Part 26: The Culture of Japan
BGM: Welcome Back, my Master E
05/25 (FRI), Evening
Sorry, Rinka... but even I have to point out how dumb this situation is.
Yeah. I'm well aware.
Wowee! So this is a maid cafe! I've heard much about them!
Sonya wanders around the store, taking in every aspect of it. I suppose this isn't the kind of place you'd find in Russia. In an ideal world, I wouldn't have come here. Not to say that maid cafes are bad in general, but I don't really like standing out among the predominantly male customer base.
Plenty of anime and manga are set in schools, so that seems to have led Sonya to take an interest in what they're really like. Seems she had to enroll in a correspondance school due to her condition, which meant that she'd never actually had the chance to go to a physical school. As such, going to one was part of being able to see the world at large in her eyes. That's why she snuck into Amecha High to watch what I was doing. I figured she would've been caught doing so, but she gave me this excuse...
I trained myself in the art of the ninja, so I had no issues!
She made some wacky hand gestures at the same time. Apparently, they're from an anime that had aired while I was in elementary school.
Your kindness is something I should be proud of as your friend, but...
You're going to do more damage than you think if you finish that sentence.
Miharu is obviously baffled, so I could only give her a timid response. Lunch break ended not long after we discovered Sonya, so we had to get her to lay low somewhere until school was over. On our way back, I explained that I let her stay at my place. Once Miharu mentioned that she had to go to work, the topic shifted to what Miharu's job entailed. Sonya's odd impressions about certain parts of Japan have led her to believe that maid cafes represent the country just as much as places like Kiyomizu Temple, so she's pretty much forced us to take her.
You don't regret your decision, do you?
In that case, I can still say I'm proud of you.
Sonya makes her way back to our table just as we wrap up our conversation. There are a number of ornaments and notes littering the store, so it's not uncommon for customers to leave their seats. However, it certainly is odd for a girl her age to be wandering around a store like this. That's why all eyes are on us when she returns.
Maids are normally in charge of household chores, correct? Why did you become one when you're only in high school?
I'm only working here part-time. Also, you won't find the kind of maids you're imagining here in Japan.
C'mon, no need to crush her dreams...
Oh-ho, I see. And here I was thinking you were secretly Magical Girl Miharu.
More importantly, how do you know my na- Oh, you must've overheard Rinka using it.
What is this so-called 'special' pancake?
Yuck, they've got those here? Uh, basically, the maid draws something on it and recites a spell to make it taste delicious...
A spell! How interesting! I'll have one, then!
The entire store gasps in horror upon hearing her request.
Rinka, I... Erm, that menu option doesn't quite fit with my character here, so ideally I'd be able to refuse her request...
Not that I'd blame you.
Right? Let's just say that those pancakes aren't particularly good in the first place. Certainly not worth the 5000 yen price tag. I assume you know why they're so expensive. Moreover, this particular menu item exists soley to squeeze more money out of single customers. I'd rather not have you enable the manager's wicked business tactics.
So I don't get any?
Unfortunately not, unless you're willing to ask someone other than me.
Just then, the manager calls Miharu over. I guess he's noticed our little conversation.
Her expression upon returning is an awkward mix of anger and despair. She places a tray with a pancake on our table and then doodles something on it using a chocolate pen. A stuffed animal, shaped to look similar to the one Sonya carries.
Amazing! Look, Passazhir! It's you! Are you going to cast a spell on it for me next?
I need to do this... in front of Rinka? Sorry... but I'm going to curse you for the rest of my life now.
Miharu shoots Sonya the most evil glare I've seen from her. It's not the kind of expression you'd normally show to a child. She then turns to me, looking more serious than I've ever seen her.
You listening, Rinka? What I'm about to do is only a part of this job, okay? That's why I need you to forget all about it once you leave.
She looks ever so tense. Hearing that causes all sorts of scenarios to run through my head, which leads me to feel embarrassed on her behalf before she even does it. She inhales sharply and lifts her index finger into the air.
Nummy nummy pancake for your tummy! ♡
She spins her index fingers in the air a few times before creating the shape of a heart by cupping both hands together, which she then thrusts out toward the pancake.
BGM: Welcome Back, my Master E
I have finally borne witness to one of Japan's magical girls at work!
Sonya is likely oblivious to the emotions Miharu is keeping tucked away behind that smile. Instead, she is tickled pink that she's gotten to witness something so rare. Meanwhile, Miharu hasn't moved an inch after striking her pose. She does all in her power to not make eye contact with me.
Th-That was really cute...
Ugh... I'll never live this one down...
I couldn't bring myself to look her in the eyes when I muttered that either, so Miharu covers her face in shame and runs off to the back room.
Why is your face all red?
I feel... guilty. I should've tried harder to stop her...
Once Sonya has finished her meal, I make sure to get our bill right away. Speaking of the bill, Sonya pays using the credit card she has on her. It's the only reason I let her order in the first place. As we are about to leave, Miharu returns from the back room. She's back in her school uniform. It would seem she's managed to get off early for the day, although I make sure not to ask how or why.
I want to look around Akihabara!
Oh yeah, you mentioned that. I'm not too familiar with Akihabara, though...
Then I'll join you. You're fine with that, aren't you, Rinka?
Miharu comes here often, so we'd be better off having her guide us.
Besides, it's not like I trust you yet. I'd rather not leave the two of you alone.
I can't call Miharu out, not even for her harsh tone. While I trust Sonya, I'm still aware of the risks involved in being with her like this.
