On the evening of my exploration day of Tokyo, my newfound Swedish friend whom I met on the Hato Bus Tour and I decided to hit the streets of Tokyo. In particular, we had heard about people who walked the streets while being dressed up in various costumes on a daily basis. Our mission, therefore, was thus formed: find these costumed people so that we could see what they looked like.
Obstacle 1: Where exactly do these costumed people hang out? After asking multiple people, we narrowed down our search to either Harajuku (where women dress up in Lolita costumes) versus Akihabara (where the guys dress up). Since it was getting dark, we were told that we would have more luck at Akihabara, a.k.a. Electric Town.
Obstacle 2: When we arrived at Akihabara, we were disappointed not to have found anyone wearing costumes. I, therefore, contacted a friend originally from the Tokyo area and was told that the “otaku” people should be in that area. Since we obviously didn’t see anyone fitting that description, we started asking employees in the stores along the street in that area where the “otaku” people were supposedly located. Most of the time, we just got very confused looks as answers. Only later did I realize that otaku did not mean “costumed people” in Japanese; otaku is more likely defined as a “geek or nerd.” No wonder people didn’t understand what we were talking about; we were asking where the “nerds” were located… Lost in Translation
Obstacle 3: We finally happened to find an English-speaking Japanese in an electronic store who understood what we were asking about. He thus referred us over to the cosplay cafes (and yes, my initial reaction to that word was probably the same as yours). On reflection, we realized that the 2-3 girls dressed up in French maid costumes on the streets and handing out flyers worked for these cosplay cafes. Finally, we’re making headway.
Surprise: After taking a look at a cosplay flyer, we followed the directions and headed up the elevator to the appropriate floor. When the elevator doors opened, my friend and my faces must have shown the biggest “deer in headlights” look. What in the world did we get ourselves into? (And indeed, all the cafe patrons were staring at us when we walked in.) What we walked into was a small cafe about 15 x 30 feet with walls painted a bright bubble-gum pink. All the cafe’s employees were very young women/girls dressed up in French maid costumes of blue or pink color. They greeted everyone, including us, with over-the-top enthusiasm in squeaky voices.
Given the above situation, we made the excuse that we just wanted to take a look at the menu while we surreptitiously glanced around the cafe trying to see if there were even any female customers (2) as we mainly saw males. When we finally decided that we couldn’t pretend to look at the menu any longer, we made the next excuse that we’ll come back after shopping. After another round of over-the-top goodbyes, we finally got back on the elevator to leave.
My overall thoughts: It was the weirdest experience of my life! I don’t know how else to describe it. It could mainly be because (after looking it up afterwards) of the thought there are grown men (and some women) who are such followers of manga and anime that they want to live their fantasy world in their real lives and have very young women dressed up as “maids” to cater to their every whim. It could also be the pink walls. Who knows? I will likely not forget about this experience anytime soon.