Last October was the 1 year anniversary of our 2017 trip to Japan, and I revisited all of the memories in a series of daily blog posts featuring my photographs and journal writings (check them out if you’d like, starting with day 1 here!)
I miss Japan very much- it’s like a reverse homesickness where I have a special place in my heart that aches to visit this far away place again. I am still thinking about Japan every day, and I convinced Dustin that we need to go back sooner rather than later- so we are going to spend Christmas in Tokyo this year!
When we went in 2017 we traveled around from Tokyo using a JR pass to get to Gunma, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kinosaki. We saw so many gorgeous places and ate so much amazing food. It was a fantastic trip.
This Christmas we are planning to spend the whole time in Tokyo so that we aren’t moving from place to place so much (resettling into new inns and hotels, moving our luggage around) and we can just explore at leisure from our home base in Ikebukuro. There are so many spots in Tokyo that we have only barely explored, or not at all. I can’t wait. I even have 2 tattoo appointments penciled in with a studio in Shibuya!
Wish us luck! I’m saving all of my pennies… (well, figuratively- they don’t make pennies anymore in Canada…)
I finally made some videos with clips from our 2017 trips around Japan 🙂
These are just mashups of videos taken from my cell phone, my camera, and probably a little bit of Dustin’s cell and camera too. Some parts are a bit shaky but I kept them in because they were still cool memories. A few of these seem to be things that I didn’t even realize I was filming at the time… each video has a whole bunch of quick clips featuring some of the cool and beautiful things we saw in Japan.
Video 1: Tokyo- Ikebukuro, Ikebukuro street festival, Shinjuku, Shinjuku park, Shibuya, Shin Okubo, Harajuku, Ueno, Nagano Broadway, etc.
Video 2: Gunma- Takaragawa Osenkaku onsen ryokan (family run hot spring inn)
Video 3: Kyoto, Osaka- Higashiyama, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Universal Studios Japan, Harry Potter World, Kyoto Station, etc.
Video 4: Kinosaki- Mikunia onsen ryokan and ryokan town (hot springs town), autumn street festival, kaiseki meals, etc.
From the age that I can first remember feeling the pangs of infatuation and lust in my mid-teens, I found I had a taste for rogues, tricksters, baddies, and miscreants. In books, movies, manga, anime, and otome games, I rarely go for the hero of the story- my affections are generally reserved for the evil adversary, mysterious secondary character, or perhaps the dangerously playful womanizing side-kick. These characters are often sexy but would ultimately make terrible romantic partners in real life.
Recently I’ve been noticing in comment sections all over the internet well-intentioned people decrying these very sorts of characters that I am drawn to. Fans and non-fans alike are calling out reprehensible actions of characters as they see them. I think this is a positive reflection of wider discussions and movements that are happening worldwide right now regarding healthy relationships, love, affection, sex, and consent. These honest reflections on characters, from Sabrina’s Father Blackwood to the Sakamaki family of Diabolik Lovers, are valuable and worth noting. The relationships you see on TV or other media are often not good examples for real-life relationships to follow- sometimes these sorts of characters stray into cruel or even verbally and/or physically abusive behavior.
However, I do not believe that the answer is to eliminate such characters from the stories we tell and worlds we create.
One area that gets a lot of heat for these sorts of characters is otome games- perhaps because they are simulating a relationship with the player. Games like these feel more intimate than watching a movie or reading a book: usually a player uses their real first name in-game to enhance the immersion, voice-actors use dummy-head mics to record sound like they are right beside your ear whispering sweet nothings through your headphones, and choices in the game lead to consequences for the character you play as well as other characters in the game.
The first true otome game I played was Code: Realize, Guardian of Rebirth. It’s an interactive visual novel with a Victorian steampunk aesthetic, excellent Japanese voice acting, and odes to famous historical figures throughout.
A common strategy for playing otome games is play the main route with the main love interest first (often he’s featured on the cover, as with this example featuring Arsene Lupin) and then branch out to other romantic partners in subsequent play-throughs.
