Maid cafés in Japan have experienced a recent boom in popularity, primarily because of an increasing interest in otaku culture by the popular media. Maid cafés, also known as “maid kisa” (from “kissaten,” the Japanese word for café), or “meido café” (“meido” is the pronunciation of ‘maid’ in Japanese). These cafés feature young women dressed in either pink or black maid costumes who treat their primarily male customers as if they were lords returning to their manors. For a small fee you can usually have your photo taken with the maid of your choice, and the various services offered at maid cafés include conversation, aromatherapy, massage, and game playing (as in board games). Apparently the maids often refer to their male customers as “Master” and adopt a subservient attitude while they stir cream into your coffee for you. While these cafés were once strictly the purview of hardcore otaku, curious non-otaku Japanese have began frequenting these cafés in an act of internal cultural tourism. Because of this, the lines to get into the maid cafés on a Saturday in Akihabara were incredible. One of the older and more established cafés had a line that stretched out the door and halfway down the block. We ended up waiting for 20 minutes to get into a newer café located on the next floor above the Royal Milk and Aromatherapy Café.
It turns out that the biggest letdown of visiting a maid café is the relative normality of the whole event. The café we went to was completely unremarkable except for the fact that the waitresses were dressed as maids. The tables and chairs were cheap, standard café fare, the lighting was unremarkable, and the coffee was mediocre. In fact, the experience could be compared to going to a Denny’s where all the waitresses were young and dressed in maid outfits. I was expecting some kind of fantasy decor to match the maid outfits — lacy curtains, or doilies on the tables, or at least some nice Victorian-style ceramics for the coffee — but really everything was entirely plain. In fact, the waitress at our table was rather surly, and the outfits worn in the café were a bit second rate — not at all like the elaborate and beautifully crafted outfits worn by the followers of Gothic Lolita fashion, a tribe of true aesthetic devotees. Perhaps “chintzy” might be the proper adjective to apply here. Of course, neither Jess, Tomo, nor myself have any particular devotion to maid fashion so perhaps our disappointment is merely a symptom of our not having a maid fetish to begin with, unlike the young, pimply-faced teenager seated across from us who was clearly completely blissed out.
Since the maid look has become so popular, you simply can’t miss it as you roam the electric streets of Akihabara. In addition to maids handing out flyers directing you to maid cafés, there are tons of women wearing maid outfits, and other cosplay-type gear, advertising for all types of stores in the area. In fact, while we were deciding on where to go, we ran across a young woman in a green maid outfit handing out pamphlets. Since green was rather unusual — being neither black nor pink — we decided to find out where this Green Maid Café might be located. But it turned out that she wasn’t advertising for a café at all. Instead, it was a “meido megane-ya” — a maid-run eyeglasses shop.
Of course, it can’t only be men who have a servant fetish and it was only a matter of time before Tokyo’s first butler café was opened to cater to women. I think I’ll try to go there next time to see if it sets a higher standard of décor.
Here’s a link to a page that has some information about a few of the maid cafés in Akihabara. My favorite name of the bunch has got to be “Melty Cure.”
A link to an article about butler cafés. Can there be a better headline than “Butlers and boy love”?
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Tags: Akihabara, おたく, メイドカフェ, butler café, coffee, cosplay, 秋葉原, fetishism, maid café, maid culture, maids, otaku, otaku culture, Tokyo, 執事喫茶, 東京