Are you taking us, then? There's lots and lots I want to see!
Sonya shows little care for our concerns in that regard.
She really is brimming with innocence, isn't she?
Having decided on what to do next, we finally leave the maid cafe.
05/25 (FRI), Night
Shinjuku station is packed due to everyone making their way home from work. The three of us take the Sobu line from Akihabara back to Shinjuku, and then get off so we can make our respective transfers.
I didn't think we'd spend that much time there.
It was great!
By the time we finish touring Akihabara, I am beat. I usually only ever get off there to make a quick transfer, so I honestly had no idea what it'd be like. I noticed tons of anime and electronics stores while we walked around. Sonya kept stopping in front of and going into stores that caught her interest, so it's safe to say that she pretty much dragged us wherever she wanted.
Your knowledge of Japan's wonderful anime is lacking, sister! What a waste!
I used to watch a fair bit when I was younger, but I didn't realize just how much there is. If it were manga, I'd know a bit more, but... not as much as you two.
You should learn from Miharu!
...I make sure to keep up to date thanks to my job. It's easier to please the customers when you can talk about these things with them.
When I think about it, I've barely watched any anime at all recently. I've kept myself busy by helping out with the store, and my time's tied up in it even more now that I'm in charge of it.
You read a fair amount of shoujo manga, don't you?
Yeah, I've borrowed a decent amount from Mao.
You may look scary, but deep down, you still like girly things!
...It's one of the best things about her.
Hey! Shouldn't you be denying that I look scary?
As we make our way back to the subway entrance, Miharu follows alongside us. ...Which is odd of her, considering she should've gone in the opposite direction at Akihabara to get home. When I decide to ask her why she's tagging along, she answers with a smile.
It's simple. I'll be staying over at your place tonight, as well. Leaving you and Sofiya alone is still a bit too dangerous, after all.
Huh? Tomorrow's a weekday, you know...
I can make my way back home early in the morning. That is, after I make sure Sofiya doesn't take you out while you're sleeping.
Hey now, no need to say it like that...
Take her out? Do we need to go somewhere else?
Maybe you're a bit too young to understand the meaning behind it. But as I said before, I still don't trust you.
She looks sad at first, but then flips right back to her bright expression.
I did get to visit a lot of fun places thanks to that!
You're taking her somewhere else tomorrow, right? In that case, I'll join. Naturally, I'll be staying overnight again, too. But don't worry, I'll do what I can to not sour the experience for her. All right?
I'm fine with it, but what about your mom?
She hesistates before nodding her head and telling me it'll be fine. With that sorted out, we discuss where to go tomorrow as we make our way back. Miharu never appeared openly hostile towards Sonya today, but you could tell things were a bit awkward.
BGM: Lion House Cafe
That Salisbury steak was delicious, Miharu!
Sonya feels the need to praise Miharu for her cooking after we head up to my room after dinner. Miharu was the one to propose making it on our way home, in all honesty.
It really was. I'd heard you were a good cook, but that was somehow even better than expected.
It's hard not to improve when you cook on a daily basis. And it was a good opportunity to let you taste my cooking for the first time. Now I can look forwared to trying yours.
Sure, but... um, don't set your expectations too high.
It's funny, but I cook every day, too. Granted, most of the time I buy a number of small meals and mix them together. I usually stick to simple things, so that's probably why I never seem to get any better. As for the food on the Lion House menu? I can only make that thanks to my gran's recipes.
Next, we take our respective turns in the bath, and then spend the night watching TV and chatting away.
05/25 (FRI), Midnight
What time is it? I can tell it's not morning yet, but for some reason, I've woken up.
BGM: Rinka's Room
Something isn't right. And I realize what it is immediately.
Neither Miharu nor Sonya are anywhere in sight. I figure something's up, and then I hear voices coming from downstairs. Fearing the worst, I make my way to the stairs.
I stop halfway down, though. I'm not sure what they're talking about, but Miharu sounds rather serious. She obviously doesn't want me hearing or knowing what they're talking about if she took Sonya downstairs with her. I realize that listening in on other people's conversations isn't admirable, and yet I can't bring myself to go back to my room.
BGM: Intel Investigation Underway
I can hear them clearly once Miharu seems to change the subject.
As I thought, something isn't quite right.
You called me by name before Rinka ever said it in front of you. That means you already knew it. I ask this already knowing the answer, but... you have my name card, don't you?
Why are you apologizing?
Because I never told you about having it.
...You're really throwing me for a loop.
Miharu sighs and massages her brow with her fingers.
Fine, whatever. Just remember this. My name is Mishima Miharu.
Yes. I won't deny that.
...You're an interesting kid, you know that?
Miharu's name card. I know her full name, and yet somehow I don't have it. That can only mean that her real name is something other than what I know her as. Well, it's not too surprising when you consider her circumstances at home. It's also why I've never asked her about it.
I know you're up there, Rinka.
I cover my mouth by reflex when Miharu calls my name, despite knowing that it will make a slapping sound.
Did you honestly think that I of all people wouldn't notice the sound of your breathing?
No shortage of apologies for me today, huh? I'm not sure how much you heard, but either way, do me a favor and forget about it. And Sofiya, sorry for waking you up in the middle of the night. You need as much sleep as you can get, so let's go back upstairs.
I want to discuss things with Miharu now that the cat's out of the bag, but we decide it is best to go back to my room after watching Sonya let out a big yawn. Basically, I don't get to find out anything regarding Miharu's name card.