However, I always gravitate immediately towards the character that (you guessed it) is strange, aloof, mean, temperamental, and/or seemingly sinister. In Code: Realize, I went for Saint-Germain, an intriguing and mysterious white-haired gentleman voiced by my favorite voice actor, Daisuke Hirakawa.
*Warning: spoilers ahead!*
My interest in Saint only grew as his complex and tragic story slowly unwound, with seemingly no means of a happy end. Still, I was caught completely off-guard when my first play-through ended abruptly with that is probably considered the worst possible ending you can get in the game: he murdered me.
I was shocked, bemused, and strangely thrilled by this sudden turn of events. Retracing my steps and choosing different directions on my second play-through, I discovered that he had some solid legitimate reasons for killing my character (really!) and in the less tragic story-lines he is actually a gentle, devoted, caring partner, despite a crushingly brutal past that haunts his every step.
Aside from his bad-ending (murder…) route, Saint is actually not particularly problematic, so I’d like to present a more blatant example of the “reprehensible love interest”…
Diabolik Lovers began as an otome visual novel game franchise, but has since been turned into manga, anime, a stage musical, and tons of drama cds and merchandise in Japan. I stumbled upon the subbed anime on Crunchyroll a few years ago, starting a personal infatuation with this vampire series- a series featuring characters that are unabashedly terrible in their treatment of the female protagonist, Yui.
Yui is a Mary-Sue type character often seen in otome series- aside from some rare moments of tenacity, she is presented as an unremarkable, quiet, polite young lady. She’s a sort of vanilla stand-in for the viewer or player, one which they can easily replace with themselves.
Her potential suitors, on the other hand, are some very strong personalities. Their dispositions differ widely, ranging from hysterical and possessive to dismissive and toying. What unites all of the Sakamaki boys, though, is the way they all cruelly use and abuse Yui to sate their thirsts for blood and amusement.
Some hardcore fans will argue that by the end of the plotline their favorite boy truly loves Yui and is deeply devoted to her, but let’s be real here: that doesn’t excuse the abuse, and nobody is compelled to watch the Dialover anime or play the Dialover games because of the romance. The average viewer would be repelled by the sadistic, narcissistic, misogynistic and psychopathic actions of the Sakamaki family (some of my friends certainly are). The Sakamaki brothers each in turn physically restrain Yui, attack her verbally and physically (mainly through biting and taking her blood against her will) and deceive her naive and trusting nature unendingly. Each boy has a different demeaning nickname for Yui (Pancake, Sow, Bitch-chan, and so on…). So why are some people, like myself, drawn to these characters who are obviously toxic?
This conundrum has fascinated me for some time. Why am I attracted to characters in fantasy that would make me miserable in real life? Is this predilection linked to the dark triad of features that supposedly signal a capable mate, triggering some biological response in me? Am I simply bored by predictable good guys and their chivalry? Is it pure masochism on my part? While not everyone falls for the charms of the bad boy, i’m certainly not unique in this regard, and there are lots of potential reasons someone might be willingly pulled over to the dark side.
Whatever the reason, the truth is that I and many others enjoy these sorts of flawed, dangerous, cruel characters, even when they are at their worst. While I understand the criticisms of series like Diabolik Lovers, I believe we mustn’t equate a portrayal of an abusive or problematic fictional character with the actions of a person in real life or an endorsement of these kinds of relationships.
It’s okay to enjoy a romantic fantasy, even a dark and twisted one.
I am an advocate for the freedom to read, write, and create without restrictions. No work will be pleasing to everyone, and some may find certain works distasteful, but we must remember that these stories are fictional. When I immerse myself in an otome game, it is my choice, and I can withdraw my consent from the experience at any time by pressing the “power off” button on my Vita. I don’t confuse the tangled relationships in the fictional stories I enjoy with my real life relationships, which are thankfully much less dramatic than the ones I read, watch, and play.
Abuse is wrong. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse have no place in a healthy relationship. Consent is vital. I don’t condone abuse in real life.
The fantasy world of books, movies, and video games are a space where the dangerous sides of love and lust can be explored safely- the cat and mouse game, which is exciting in theory but potentially devastating in real life, can be enjoyed in a make-believe format in which the consumer controls (while enjoying being “controlled” artificially).
