Friday, September 21, 2007

Tokyo Day 3 - Maid Cafe!

Japan's got a reputation in America as being a pretty crazy, weird, sometimes kinky place. In certain ways both innocent and sinister, that's true. In other ways, maybe not so much - a lot of things that seem strange to us on the surface feel really pretty normal once you've been here a couple of times. One of the things Japan's gotten some underground word of mouth about lately is the "maid cafe" - a distinctly Japanese phenomenon that goes to the heart of "otaku" culture. My wife and I - yes, both of us! - wanted to see what this was really all about.

We actually had planned to try a maid cafe last year but chickened out at the last minute. It's one of those things that may or may not carry a stigma - sort of like walking into an adult video store. This time around, we finally grew a pair and did it.

What is a maid cafe? Simply put, it's a cafe staffed exclusively by cute girls dressed in French maid outfits. Nothing much more to it than that. I'm not sure how it started, but I think the "maids" that these outfits are modeled after were originally animation characters - they're not copying real maids. Some of the cafes have a reputation for catering to your every whim, providing extra service beyond what a regular restaurant waitress would do (not anything dirty, just more attention - like your own personal server). A few of them do offer extra services beyond just the cafe, like foot and back massages and even "virtual dates", where they'll walk around Akihabara with you for a set amount of time in exchange for money. That's all a little too creepy for me; I wanted to just stick to the cafe experience.

There are maid cafes everywhere now, but the largest concentration by far is still in Akihabara, the main otaku hangout in Tokyo. The word "otaku" is a subject in itself... the easiest translation would be "nerd", but that doesn't quite capture it. These are guys who are obsessed with certain types of things - almost fetishists for their chosen hobbies. Read the wikipedia article on the word for more info. These are the maid cafes' main (or at least original) audience.

We picked up an Akihabara map from one of the maids standing outside the train station and just chose a cafe from one of the ads on the back. The one we picked is called "Maid Station", and they have a web site you can check out here. You can also check out the pdf I made of the Akihabara map last year here (we have a new one but I haven't scanned it yet) - it's got an older ad for the same cafe. It turned out to be pretty nice, and not at all intimidating. Inside, it's like a regular trendy restaurant, and in a nod to the area's demographic, they've even got an area set up where you can play Nintendo Famicom games on a large plasma display. Unfortunately, no picture taking is allowed inside - I'll get to that in a minute.

It was actually pretty crowded when we got there, and completely full by the time we left. Strangely enough, the crowd was an almost equal mix of girls and guys, including several girls not in the company of men. Most of them even looked fashionable enough for Shibuya or Roppongi. Maybe we just happened to pick the trendiest maid cafe in Akihabara, I don't know.

They don't allow you to take pictures inside because they want to sell you their own. For 500 yen, they will sell you a personalized photo of one of the maids that looks like this:

I've blurred her face just out of common courtesy to her; I don't know if she wants me plastering her identity across the internet. I've also blurred her name. If you're wondering, the rest of the text just says stuff like "thank you for coming to the maid cafe". And yeah, she wrote it.

For 1,000 yen, they will actually take a picture with you:

That's me, my wife Catherine Zeta Jones and the same maid as in the other pic. Somehow I look like a total dork even with my face obscured. (I don't really care about obscuring my face - see my profile pic - but I didn't want my wife to feel like the odd one out.) We're supposed to be making hearts with our hands there; I look like I'm making two ducks sniffing each others' butts or something. Anyway, we actually did this photo first, then realized we couldn't see all of the maid's outfit! She was really nice, though, and totally happy to take another photo. It is her job, after all.

They'll also sell you the little "I heart maid" badge pictured up at the top for 300 yen. Of course I bought one.

Not that anyone probably cares, but the food was kinda... not that good. Didn't surprise me because that's not why people go to maid cafes, but still, it's really overpriced for the level of quality. I did see two girls sitting across from us getting some pretty hearty looking full meals - we only got dessert - and their food looked better than ours. So it probably depends on what you get. But I still definitely wouldn't go to a maid cafe for the food.

This was definitely one of those weird things about Japan that didn't seem so weird anymore once we'd done it. Yeah, it's definitely kinda different, but it's so harmless and innocent - it's just a restaurant with waitresses in a sexy costume. They all seem perfectly happy to be there, the customers we saw were all totally normal, and it's just a fun little thing to do if you're hungry.


  1. Anonymous10:57 AM

    Hmmm, you've surprised me a bit with this report. I've always thought that maid cafes were full of otakus. I kinda regret not going to one in March as I got accosted quite a lot in Akihabara by maids giving me flyers for their cafes but like you I guess I chickened out!!

  2. Anonymous10:42 AM

    must visit the maid cafes!!!! I'm going to tokyo on saturday I think this is one of the first places I want to visit. Is there any you might recommend???

  3. Anonymous12:50 AM

    the whole maid cafes thing is now 10 years old in Japan, can you believe it?

  4. Anonymous9:24 PM

    Sounds like a Hooters in the US, but with cuter costumes....


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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