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Cafe Newtype

Posted by Shaun

I wrote two blog entries on the plane home, so now that I've been home for almost a month, I figure I'll write them up. I've been waiting for a moment when I'm not so tired from my summer part time job but that moment hasn't really come, so I'll just attempt to power through my exhaustion and type up what I have.

We'll start with my trip to Cafe Newtype, which I mentioned in my last post.

 My very last night in Japan, I met the Japanese friend I had planned to go to in Akihabara. I got bored of being in the house though, so I got there absurdly early. So I enjoyed walking directly down the middle of the street, which was closed to traffic since it was Sunday, and taking pictures of people playing video games in the middle of the road. It's really fun to walk down a four-lane street knowing you won't be run over, but it makes the sidewalk feel really narrow.

Neither my friend nor I could find the prices for food at Cafe Newtype, so we went to Tendon Tenya and had tendon (tempura in a bowl over rice) beforehand. Then we went searching for the cafe. It was pretty hard to find. We walked past the street we were supposed to go down at least twice, but we eventually found it. The cafe was pretty unimpressive on the inside. The tables reminded me of a cafeteria and it was smaller and dingier than I'd imagined. But the staff was really friendly.

At first we were really nervous and didn't know how to interact with people, but when we did, it was interesting.

My friend had never met anyone like an "otoko no ko" before so she kept talking about how beautiful everyone was and how they didn't look like men at all.
The place was having a beer festival, so if we ordered beer we got a random picture of one of the staff. I forgot the name of the person whose picture I have, but they weren't working the night we were there. But they had a wide selection of international beers for their festival, so I ordered a really delicious Newton green apple beer from Belgium. I hate regular beer, but fruit beer is acceptable.

I got to meet Pochi, the staff member I saw on TV when I found out about the cafe. I don't know what I was expecting from meeting him, but I didn't get to talk to him much.
My friend asked him why he chose the name Pochi (Pochi is a typical dog name in Japanese, like Fido). Pochi's answer was that he didn't want to give himself a particularly masculine or feminine name, but "Nan darou ne." ("Yeah, who knows why?"). 

Then I made an awkward error in trying to ask another staff member their preferred pronoun. The problem is, the words for he and she (kare and kanojo) also mean boyfriend and girlfriend in Japanese, so I think I actually asked their sexual preference instead and got the predictable answer of "My secret." It's totally possible to speak and write Japanese without pronouns but it's difficult in English, so, as you've probably already noticed, I'm using gender-neutral "they" (If you want to pick a fight about the validity of gender-neutral singular "they," do so on a different blog, please).

I've been using "he" for Pochi because of an interesting incident. The table behind us called for "Onee-san!" ("Excuse me, ma'am!"), and Pochi replied with "Onii-san da kedo, nani ga?" (It's sir but what is it?"). Since words like "onee-san" and "onii-san" are used way more often in Japanese than "kare" and "kanojo," I thought that might be a better window into the world of preferred pronouns.

The other staff member we talked to told us they wanted to become a model, not for just men's or just women's clothes, but for both or something in between. "Something only I can do," they said. Maybe sort of like Andrej Pejic, I guess. They said they already had some modeling work, and their photos in the photobook we got to look at were gorgeous. Of course, they were gorgeous in person too.

There was one staff member who was wearing a yukata and a sign that said "we have kaki-koori" (shaved ice), and was really trying to push people to order it. We we ordered water, they pointed out that adding one more line to the kanji for water would make it ice, and when another party ordered karaage (fried chicken), they said "Oh, you mean kaki-koori?" The determination was funny.

There was also a guy sitting by us who had come by himself and was showing the staff card tricks. It was kinda impressive.

Everyone who worked at Cafe Newtype was really nice to me too, the only foreigner in the entire place. I was asked how many years I'd been in Japan, and everyone was surprised when I said 11 months and disappointed when I said I was leaving tomorrow. They told me to come back if I was ever in Japan. I'm definitely going to miss my special foreigner status when I come back to America, if only a little bit.

After we left the cafe, we went to take purikura pictures at a nearby arcade, and we wanted to eat 100 yen donuts at Mister Donuts, but it was closed. We actually walked past it the first time because the storefront was totally dark and I was going on an empassioned speech about gay rights (I love that I can do that in Japanese now!). So we didn't get donuts, but we did have a good conversation.

It was a great night over all. I got to hang out with my friend, speak lots of Japanese, discover delicious beer, and meet a bunch of people performing gender in whatever way they saw fit. Smash the gender binary! :B

Yeah, um, ahem. My gender and women's studies minor is showing a little.

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