We can and should continue to reflect on characters, and each person can determine for themselves what they enjoy or do not enjoy reading, watching, or playing, but there should be no shame for enjoying reprehensible love interests in fiction!
If, like me, you find that this cosy season lends itself well to curling up on the couch with a frightfully fascinating read, or hosting a Netflix Noel binge that will haunt your holiday memories for years to come, I have some recommendations for you to consider!
The following are some spooky and recent(ish) seasonal titles that I’ve enjoyed:
I am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Boasting two lovely cover variants, this book is part of my favorite mystery series, featuring young sleuth/chemist Flavia de Luce. While it’s the fourth in the series, this title holds its own as a standalone story as well (but I bet if you read it you will be swiftly enticed to tag along on Flavia’s other adventures!)
This is a quintessential cosy Christmas mystery set in England in the 50’s- the de Luce estate is being used as the setting for a film, and the entire town becomes trapped inside because of a terrible storm. Flavia is determined to catch Father Christmas, but she ends up stumbling upon the body of a famous young actress… DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN
Krampus, directed by Michael Dougherty
Krampus is worth a watch; it’s creepy, campy, and fun for the whole family! Well, depends on the family I guess… at least, my husband (who is a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies) had no problem with this freaky and fantastical black comedy. We watched it with a friend a couple of Christmases ago and found it to be a pretty solid, well paced, and satisfying story — if you don’t mind a few cheesy over-the-top monsters sprinkled here and there.
Some of the baddies in this movie are impressive feats of puppetry- check out the bonus materials for the film if you can to see some of the behind-the-scenes creativity that went into Krampus.
Hark! The Herald Angels Scream: An Anthology edited by Christopher Golden
This was a seriously fun read. Each story is short and unique- like most anthologies there were some that I enjoyed more than others, but overall it’s a great mix that moves along at a swift pace. A lot of the stories start out with everyday family drama and escalate into true horror, while several go in a more sci-fi or fantasy direction. Some of these tales will give me chills for a while to come!
A Christmas Horror Story, directed by Steve Hoban, Grant Harvey, and Brett Sullivan
This movie reminds me of Krampus in some ways (aside from the obvious connection visible on the cover)- it’s got some camp for sure, and some moments that prompted my husband and I to make “SKKNKKTCHH” noises of disbelief. At the same time, the intertwining stories balance action sequences, horrific and humorous themes, and moments both bleak and bright, plus lots of twists and turns.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter’s Tale (TV series Holiday Special)
Hail Satan, it’s here! Dusty and I watched the CAOS holiday special episode last night.
If you haven’t watched season 1 of CAOS yet, here’s your excuse!
While it wasn’t everything i’d hoped for (my fave character didn’t make an appearance *COfatherblackwoodUGH*) and Dustin was concerned about the implications to the plot from what we thought would be a one-off isolated episode, we still enjoyed the para-normally festive atmosphere, the introduction of a cool new character, and the softer side of Zelda that is explored.
Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories (Series, various authors)
Ok, I had to edit this blog post to add these because I just came across them at an Indigo bookstore yesterday and I am so in love. The full set of these classic Christmas ghost stories includes 11 titles, although I was only able to find a few scattered throughout the store when I visited. These would make excellent gifts or stocking stuffers because they are tiny and unique, designed and illustrated by celebrated Canadian comic artist Seth. The publisher, Biblioasis, states on their site:
Reading a ghost story on Christmas Eve was once as much a part of traditional Christmas celebrations as turkey, eggnog, and Santa Claus…Trimmed to fit the coziest stocking, they’re perfect gifts for those who want a bit of extra Christmas chill.
For the last couple weeks I’ve been watching this anime in bits and pieces on my lunch breaks at the library:
While I picked the Sakamoto anime up on a whim and haven’t yet read the manga, I thoroughly enjoyed this series and recommend it for anyone who wants a lighthearted and humorous romp.
That said, a lot of the humor may be lost on people who aren’t already familiar with anime tropes- much of the hilarity comes from the ridiculous setups, recognizable character models, and punny wordplay, all of which generally poke fun at often overused or exaggerated scenarios.
