Monday, June 24, 2013

4 Unusual Japanese Cafe Concepts

Japan really does takes the themed restaurant thing more seriously than anywhere outside of a Medieval Times.

Here are a few of the stranger cafe and bar concepts you'll find in Tokyo:

1. Nyanron Hanten is a cat/vampire/maid-themed Chinese restaurant in Akihbara. Yes, this is perhaps the first and only usage of "cat-slash-vampire-slash-maid."

Unfortunately, the ambition seems to have exceeded the execution. Despite the cute staff and surprisingly decent-looking mabo tofu, the interior and costumes are nothing special.

Still, there must be some appeal to it since someone saw fit to open another vampire maid bar in Akiba.

Photo: Weekly ASCII
Photo: Moeten
2. Prison Bar Capture in Ueno is a "girls bar" where you are served by women dressed as sexy police officers. (A girls bar is a bar with cute female staff where, in addition to paying for drinks, you pay a fixed charge for however long you stay there, in this case about $20/hr.) The ultramodern interior just doesn't do justice (heh) to the prison theme - a missed opportunity in my book.

3. Girls Office Tokyo was an "office lady" or "OL" themed cafe in Akihabara. In Japan, the term "office lady" (Wikipedia) is a widely-known archetype for women in administrative roles at Japanese companies. The cafe was staffed by attractive young women in business attire, but the bare interior left much to be desired. In any case, the OL-fetish market was clearly not as lucrative as expected since they went under earlier this year.

Photo: Radio Kaikan

That's one sad-looking office. (Photo: Radio Kaikan)

4. Grand Pirates is a pirate-themed maid cafe in Akihabara. They seem to have done a nice job with the theme. The costumes are well-done and while pictures of the inside are scarce, they seem to have done a nice job with the interior design and decorations. I might stop in for a visit next time I'm in Akiba.

Photo: sho Panda

Here's a video showing how to get there from the JR station:

Recommended reading:
  • Twisted Sifter's great round-up of three crazy theme restaurants in Tokyo, a ninja one, a horror prison one, and an Alice in Wonderland one.
  • The Daily Mail's review of the amazing Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku where giant female robots are controlled by real female staff.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

5 Ridiculous Restaurant Signs in Tokyo

There are a million and one wonderful restaurants in Tokyo, but sometimes their signs are pretty spectacular as well.

1. At Nemaki Neko ("pajama cat") Restaurant, you can enjoy the delicious cook-it-yourself-in-a-hot-pot tradition of shabu-shabu with a twist: your food is served to you by staff in cosplay. Boiled meat and girls dressed as maids and nurses with cat ears - a winning combination.

2. Feel a little more pescatarian? The sign for Kaikaya helpfully points out that the restaurant is "owned by a mysterious Japanese man who cooks marvelous seafood dishes." Who can say no to that?

3. Despite suspicious lies to the contrary, the Ghetto is a fine place for some Happy Dining. Ghett-outta here!

4. Ready to throw back a few cold ones? Well head on down to The Bar of Corn Barley, where you'll find nothing but the finest selection of Corn Barley-derived beverages.

 5. Finally, finish up your night at Bar Tina, which is as well known for its cocktail specials as it is for being "Full of Black Music."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Japan ProTip: How to fill out forms

If you're American, you probably don't think filling out forms is a big deal. If you misspell something, check the wrong box, or don't fill in a field, it's fine -- they'll figure it out.

This is NOT TRUE in Japan. Case in point: I just returned from a Japanese post office after spending far too long trying to mail in my passport renewal. I had to include an international money order with my application, and the lady at the counter scrutinized every single line to ensure absolute correctness. Address written in English? Nope, needs to be in Japanese. First name first? No, last name first. Business address on the form? Need to see your business card. If you make a mistake, you need to cross it out with two horizontal lines, then put your name stamp (hanko) or fingerprint -- on the original and the two carbon copies. And so on. All told, it took me 45 minutes to mail one letter with a $75 money order.

