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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Japan Tours and Life Style

Maid Cafe in Japan (AN INSIDE VIEW)

As the name suggests, a maid cafe is a concept/cosplay cafe where the waitresses wear a costume (a maid one to be exact), and serve customers. Maid Cafes are inspired by manga (Japanese comics), situation games, and anime (Japanese animation), and first began opening in 2001.

They are popular among otakus (a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, usually anime and manga), and you can find them all over Akihabara. This city is famous for its electronic shops and anime subculture. There are plenty of stores that sell otaku goods and collections, and maid cafes have now become as much of a staple in Akihabara.

But is there more to maid cafes? And do they have appeal beyond otaku culture? Well, I’m going to take a look inside two reputable maid cafes – Maidreamin and @Home Cafe – to see what all the fuss is about, and what they have to offer!

 

First Impressions

Maid Cafes are hard to miss on the streets of Akihabara. From the maids outside handing out flyers, to the quaint, adorable exterior of the cafes. They look like the kind of cute coffee shops you’d find in an anime, just nestled in the middle of a city. It’s no surprise that they often catch the eyes of tourists!

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One thing that deters people from going into Maid cafes is the amount of social interaction involved. Maids don’t just simply take your order. They ask you to join in with games, and songs, and of course, there’s the whole roleplaying element too. When you step inside, you’ll be greeted by all the maids shouting “Irasshaimase!” ( a Japanese word for ‘welcome’) and smiling, which helps to put you at ease a little.

Greetings depend on the cafe, however. For example, in @Home Cafe, guests are referred to either as ‘master’ or ‘princess.’ You are also given a ‘License of your Majesty’ card. This gets upgraded the more you visit, but this card proves you are the Master/Princess of @Home Cafe.

Meanwhile, at Maidreamin there are the aforementioned maids outside the cafe advertising it. If you are interested in going inside, they’ll even escort you up the steps to the cafe.

When you sit down at @Home Cafe, you will be given a price list, a comment sheet that includes notes from the maids, and previous Masters and Ladies. These sheets are available in both Korean and English.

Food & Amusements

To blend in more with the cute, quirky surroundings, the maids will offer you a headband that usually has cat or rabbit ears. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to wear the ears if you don’t want to! While some participation is necessary and the maids will encourage you to join in, ultimately the maids just want you to have a fun, enjoyable time!

At the @Home Cafe, you may be lucky enough to see a special performance lit up on the main stage, with dance routines and anime-inspired songs. Reactions to this can be mixed, depending on people’s tastes.

While maid cafes are as much about the entertainment and the experience as anything else, they are also establishments that serve food and offer a wide variety of food and drink. However, remember that in some cafes you’re not just paying for a nice meal! Some cafes have a fee system that will vary from cafe to cafe, and they charge usually per hour for the maids’ time. You need to pay close attention to this.

At @Home Cafe they don’t use a time charge system but at cafes that do it can be very easy to lose track of time and wind up with a big cheque at the end! This is a very common mistake, so when you arrive at the cafe listen carefully to what their system is and ask questions if you have any.

But let’s get into the food!

A ‘full course’ meal at @Home Cafe is 2,700 yen not including tax. It includes food, dessert, a drink, and a photo or game with a maid. This is scheduled for 60 minutes but may take longer if food is delayed.

At Maidreamin they serve both combo meals and a la carte meals. A Combo A meal is about $48 and consists of food, dessert, a drink, a gift, a samurai stick (glow sticks to you and me), and a photo with a maid along with a live performance. A Combo B meal is about $34 and consists of food, dessert, a drink, a gift, and a photo. Lastly, a Combo C meal is about $21 and contains a dessert, a drink, a gift, and a photo.

The desserts in Maidreamin are particularly cute, and usually in the shape of an animal. This one, for example, is in the shape of a bear.

maid cafe

                                                                   Image courtesy of thetravelpockets.com

 

To make the food extra delicious, maids will do a chant of “Moe Moe Kyun!” and ask you to join in, the both of you making a heart symbol with your hands.

Chants like this are commonplace in maid cafes. In @Home Cafe for example, when you order food and drinks the maids will perform good luck chants (omajinai), or say phrases like “Oishikuna-re” (“Be delicious!”). When ordering the “Furifuri-shakashaka♪Mikkusi Jyu-chu” drink (“Frilly-frilly, shaken-shaken mixed juice”), the maid will prompt you to say “furifuri,” “shakashka,” and “moe moe” while she mixes the drink.

Another way the maids interact with you while serving food is by drawing on the dishes with various sauces. At the @Home Cafe, one of their trademark dishes is omurice (omelet rice), and the maids draw cute pictures on it with ketchup. These illustrations can be animals such as cats, dogs, or bunnies. When the drawing is complete, give it an “Oishikuna-re” and infuse it with ‘magical’ powers!