Sakamoto himself is the star of the show, of course, and he is a character that is impossible not to like- some students love him, some want to be him (or beat him), but he is completely on another level- aloof and magically skilled at never being uncool. At the same time, he’s also kind and chivalrous.You can’t rustle his feathers, no matter how hard you try. The best part, though, is the variety of inventive and ridiculous ways he manages to circumvent every attempt to thwart him or take him off guard.
The show takes itself just serious enough to get you invested in the characters a bit, but it’s extremely fun to simply go along for the ride and see how many times suspension of disbelief can be crushed, or how many times the fourth wall can be broken by a side-character’s casual observance.
I recommend Sakamoto for you, your Mom, your dog, your boss, and every childhood friend you no longer communicate with.
Did you know that rats, particularly domesticated “fancy rats” are available in many parts of Canada as pets? Much like a hamster, these little guys are cute and charming companions. My family has a history of having pet rats, starting with my Father.
Before I was born, my Dad had a rat named Studley. He would tell me about how Studly would accompany him on walks, and even swims, and that he was just The Best Rat Ever. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, rats are cute. Look at this ‘lil guy!
So, one Easter morning in the mid to late 90’s, when we were living in New Brunswick, my little sister and I awoke and ran into the den, where we found the usual candy, chocolate, and little toys awaiting us. After surveying our treasures, our parents peeked into the room and asked if we’d observed the cage yet. We had a large cage on one side of the room which, until recently, had been home to our rather grumpy rabbit, Peter. While Peter was quite old and sadly didn’t make it till Easter, I gazed inside and saw that two new friends were quietly exploring the cage.
My sister and I were delighted and each named one of the rats- we decided to name them after the Rugrats, Tommy and Chuckie. Tommy was my rat, and he was white with grayish markings on his back. Chuckie, my sister’s rat, had a more reddish tinge to his spots (like Chuckie’s hair!)
The rats were so adorable- while many of our family and friends who visited were squeamish of them (particularly of their tails), others would remark at how cutely they munched on their food, how diligently they cleaned themselves, and how curious and smart they were. We would let them crawl over and around us, and they loved perching on our shoulders as we watched TV or did our homework. The two were brothers, and would sleep nestled up curled around each other.
We loved our rats very much. Domesticated rats live longer than their wild counterparts- about 3 years. Tommy and Chuckie both passed away of “old age” within short time of each-other, and it was one of my first real-life experiences with the end of the natural cycle of life and death.
A short while after Tommy and Chuckie died, my parents got us two new companions to fill the rat-shaped holes in our hearts. I asserted my tween power and declared their names would forever be known as Frodo and Sam, as I was in the middle of reading The Lord of the Rings and enjoying it immensely.
Our new rats were again white with some grayish colorations. Frodo was my little guy, and he was very active, always climbing things and wanting to have a look around. Sam was a bit lazier, but again they were best buddies as well as brothers. Sometimes we would give them pieces of French Toast Crunch cereal, and laugh at how cute they looked crunching on their little rat-sized toasts.
After we’d had Frodo and Sam for a little while, our parents informed us that we were moving to Northern Alberta, to a province far away in the middle of the Boreal Forest. I pictured us living in a quaint little wooden cottage in the middle of nowhere. Great! Sounds fun! But, although my parents didn’t want to alarm us, they mentioned that rats are banned in Alberta. While this policy is meant to keep Alberta free of wild rats, it affects pet rats too.
This poster is so dramatic. “White rats can only be kept by zoos, universities and colleges as well as recognized research institutions in Alberta. Private citizens may not keep white rats, hooded rats or any of the strains of domesticated Norway rats.” – Alberta.ca
My family is united and defined, perhaps more than anything else, by our love of animals. My Mom has worked at vet clinics and at the SPCA, and we’ve had all sorts of creatures in our home over the years. Our pets are our family, and it was inconceivable to us that we wouldn’t bring the rats to our new home in Alberta. So, we prepared ourselves for Frodo and Sam’s potentially perilous journey.