I had a similar experience trying to do a bank transfer at Shinsei Bank (bank transfers are used instead of checks in Japan), one of the most English-friendly banks in Tokyo (the other being Citibank). Not only did it take forever to get the form "just so" I had to come back again later because I had incorrectly categorized the destination account as Regular (futsuu) instead of whatever the other kind is. And no, they couldn't just check the other box for me; I had to come back to the branch to correct it.

So, to the Japan form-filling ProTips:
- Follow instructions completely literally. If it says, "fill out the name as it appears on your ID card," fill it out exactly in the order and character set it appears in on the card. Form fields in Japan may specify that you use roman characters, kanji, furigana (hiragana/katakana), or just katakana.
- Cross out mistakes with two horizontal lines
- If you're not sure about the right way to fill out a field, don't use common sense -- ask, because there is only one Right Way to fill out the field and it's a pain to make corrections. (see above)
- If you can't write Japanese and a form requires Japanese, you can ask the person at the counter to help you out. But it's less embarrassing if you come with a friend who can do it for you.

Anyone else have tips to share?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

melody married. a blogger mourns.

My favorite Japanese singer is a Japanese-American from Hawaii named "melody." (with a period on the end). She's got an amazingly smooth, pure voice and is quite hot to boot.

The song that really got me hooked on her is "Miss You," a guest appearance with Ryohei Yamamoto on an m-flo track.

(Bonus track: miss you x baby cruising love)

I had the fortune to see her at a free live show at Tokyo Midtown last year, and while her own material is rather sedate, I enjoyed both the audio and "visual" immensely.

Late last year, she unexpectedly announced her retirement from music, saying she wanted to pursue a career in fashion design. I was, of course, devastated. Now it's come to light that she is both married and pregnant. The lucky groom: visual kei artist Miyavi (no, I don't get it either).

They were hoping to keep the marriage under wraps until April, when Miyavi was slated to leave his record label, but word leaked out in late March. Miyavi posted a expletive-laden apology to his fans for keeping them in the dark.

It sounds very much like melody. was pressured to retire due to the marriage. As melody. posted to MySpace:
We got engaged last year in May, before he went on his world tour.
Things were fine until July last year… after hours of talking with my management, i had to chose to retire.
I guess I couldn’t have two good things in life at once.
I chose my happiness as a woman, as a human being. I felt very strongly that this love is something i cant just throw away like i always did in the past.
I know that it's preferable for Asian stars to always appear to be single (gives fans like me hope!) but superstars like Namie Amuro and Utada Hikaru have both been married, had children, and divorced without having to retire. Perhaps that luxury is reserved for the highest echelon of j-pop stars?

In any case, I wish her the best and hope she can someday make music again!

(top image: toy's factory)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Viewing chinese, japanese, and korean web pages in Windows XP

Say you want to view Chinese, Japanese, or Korean web pages in Windows XP and you don't have your Windows CD handy (which is what you normally need to install the required fonts). Rather than digging around for the CD in a big box of crap, you can install these fonts from Microsoft:

Note that installing the fonts will only let you view these languages -- if you want to input them, you need to install the corresponding Input Method Editor (IME) for each one. You can install Microsoft's IMEs from your Windows CD (instructions here), but Google also offers XP-compatible IMEs for Japanese and Simplified Chinese.

If you have a different version of Windows (2000, Vista, etc.), follow the directions here:

Updated 7/27/13 to mention Google IMEs.

Japan's mobile internet

Check out my post on my tech blog Spundot about Japan's mobile web -- a very different place from the internet you and I inhabit.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

world famous CGM Night v4

Danny Choo and Andrew Shuttleworth put on the fourth fun edition of this Tokyo nerdfest at Nishi-Azabu's excellent Super Deluxe venue.

Among the highlights:
- Danny reveling in the glory of his new Nikon TV commercial
- Kevin Cooney (tokyocooney) announcing the launch of Jibtv, a website sharing Japanese TV with the world. Although, unfortunately, it's not available within Japan -- complain here).
- Cool demo by the CEO of EyeFi (although people were rude and talking loudly during the demo)
- People going nuts over the availability of new Poken (?)
- Jonny Li showing me how to do light painting with my D60
- Meeting Amano Ai!

(Photo: Steve Nagata)