Tokyo’s electronics and pop culture mecca Akihabara is a land of strange fantasies. And nothing spells business opportunity like strange fantasies.
For example, take Noodle Café, a recently-opened restaurant where real Japanese female idols poor hot water into a cup of instant ramen for you. For 800 yen (US $10.30).
Though the cafe official opened on January 24, we actually had the chance to visit during a special customer preview event the evening before.
For those unfamiliar, Japanese idols are attractive young people in their teens and early twenties who appear regularly in the media as television personalities, singers in pop groups, etc.
The idols working at Noodle Café are all newbies belonging to the talent agency Platinum Production. There are a total of 5 idols at the café each day, with different idols working depending on the day. Customers can check the shift schedule online to plan their visit so they may be served by their favorite idol.
I arrived at the café shortly after it opened at 5pm and there were already people lining up outside waiting for a seat to open.
We were uncertain what to except once we were seated, but luckily the café’s ordering system was displayed on the bulletin board outside. The sign read as follows:
1. Select your preferred idol.
2. Purchase a ticket from the ticket-vending machine.
3. Staff will escort you to your seat.
4. Give your ticket to the idol and choose your instant ramen.
5. Please move to the eating area after 3 minutes.
Furthermore customers are limited to 30 minutes during peak hours. Thank you for your understanding.
When we were finally shown in, we approached the ticket-vending machine as instructed, where we were presented with the two ambiguous choices of “Noodles” or “Drink,” both for 800 yen (US $10.30).
“Noodles” of course refers to one of the many flavors and brands of instant ramen you can choose to have your idol prepare for you. Along the same lines, customers who order “Juice” can choose from a variety of store-bought bottled juice drinks to be served.
We know what you’re thinking: 800 yen just for a styrofoam cup of instant ramen or a bottle of Fanta and 3 minutes of small talk with a teenage girl is ridiculous.
Well, in terms of price, absolutely. 800 yen is 4-5 times more that what you’d be paying for instant ramen or a bottle of juice were you to buy it at a convenience store.
However during our visit we overheard some customers talking: “We can talk for a whole 3 minutes for 800 yen and we get a cup of instant ramen? That’s so cheap, don’t you think?”
800 yen could just a fraction of what some fans would be willing to pay for 3 minutes of conversation with their favorite idol.
While we were there we noticed that while there were some girls who were constantly busy pouring water for customers, other girls didn’t get called on a single time. There was obviously a gap in popularity between the staff, which isn’t surprising: the Japanese idol industry is known for being ruthless and it’s common for newcomers to rise fast and fall hard. Noodle Café may give girls at the bottom rung the chance to build a fan base at the grassroots level, much like ultra-popular pop group AKB48.
When it comes down to it, probably the best way to think about Noodle Café is as a place where you can pay to converse with Japanese idols—the ramen is just an added bonus.
▼ An explanation of the ordering system and photos of the day’s 5 idols
▼ Finally being shown inside!
▼ The tables constitute the ‘eating area’ and the counter area is where the idols will pour your hot water and make small talk for 3 minutes
▼ Choose your favorite instant ramen and start the clock!
▼ An 800 yen cup of instant idol ramen.
[ Read in Japanese ]