My Mom actually had both of the rats anesthetized and neutered at her vet clinic (I’m thinking this procedure, for pet rats, is a medical rarity?)- they were both boys, but now there was no possible way they could breed even if they somehow escaped into the wild. I suppose she did this partly so that if we DID get into any trouble at the airport, we’d have at least a chance of keeping them.
So, we finally set out to move, with a large number of critters. Each of us was responsible for at least one pet-carrier, and we took our babies to the airport- a cockatiel (Jerrie), 2 cats (Jill and Smudge), an aging Labrador Retriever (Stinker), and the two rats.
The rats’ carrier was made of thick plastic with thin slots on the sides. Panic gripped me as we approached the security gate to get cleared for our first flight. I watched in terror as the airport staff inspected the carrier, peering inside and craning his head.
He looked at me quizzically. I steeled myself.
“My hamsters.” I squeaked.
Whether it was an act of mercy on his part, ignorance of rodent species diversity (or the regulations of our destination province), apathy, or simply not wanting to initiate a dramatic scene, he let us through without any difficulties. I can only imagine the absolute chaos that would have ensued if they had tried to take away our Frodo and Sam. It would have been devastating and traumatic for our whole family, and probably the entire room…
And so, we made it to our new home, safe and sound with our entire family, including the rats. We settled into life in Alberta. You might think that Frodo and Sam, once they lived out their few years on this earth with us, were the last rats my family would know in our new home province. However, this was not the case…
My mom continued to work in SPCA and vet roles in our new town, and as had always happened before, we often ended up fostering or adopting animals that didn’t have homes. And wouldn’t you know it, it turned out that other people in Alberta had pet rats, and in some cases (such as moving into an apartment with an inquisitive landlord) they needed to re-home their rats.
In steps my Mom, of course- she can’t bear to see an animal in need- and so over the years we acquired three more rat companions. One was a lone rat who we named Sir William after the character in A Knight’s Tale. Bill, or Billiam, as I often called him, was white with black spots, and had the softest and sweetest temperament of any rat I’ve yet met. Later we also became the guardians of two sister rats named Sugar and Spice for their respective fur markings.
I’m still living in Alberta, but my family has since gotten a home back in New Brunswick- they’ve had more rats since moving back. I haven’t myself, but I’d be willing to bet that there are more pet rats in Alberta living out their quiet lives in secrecy today.
This is day 18 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 18, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 18, October 18th, 2017
Dusty and I each took off for some solo activities today. First I headed to Shibuya to check out the famous Shibuya Scramble and Shibuya 109. The scramble was a big wave of people all crossing at once, although it was similar to some of the scrambles in Ikebukuro- just bigger! I saw some people doing a Mario Kart race.
Shibuya 109 was a seemingly never-ending tower of fast fashion- it was overwhelming, and although I rode the escalators all the way to the top and did a walkaround of every floor, I didn’t buy one thing.
I also went to Akiba again, roaming and exploring. I ate a delicious crepe from Crazy Crepes and got some more ball-jointed doll supplies at Rajio Kaikan.
Next came the highlight of my day- Theme Cafe #8: the Vampire Cafe in Ginza. Ginza is not an area that I would spend much time normally- it is full of expensive boutique shops that are intimidating- it’s hard to find a casual restaurant or a place to have a leisurely browse. However, the Vampire Cafe was one of the places that I REALLY wanted to visit, so I entered Ginza, feeling sort of like Tsukimi from Princess Jellyfish- a meek geeky girl entering the land of The Stylish.
The Vampire Cafe was a b!t<h to find. I’m glad I left early, as I was wandering around for about an hour trying to find it- it’s on the 7th floor of a hotel building, and the tall buildings in Ginza were throwing off my GPS, I think.
I arrived and was greeted and seated by two vampiric men in heavy eyeliner and hooded clothes. The place is decorated to the nines- blood cell pattern on the hallway floors, candles and coffins, skulls, satin, and vampire kitsch.
I got a little booth to myself (Maika kindly helped me make a reservation but I doubt I would have needed it anyway) and my booth had a blood-red curtain that made my spot feel cosy and private. I was provided with a drink menu in the shape of a coffin featuring cocktails such as Dracula, Nosferatu, Carmilla and Necromancer. I ordered the latter.
