual waiting for another chap to get up, so I could see what you do next. Except, no one did. And I really dragged my soaping out. I cleaned myself thoroughly, like, once a year thoroughly. The most expensive option at the hand car wash that no one chooses, thoroughly, and I still finished before these men did. Try as I might to avoid looking, there was a gap between where the low wall finished and the mirror started. It was exactly the right height so you had a full frontal view of the guys junk who sat the other side. I have to commend their attention to hygiene, they were ensuring they got their 500Y worth.
But unless I wanted to start over, I had to move on, so I rinsed off and headed for the large pool. Helpfully a thermometer told me this was a bollock poaching 45 degrees. It was silent in here except for the vigorous squelching of people washing so I choked back an exclamation when I got in. There was no point standing there like a lemon so I eventually lowered myself fully in and got to grips with the temp. There were a few different jets to choose from here, so I enjoyed 15 mins getting blasted from different angles. During this time, I got to see several men move station so o had a better idea what to do next, what I got wrong.
When you arrive, you should fill your bucket with the hot water in the pool and douse yourself before going to wash.
When you complete your marathon scrub, again douse yourself before getting into the main pool. This makes sense just in case you miss rinsing off any soap.
And then I saw a guy come out of a door from a sauna. This was where i headed next, as it made a logical sense to me to work up the heat levels. When he came out, like the Nordic countries, he went to a pool I hadn’t noticed beyond the wash stations and used his bucket to splash himself with cold water. Sitting in the Sauna, I’d done that before so knew what to expect. Expect a bloody great shock, but first I needed to bake for a while. There were 2 young chaps in there when I came in, both with a yellow flannel covering their modesty. I did not have this, and I had left my tiny place-mat sized Calcifer rag in my shorts pocket in my rush to bare my balls. Oh well, stupid Englishman here to do some proud sweating.
After just 5 mins I was struggling, but determined to wait out these guys. I figured this was going to be the hottest bit, so once this was done, I could just follow them around and look like I knew what I was doing. Luckily they left after not too long and I followed them into the cold bath. This was 30 degrees, but felt like 10 after the 100 degree sauna. I couldn’t stop myself from gasping out a quiet “oh my god”. Immediately, I got a mocking “oh my god” back in an American accent (presumably their English tutor had been American) from these two who thought it funny I was struggling. Eventually I calmed down and actually enjoyed being in the “cold” bath.
My plan was working. When they stood up to leave the cold bath they wandered off, out a door to a small stone flagged courtyard covering their manhood with the small yellow flannels. Feeling like, and no doubt everyone could see me looking like a considerably smaller man that when I entered the cold bath, I joined them in the courtyard. They were sat on plastic chairs next to ANOTHER bath just relaxing and occasionally talking. I took a nervous seat next to them and this is when I started to feel drunk.
Maybe it was the rapid changes in heat, or the exhaustion from a long day, or lack of water, I dont know. But sitting there, looking up through a coffee table sized hole in the roof, exposing the night sky, I felt absolutely sozzled. The room was spinning, my eyes couldn’t keep still, I didn’t feel sick, but it was intense. I just had to sit and wait and control my breathing till it stopped, no matter what my clue leaving friendly chaps did next.
After a while the room did stop spinning and I returned to my normal self, altho even more aware that I was sitting there, manspreading next to two Japanese chaps, watching other chaps washing themselves. It was surreal. Especially when one guy sitting next to me was fiddling with his ballsack and asking his mate to look at it. I can only assume he was worried about a mole or something, but it goes to show that the culture around nudity and sex here is VERY different to Europe. In Japan, the majority of women have covered shoulders, long skirts and no cleavage showing, only young girls in anime cosplay are displaying much, if any, skin. Ironically, in Europe we are happy that women want to walk around in revealing clothing and men can walk around shirtless. We even allow topless women sunbathing. But would a Brit go and bath naked with a load of his closest neighbours and talk openly about a suspect mole on his nuts?? I doubt it!
A old guy walked into the courtyard and seeing no remaining chairs, washed himself down with a pan of water from the last pool and stepped in. The chaps I was following then did the same but also used the pan to wash down the plastic chairs they had been sitting on. Which made sense. No one wants to accidentally leave a skid behind, or bum hairs, for the next person. Following a couple mins later, just to make sure my dizzy spell was over, I poured water over my chair and climbed in and found a rock on the bottom to sit on. I then saw a chap come out to the courtyard, pick up the pan and wash down the chair before sitting down for his rest. I didn’t do that first rince with water. And in so doing, I must have showed my ignorance for the process I was so carefully trying to imitate. Oh well, maybe I sat on some guys bum hairs.
This pool was a much more suitable temperature for a long stay. My two guides carried on their conversation about balls or the weather or whatever and other guys in here were talking. This must be where it was acceptable to have a quiet conversation, everywhere else was silent except for the sloshing. I didn’t have anyone to speak to, which was fine, I was happy just looking around, listening to the chatter, avoiding staring at strangers knobs. But after a while I felt I’d had enough and wanted to leave. My skin was fully pruned by now anyway, but this meant making up what I should do next. I opted for getting out, going back to the cold bath, doucing myself one more time (I prefer to end a shower cold, it stops me feeling sweaty when getting dressed) and then walked back to the changing rooms, picking up my wash kit on the way.
And so concludes possibly one of the most Japanese days I think I’m ever going to experience. For obvious reasons there are no photos for this last topic, I’m sure you’re as grateful as I for that. But I can fully see why there is a culture of respect and dignity here. When you all see ALL of everyone you know and interact with on a daily basis (before modern times) You can’t hide anything physically, and I’m willing to bet that translates into not hiding anything socially or economically either. You treat each other with respect because you have seen (and everyone must have looked at some point) that everyone is exactly the same when it comes down to the basics. There is an ironic dignity to be had by baring all and washing with your peers. You are all the same and so treat each other with the respect you’d like to be treated. Would I start going to communal baths in the UK, getting naked with strangers regularly… I doubt it. But the hot spa waters are really nice and I feel I can offer respect without regular public nudity, don’t you agree?