In which I pay good money to sneeze for a half-hour

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It was our last night in Japan when I suddenly realized:

Japan is slightly notorious for its maid cafés, restaurants staffed by girls dressed in maid outfits. The girls supposedly act ridiculously cutesy, refer to their customers as “master” (ご主人さま, goshujin-sama) and speak in unspeakably high-pitched voices. The first maid cafés opened in Akihabara (the electronics district in Tokyo) and eventually spread to other cities. To this day, they remain popular among the Japanese otaku.

As a huge manga-loving geek myself, I was super curious. Almost excessively so. The absurdly packed schedule of our trip, though, hadn’t left any time to swing by a maid café– so on that final day, I suddenly decided,

At that particular moment, my group was in downtown Sapporo. I spotted a sign directly across the street:

So I set off with a friend to investigate the maid café. The billboard directed us down the street, into a shady alleyway, and up an equally shady staircase. We finally found the entrance (a door covered in a poster of a cherry tree, sporting a heart-shaped sign that read OPEN) only to figure out that it was certainly, positively, definitely

That wasn’t enough to discourage me, though. There had to be other cafés in Sapporo, right? Quickly, we set out again. But a mere block later I was distracted by another shiny sign:

cat café?! Here was a place I had never heard of until I came to Japan: a café where, for a fee, patrons can sit around a pet cats for a while. A couple of girls in our group had visited one in Tokyo and came back raving over the cute cats.

Did I want to see maid girls pretending to be cats, or actual cats? For a fee of ¥500 per half hour– and we were in a hurry– I favored the cats. Thus we ventured into the café…

The appearance of the café wasn’t all that impressive, actually. It was a carpeted room with a couple benches and cat furniture. The other girls had reported that the café they visited had tables, chairs, and even purchasable food to feed the cats. This Sapporo café was obviously a little less embellished. But it didn’t matter, because

CATS. ALL OVER THE ROOM. I believe this café had 11 cats or so. And you can imagine my reaction:

I suppose I was imagining that the cat café would be full of cuddly, happy cats who just want to be your friend. But I forgot that cats are just not like that. Cats are sassy. And as these cats were subjected to adoring customers, day after day after day, they definitely had more attitude than usual.

There was one cat, though, that totally stole my heart. After sizing me up for a minute or so…

…it decided that my lap was a comfy place to settle down.

There was just one problem, though: I’m actually allergic to cats. So the rest of my day was spent like this:

And it totally was.