The menu for food offered such delicacies as Van Helsing’s Dead Body (a meat dish), and several other strange meals. My waiter brought me a complimentary fried-lizard appetizer. (It wasn’t a real lizard… I think…)
I ordered a “squid ink” pasta calamari dish that came with DEATH written on the plate in chocolate (?) powder and a long scythe. A crispy skull chip (?) also adorned my plate.
I had special drinks and desserts as well, such as Pumpkin Juice and Jack’s Pumpkin Head.
The waiters spoke in theatrically low voices. I heard them chuckling about me (“something something gaijin something hahaha”). Yes, the awkward shy gaijin came alone. I HAVE NO SHAME! XD
So, i’ve been there for about an hour by this point, and i’m feeling a tad left down that Vampire Rose, the face of the establishment, hasn’t appeared. Oh well, I thought, it was fun anyway. But then I heard a couple of girls a few tables over squeeing about something. And then I saw his unmistakable lavishly dressed silhouette.
I worked up the courage to ask my waiter if Vampire Rose’s CD was for sale (he is a visual kei artist, and the lead singer in a vampire heavy metal band!) which it was. So he said “chotto matte” (hang on a sec) and left me for several minutes of anticipation. And as i’d surmised, it was Vampire Rose who came to give me the CD.
My blood-red curtain was thrown back instantly in a flash. I was caught off guard. He said something in Japanese that I didn’t catch. I said “good evening”. He said more things (in the deep, theatrical voice) to which I nodded and kept saying “hai. Hai.” (yes, yes) despite having no clue what I was responding to. He seemed to realize I was flustered and from then on he had a smirk plastered on his face o.o
I paid for the CD and asked if he would please sign it. He got a silver marker and wrote my name, his signature, and the date.
Then I plucked up the courage to ask “shashin wa… daijobu?” (a picture… is it alright?), since I knew that the cafe staff often took pictures with visitors. He said yes and when I stood up he placed his hand on the small of my back and steered me to the middle of the cafe.
I stood awkwardly beside him as a staff member took my phone for a photo. I was wondering what to do with myself for the photo (how does one pose for a photo with a vampire?) when suddenly Vampire Rose’s hand took a vice-grip on the back of my neck. It was… amazing XD the vampire fangirl in me sang out silently and I felt the blood rushing to my cheeks. He held on until the photo was taken.
As the picture was being taken I heard some girls exclaim “kawaii!”- I think at my fangirlishness over Vampire Rose. I can’t help it!~ I thanked the staff and floated back to my table to grab my bags.
So finally I am about to leave and I ask Rose where the bathroom is. He walks me a few steps and then points at a cluster of concave skulls in the middle of the crowded resturaunt and meets my eyes. I look at him like… huh!? And he smiles “kidding!” pointing me to the (real) restroom down the hall. I felt his smirk on my back as I escorted myself out.
When I finally got back to our hotel in Ikebukuro some time later, I was buzzing with excitement as I told Dustin all about the Vampire Cafe. I sat on the edge of the bed, fangirling shamelessly to my husband, when I took off my shoes.
“Huh” I remarked- “the dye on my shoes must have rubbed off on my (white) socks?” Dustin looked over at my socks, saturated red.
“Wait. My shoes are blue”.
I walked so much today that, by the time I reached the vampire cafe, my feet were literally BLEEDING ALL OVER MY SOCKS.
This is day 7 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 7, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 7, October 7th, 2017
Today was definitely an adventure. Dustin and I were going to go to Akiba again, but his feet were in bad condition from all the walking we’d been doing, so I went out on another solo exploration. Originally I was going to go to Akiba alone and get more doll supplies, but I got distracted by loud music near the station.
I’m not sure what sort of festival it was, but dancers of all ages were doing group choreography in colourful dress. Some performances featured huge flags being waved in synchronization- each flag used someone’s entire body weight to wave! One performance utilized costumes that flipped into different colours 3 times (green to white to pink.). It was such a cool thing to see. Lots of people on the sidewalks stopped to watch along the sides of the roads.
