DAYS 1 – 2: AKIHABARA/SHIMBASHI

Staying in Akihabara and having our first contact with Tokyo here is overwhelming: Akihabara is the electronic and games district of this immense city and therefor everything is colorful, noisy, jarring and fancy. Neon lights, video screens, shops enlighted in all colors to attract customers, music everywhere (in the shops, at stands of special products) and people outside the shops speaking through a loudspeaker to get attention for their products. The shops we were passing by were filled with electronics, pc games, mangas, technical equipment, mobile phones, pachinko halls (a kind of entertainment we didn’t understand), UFO catchers, etc. Every shop was so heavy packed with stuff that our eyes and brains didn’t know where to look or what to think. So adrenalin took over and we fell into a state of excitement we hadn’t encountered before. We jumped from store to store, from gadget to gadget, laughing, squeaking and being astonished.

After an hour of trying hard not to buy anything we passed a girl dressed in a maid costume. She was catching customers for a maidcafé and what can I say, she got us. At that point we didn’t know what a maidcafé is and we felt a little bit nervous, while the girl took us into the side streets. We talked to each other in broken english and japanese and I can’t remember the conversation as I tried to remember the way she took us. Finally she lead us into one of the uncountable typically grey Tokyo buildings where right behind the entrance there’s an elevator. Now we felt more nervous. We stepped into it, got to the 5th floor and were pushed into a weird atmosphere: a room with a few tables, a bar and a stage. Only men in their early twenties or younger were sitting there, watching a show of girl dressed as a maid, singing and dancing. But the moment we arrived, the girl on the stage shouted a welcome to us and everybody turned their heads towards us. Some even applaused. We wanted to run, but we had to keep appearances. We were lead to a table, got a menu and two maidgirls were talking a lot in japanese to us. Finally we understood and took a menu containing of main, dessert, drink and a snapshot with your favorite maid. Crazy? Yes! But in the end, the girls tried everything to make our stay comfortable. It was weird and fancy. When we finally left one of the maids followed us to the elevator talking to us without a pause And I have no clue what she was saying. Smiling, waving, nodding until the doors closed.

After our “kawaiiii”-experience (kawai means cute) we had to hurry, because we wanted to meet an old friend of ours: Ayano. She had been to Germany a few years ago for studying and now lives and works in Tokyo. It was such a pleasure to see her again. She took us to the Hamarikyu Gardens in Shimbashi and we saw our first plum blossom and a huge canola field. Unfortunately the tea house there was already closed, but Ayano had another thing she wanted to show us: a sake bar! Close to the station we walked into some kind of mall filled with sake bars and small restaurants. We followed her to her favorite one and got two trays with three different sake on each. While we were drinking and enjoying the atmosphere we started talking to the guy next to us. His name is Hiroki and he is a cook. Cook? Oh yes, lucky day. Even more lucky when he decided to take us to his restaurant after the sake sampling and hell, that was delicious: crispy chicken skin, pork belly and wonderful gyoza cooked in a spicy soup. We were in heaven. We had some beers and also tried Hoppy – a non alcoholic beerflavored drink you mix with shōchū (a distilled beverage at about 40%).

After this long first day we fell deeply asleep just to find ourselves again in gorgeous Tokyo, when we woke up the next morning. On the second day we had planned to go to the Owlcafé. Yes, another theme café and yes: owls! A room, maybe 35sqm, full with artificial plants and people on the 4th floor of another grey Tokyo building somewhere in Akihabara. And owls. Lots of them. Everywhere between deko and queeking girls. And one chicken. We stood there with a mixture of delight and pity. All these beautiful owls were kept in this small room where they couldn’t fly or hunt or sleep during the day due to hundreds of visitors. We were allowed to pet them and watch them jumping through the room. After half an hour we had seen enough. We left with happiness, because we were able to pet an owl, but also with sadness, that with our visit we had helped to keep the owlcafé alive.

We decided not to think about it too much and searched for dinner in some sidestreets of Akihabara, where no neon lights but only locals were around. We found a small restaurant, were guided to a table, handed a menu and waited. The staff didn’t appear again for 30minutes and we decided to leave. We couldn’t figure out why we weren’t served, but there are so many other options that we didn’t care. We found a small ramen place with no english menu but an english speaking cook and had great ramen and gyoza. Almost every food in Tokyo was great so far and I’m really gonna miss that when we have to return to Germany one day.

 

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