My top piece of advice when visiting a maid cafe is to not be afraid to participate! This makes it a more enjoyable experience, and the cafe a worthwhile place to visit.

But while chatting to the maids is a lot of fun and a big part of the experience, there are rules you need to follow. You cannot give maids your contact information, ask them about their personal lives, or touch them or their clothes. In pretty much all maid cafes too, you cannot take photos of the maids with your phone or camera. This protects the privacy of the staff and other customers. To remember your day, purchase a souvenir photo later on, or just limit photos to your food.

At Maidreamin, they do have a more relaxed policy about photos. They don’t mind you taking photos of the inside of the cafe.

 

Maids vs. Geishas

It is a common misconception that maid cafes are part of the sex industry. Maids are often described as modern-day geishas, and there are some similarities between the two.

Geishas were trained to be eloquent orators, as well as talented singers and dancers, to best entertain guests. So too are maids meant to be entertaining, genial, and able to sing and dance. A lot of people who have visited maid cafes have been impressed by the skill of some maids, not least when drawing on certain dishes, as it shows some artistic skill.

Inappropriate behavior from customers is also not accepted in maid cafes. If a guest touches or harasses a maid, management will tell the customer to leave and they will not be allowed to return to the cafe again.

As I have already covered, taking photographs is prohibited in maid cafes. At the very least, you must ask a maid’s permission before taking a photograph with her. The only photos you are allowed to take are souvenir polaroids at the end of your visit. These are pricey though and usually cost around  ¥800.

What is it like to be a maid?

Japanese law allows you to get a part-time job when you’re of high school age, and this may explain why a lot of maids are young women, usually university or high school students.

 

This naturally raises a lot of concerns, given the common but false idea that maid cafes are linked to sex work. Of course, some maid cafes are more reputable than others and some are not so great at safeguarding their employees from unwanted or inappropriate attention.

Maid cafe Japan

 

But a lot of maids speak of a positive experience. For them, it’s just another job, and sometimes a way to enjoy hobbies such as singing or drawing while getting paid for it and entertaining people.

Saying Goodbye

The standard amount of time to spend at a maid cafe is an hour. If you are worried about accidentally exceeding your time limit, don’t worry. At the @Home Cafe, your maid will let you know when your hour is up.

Now you’re able to have a photo with your maid. At @Home Cafe, you need to order the ‘Maid and Memorial Photo’ from the amusement menu. If you haven’t donned cat or bunny ears already, now is your chance! You can hit the stage and have your photo taken with your maid. Don’t forget to strike a pose!

Once the photo is developed, you get a very prettily framed photo of you and your maid complete with the date of your visit and the nickname of your maid. Maids are encouraged to use nicknames to protect their privacy.

Final Thoughts

Maid cafes are a very divisive aspect of Japanese culture, especially to tourists. They are a unique experience for sure, and will not be for everybody.

Some tourists who have visited maid cafes have noticed that women may have an easier time loosening up and getting into the spirit of things. On the other hand, male customers may feel a bit more awkward participating in the rather cute traditions.

Meanwhile, others have noted that women may feel more uncomfortable in maid cafes due to the inaccurate connection between maid cafes and the sex industry, and may feel it objectifies women – especially young women. This isn’t exactly helped by the fetishization of maids and maid costumes in anime and other pieces of media. But while the maid’s costume has become sexualized, this is not the intent at a maid cafe. It is just a simple cosplay, and similarly, themed butler cafes also exist in Japan. In these cafes, men dress up as butlers and provide top-quality service.

When you step out of one of these cafes though, it will feel like you were in another world for an hour or so. For those who enjoy the experience of a maid cafe and fully embrace its cute whimsy, it can be a place to break free of societal expectations.

Of course, I can’t ignore the fact that there may be some unsavory people visiting these cafes regularly that are not just looking for a bit of escapism. But it’s worth considering that there are a number of regular customers who visit these cafes for conversation and companionship.

Given that Japan has services for renting friends to combat loneliness, this doesn’t seem like such a crazy theory to me.  Plus, the reason why otaku culture is so prevalent is that Japan is a notoriously hard-working country, with little downtime. ‘Otaku’ is often considered a derogatory term for people who like to escape into the fictional worlds of anime and manga, and considering that maid cafes are so prominent in Akihabara – the hub of all things ‘otaku’ – unsurprisingly, these cafes have becomes places of escapism too.

A lot of the discomfort around maid cafes is a lack of understanding. While they are certainly not perfect establishments and the criticisms leveled against them are valid, that does not mean they have no value at all.

Visiting a maid cafe is just another insight into Japanese culture. Of course, if maid cafes are off-putting to you or simply don’t appeal to you, a trip to Japan without visiting them does not mean a poorer trip. You are not wrong to feel uncomfortable. But if you are curious, then I recommend visiting one just to see what it’s all about.

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