After i’d watched several impressive performances, I was starting to get hungry and was feeling brave, so I used Google Maps to find the place i’d been extremely curious (and nervous) about visiting: Theme Cafe #6 of my trip- The BL (Boys Love) Cafe in Ikebukuro!!! o.o
Be forewarned: the following adventure is not for everyone, but I couldn’t resist!
This cafe has developed a reputation for providing a very unique atmosphere and experience, and was something I just couldn’t pass up- again, you’re not in Japan every day! Might as well check out the yaoi cafe! Judge me if you will!
I came upon a discrete signboard and steps leading up to a nondescript door with a cherub knocker. When I entered with a tinkling of bells, I was greeted by a handsome young man and I said in my best Japanese, “Hi, I don’t have a reservation… is it ok?”
He said yes, and guided me to a seat at the bar. He gave me a brand new Cafe ID card for their points program, and explained the menu to me as best as he could, often turning to “Sensei” for help. Hyuma Sensei has very good English (he told me he studied in America for a while). He turned to me and said “so, you’re 16”.
Me: “Oh, me, no! I’m 27! You need my ID? I have it som…”
Sensei: “No, we don’t care about that. But here, you are 16. I am “Sensei”. This is high school. So-and-so has a ____ coloured tie, so he is a 1st year. So-and-so has a ____ tie, so you can see he is a 3rd year.” etc. I couldn’t keep the names, tie colours, or other details straight, but I got the idea. So, I had entered a strange world of role play where I, and all of the customers and staff, were “in high school”.
I ordered a full set – cafe au lait (iced) with a hamburger steak meal and for dessert- the infamous Pocky Challenge.
As I ate my hamburger steak and nervously sipped my cafe au lait, the staff chatted with me about my trip, about Dustin, about Canada, about if I knew what BL was (>.<‘) and how I found their cafe (internet!). I asked if they get many foreign visitors. Hyuma assured me, “yes!”
It was starting to feel sort of like a normal cafe, until a girl ordered the “Coupling Pocky”- I watched from the sidelines as Hyuma Sensei and another guy did a role-play scene resulting in a close encounter on the chaise lounge and a pocky eating challenge, each biting the pocky stick as far as they could without their lips touching. I felt my cheeks burning red. When staff returned to the bar I exclaimed in Japanese “IT’S WARM IN HERE, ISN’T IT? T-T” which they thought was really funny.
I finished my meal and worked up the nerve to ask for my Coupling Pocky to be served- the final part of my meal set. I nervously ate the pocky as instructed, eating all but the last stick (which I was to save for a heart-pounding performance featuring 2 boys of my choosing). I chose Sensei and Shoma, a funny, chatty boy who spoke excitedly with me in English about his love of Gossip Girl and my love of vampires. (We kept making jokes about the phrase “xoxo- Gossip Girl”).
Sensei pulled a chair out to the side of the room and motioned for me to sit. He asked “what kind of scenario would you like?”
Surprised, I paused awkwardly and said “like… kabe don? Sort of thing? Sort, of, maybe?…”
The kabe don wall-hit move is an often over-the-top anime and jdrama trope that never fails to bring a blush to my cheeks (or a smile to my lips): here is a kabe-don example video for the unfamiliar:
Could the young men of the Ikebukuro cafe do kabe-don justice?
“OK” Sensei said with a smile, “which one of us is performing the kabe-don on the other?”
“Sensei?….” I peeped.
So, together they created and acted out a scenario where Sensei scolds Shoma for being a messy dresser and not wearing his uniform correctly. In the heat of the argument, Sensei pins him to the wall- pushes him so hard the walls rattle and all the girls in the cafe turn to look at the spectacle I had commissioned: the two boys against the wall (mostly hidden from view of the other customers) and me sitting stiffly in a wooden chair in the middle of the room covering my mouth and stifling nervous giggles.
The boys’ eyes met briefly with a stifled laugh, silently acknowledging, I think, something like “oops, I pushed you too hard lol”. Then, Hyuma Sensei procured the Pocky stick and they completed the scene as I watched through my fingers, my hands pressed against my cheeks.
Afterward they asked “So, how was it?” and I said in english “You did great!”
“Wow, we did good!” they rejoiced.
