Nerdin’ Out on the Chuo Line: Kuroneco@Nakano and The Ghibli Museum@Mitaka

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself doing otaku-related stuff in Tokyo’s west side, the more laid back part of the city. That being the case, these spots are more chilled out than otaku establishments on the city’s east side.


The system: All you can drink for thirty minutes–twenty after 8pm–for 1000 yen, with maids. The name of the place is Kuroneco, and anyone from your typical otaku, grizzled old man, or wannabe cool dude gathers to down drinks and engage in conversation with cute maids. Oh, and there are two gaijin there, as well–us.

A friend of mine and I decided to walk through Kuroneco’s sliding glass doors the other day–I was going for research for my Otakon panel, and he was simply kind enough to tag along. I was going in expecting some kind of novelty–you know, getting drunk and playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with maids, or something like that. My friend had been there before, and knew the score, but opted to let me get an idea of the place for myself.

Upon entering, there’s already mass confusion. The maids just kind of stare at us as if we’re space aliens or ghosts, at a loss for words or what to do. Normally this is where you say “welcome”, and pull out seats to indicate where the customers are supposed to sit, but we kind of stand in the entrance way awkwardly until we realize that we’re not going to be guided anywhere, so we find our own places to sit down.

The maid in front of us is flustered, asking if anyone in the store can speak English. We then bust out our Nihongo, assuring them that all will be alright, upon which the maids change their tunes, and begin talking to us and serving drinks.

Our girl is Shiki–the kanji are a little different, but her alias is a reference to the main character in Kara no Kyoukai. As such, upon being asked her what her favorite anime is, she goes on for a bit about how she loves Kara no Kyoukai. Yeah, this girl is legit. I guess you have to be given the customer base. Despite the confusion at the beginning, this girl–and I assume the rest of them–actually knowing her stuff is a big plus. But this is pretty normal.

What isn’t normal is the laid back atmosphere. Lots of maid cafes in Akiba are (or were? They’re kinda dying) typically overly cutesy, whereas what Kuroneco offers is quite simple and relaxing: drinks and good conversation. Well, they do have one silly thing where you touch glasses and say “Nyanpai!” when the first round of drinks comes out, but that’s about it. And that amount is just fine.

We then go on to talk about SHAFT, and then speak at length about Aku no Hana. Shiki is from Gunma, so she lets us in on some local info.

So yeah, it’s a good time. Granted, it’s kind of like an affordable hostess club, but it’s not bad for thirty minutes. That said, we leave right as our thirty minutes are up to head to a real bar.

If you know Japanese, Kuroneco’s a good time. That said, if all you really have under your belt is English, you may wanna go with your buddy who’s fluent in the local language.

The Ghibli Museum

Out in the far reaches of Mitaka, surrounded by not much other than trees, lies the Ghibli Museum. Incidentally, “not much” is also a good description of the museum itself. While 1000 yen is quite a reasonable entrance fee considering what the museum has to offer, the need to book far in advance, the out-of-the-way location, and the Ghibli name sets expectations kind of high.

Not to say that the Ghibli Museum is bad. It’s a pleasant afternoon, but here’s the thing: It’s either a date spot, or a place to take your kids. The place is mostly about atmosphere. Like I mentioned earlier–it’s surrounded by trees, and the design of the whole place is pretty Miyazak–er, Ghibli inspired. It makes for a relaxing atmosphere.

That said, given it’s a museum, it kind of falls short when it comes to the actual stuff on display. There are some storyboards for some of Ghibli’s less popular (read: non-Miyazaki) movies, and a few (probably very expensive) cels on display, but for the most part a majority of the items on display are made especially for the museum. Thankfully, a lot of these things are quite cool. The museum’s biggest feature is that you can see short Ghibli films that can’t be seen anywhere else. I saw a cute one about an anthropomorphized egg and bread dough. It had no dialogue, and told a charming and simple story effectively through visuals.

There are other bits of museum-exclusive animation that can be found in the exhibition hall on the first floor, which are similarly simple, fun, and imaginative. There’s some other cool things in the exhibition hall that boast interesting ways of using animation, the biggest of which is a collection of models in different stages of movement staged around a tree that spins regularly with flashing lights, giving off the illusion that there are several models moving simultaneously. Words don’t do it justice, so here’s a sneaky video.

I don’t want to go over everything, as I’m sure the museum has been covered several times, but other kind of cool things are recreations of what I assume are various real-life Miyazaki work spaces, complete with ashtrays stuffed with towers of cigarettes, and a number of cool displays involving simple cameras and lenses.

The museum’s Straw Hat Cafe wasn’t so bad–I got a sweet oyakodon sandwich, which wasn’t bad, except for the sweet part. It had apples mixed in it, which made for an interesting taste, but not quite a delicious one. Dessert was cheesecake-ish flavored stuff on an English muffin, which was quite good.

Anyway, it’s worth going to once, but it’ll be a while before I make the journey all the way back out there again.

Further photographs from the Ghibli Museum can be found on my Flickr.


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