Akihabara is a district of Tokyo that has traditionally been famous for the electronics which have for decades been synonymous with Japan. Because of this, Akihabara has also become well-known for its geeks – and now one of Japanese geeks favorite new hang-outs, the “Maid Cafe“. Read on for an explanation of wide range of services maid cafes have to offer, and a hilarious video which introduces the type of clientele that keeps these establishments alive.
The Maid Cafe is one of those startling Only-In-Japan phenomena, such as the Toilet Target Marker Sticker, the Magic Hand, or the Fundoshi. They are mostly regular cafes, serving the usual cakes, coffees and teas (milk AND lemon for the authentic geek), however the waitresses are all dressed up in French maid or lolita costumes. Often the costumes include cats or bunny ears to increase the “cuteness” factor.
The maids use honorific language toward the customers such as a servant would use, their greeting being “welcome home, Master”, and their level of service and subservience for the customer borders the extreme. In some cafes maids have been known to get down on their knees to stir the milk, lemon, and/or sugar into the Master’s drink, and at the more hard-core cafes, maid will spoon-feed their Masters. It is this kind of attention that draws the Akihabara, or Akiba-kei geeks in numbers.
Generally cafes serve drinks at regular prices and customers pay an extra charge for the time they are there, ie 400 yen for every 30 minutes. However, some cafes offer extra services; grooming services, such as shampoos and ear-cleaning, or maybe fully clothed massages. In one cafe, for an extra 9,000 yen, customers can chat with the maid in a private room cluttered with comic books, character figurines and animation DVDs.
The line between reality and fantasy quickly becomes a blurred one.
However, its is not just the Akiba-kei geeks queuing up to take a cheap ride into a fantasy world.
The demand of Japanese women wanting to become maids has been a startling result of this fad. In a country where many adults dream nostalgically of the fun of their childhood, this offers a rare opportunity for adult women to play dress-up and role-play in a variety of different costumes, transporting them away from their tough daily lives. Many of these women are also devoted fans of the comics, animation videos, and video games portraying maids as heroines, and they enjoy immersing themselves into their characters.
Patronage of Maid Cafes is also on the rise among young women hoping to snag a geek and turn him into Prince Charming. They are trying to bring to life the story of last year’s hit movie “Densha-Otoko” (Train Boy), a love story set in Akihabara that also became a popular TV series. This is a story, all supposedly true, of a 23 year-old Akihabara geek who intervened on a train when an old man was harassing a beautiful young girl. She in turn fell in love with him, and realized that he was in fact a nice guy who was just to shy to find a girlfriend or speak openly anywhere apart from online. This has lead a number of young Japanese women to try their luck at the real thing. No doubt much to the delight of all the potential nice-guy Train Boys.
In a classic piece of Japanese TV, an “investigation” was carried out to see of out of 100 Akiba-kei geeks, how many would actually have the courage to become like Densha-Otoko and help a real damsel in distress. The TV station lures the guys into an alley with a sign to a Maid Cafe, then stage a fight.
A twist to the Maid Cafe are the latest “Princess Restaurants” where waitresses in maid outfits treat their customers like royalty as they are shown to their “throne chairs.” Targeting female customers in their 20s and 30s, Princess Heart is becoming a hot spot in Tokyo Ginza, providing service to only women and couples.
For those interested, here is a list of Maid Cafes if you live in Japan. And even one here if you live in Ontario, Canada! (Canada maid cafe link removed as it recently was pointing to a hard core rape site for some reason..)
Akihabara is a must visit for tourists to Tokyo. It has a rare old-town atmosphere, people selling dirt-cheap electronics out of their garages as well as boasting the largest electronics chain stores in Japan. Maid Cafes dispersed throughout certainly add a new spice to this already interesting area.