“No. GREAT. Better than good. Totemo, totemo good”, I assured them. They were proud XD.
Before leaving the cafe, I was offered to pick a photo from a random draw as a memory keepsake of the cafe- I got this picture of Souta, the boy who initially greeted me at the door. We had some language barrier, but he is very kind and funny. He kept making jokes about important aspects of Japanese culture I needed to experience on my trip, such as harakiri/seppuku. Ok! I’ll get right on that!
I told the staff that I was leaving soon for Gunma and Kinosaki but that I would be back after and wanted to visit again. Sensei said “We’ll waiting for you!” All of the guys gathered at the door and said bye to me… then I forgot my umbrella and had to run back to get it ^-^’
So, it was a VERY memorable experience in the heart of the Otome Road.
After that thrilling lunch, I collected myself and took the Maranouchi line to see Maika at the cafe where she works. I had to take 2 trains but I missed a stop and had to backtrack. I made it eventually! It was a nice walk through residential neighborhoods to her cafe, Allpress Roastery. There was construction in some places, and it was a quiet area without much signage- i’m so glad for google maps! I saw lots of people walking dogs, and one biker collide with an apologetic woman. (Gomennasai!!! Daijobu desu ka!?)
At the cafe Maika made me a beautiful latte with hearts in the foam.
I saw a big, interesting bug on the door.
Maika introduced me to her friends Colleen and Kyosuke, and we went to a cosy little Okonomiyaki restaurant together. It was my first time sitting at a traditional Japanese low table with my feet folded under me. We made the okonomiyaki together and it was so delicious. The bonito flakes sway and move from the heat like they are dancing. I drank beer and plum wine.
We went for a lovely evening stroll after dinner. While walking on the streets together, Maika pointed out remnants of a completed festival: scarecrow-like figures with large bag heads.
Maika, Colleen and I took the same train for part of the way back. The train seats were different than others i’d seen before- they were the colour of bread. I was the first to have to get off, and wished my friends goodbye.
After such a busy day I wasn’t tired at all, and it’s not often that I’m in Ikebukuro on a Saturday night so…. I looked up the BL cafe and found out it was OPEN UNTIL 5AM! I wanted to make the most of all the time I had in Japan, so I headed back there again and was greeted warmly by the staff.
I met a cute, stylish girl who was also seated at the bar. I complimented her style and we began chatting excitedly with the aid of Google translate. We talked about my trip, and her visit to the BL cafe (she is a semi-regular customer and rode the train 1.5 hours to get here!). Another woman to my left was shy and barely spoke any English, but when staff told me she was an expert tequila drinker, I declared that she was Tequila Champion, Queen of Tequila. I got the staff chanting “1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila, 4!…” and we all had a good time chatting for a bit.
A few more shenanigans:
Before he finished his shift for the day, Shoma was showing off a cute sticker on his middle finger and making it talk. I asked “what is his (the hamster) name?” Answer? HAMUSTA CHAN!
Before he left, Hyuma and I had a conversation about mascots in Japan vs. Canada. He thought (maybe he was pulling my leg?) that moose were made-up creatures! When I explained how big they are, he was shocked.
Before she left, my bar-mate friend told me I was pretty and showed me on her phone translator “I’m glad I met you.” She told me I am a “colourful person who can do anything” and that my personality and expressions remind her of a puppy dog! Haha. She was such a sweet girl and wished me a great trip.
One staff, Misaki(?) was quite a joker, and kept doing the “I have a pen- I have a apple- UHH! PINAPPLE PEN” song, except at the “UHH!” parts he made a variety of indecent noises that had me in stitches.
Another late-night staff was excited to learn I was Canadian and trying to learn Japanese, and cheered me on with “ganbatte!”
One of the staff found out I like SHINee, and he was also a kpop fan- he played SHINee Lucifer on the speakers for me!
Around 11:45 or so I left the cafe- the boys said “Bye bye!” and made sure I was comfortable with finding my way back to the hotel. I played a couple of rounds of the drumming game at Taito station before calling it quits and walking back to the hotel amidst a current of swaying salarymen. I got to pet a corgi!