Japan's Must-Read Magazine

Maid in Japan

Tokyo is the city of theme bars, and recently, one theme in
particular has become synonymous with drinking in Akihabara – maid
cafe.
The maid cafe concept itself is fairly simple: in a nutshell, cute
young girls dressed in French maid outfits serve customers a variety of
drinks and food. And, when you see the kinds of customers who come, you
can understand the logic.

The primary patrons of maid cafe are
Akibas, a pejorative term used to describe those who frequent
Akihabara�s anime and electronics stores. Your average specimen is, of
course, a guy, and generally has very bad social skills, preferring the
company of comic books to that of his fellow men. He will usually have
a rather strange view of women, too ― well, you would too if your only
knowledge of the fairer sex came from time spent with the big-breasted,
fictional variety. Still, the economic power of these nerds is no
laughing matter. Akibas are estimated to spend $2.5 billion annually on
their geeky pursuits, so it’s no surprise that a variety of shops have
popped up to pander to their eccentric desires. And empty their wallets.

After
a hard day’s shopping for the latest tech gear, Akibas flock to maid
cafe for a real-life re-creation of the fantasy world of anime and
manga. The maids at all these joints display total subservience towards
customers, an act befitting their role-play as servants. Even the
welcome call reflects this: instead of the traditional irrashaimase
(come in), they cry out okaerinasai go-shujinsama (welcome home master).

The
presentation of food is also part and parcel of the experience. Some
places offer things like rice omelets with “Love” written across them
in ketchup, or heart-shaped cakes. Often each maid in a caf� will have
a drink or dish with her name attached to it, which is purportedly of
her own design. While this sort of childish coquettishness may seem
nauseatingly cute to some, the Akibas find it adorable.

The
current popularity of maid cafe means that some of them do tend to get
crowded, and you may find yourself having to queue. On a recent Friday
afternoon at the Maid In Angels (MIA) Cafe, customers were being turned
away at the door because of lack of seats. If you can handle the
crowds, though, MIA holds the distinction of having an English language
website and some English-speaking staff, making it a good place to try
out first, especially if no one in your party can speak Japanese.

There
are 34 maid-themed establishments in Akihabara alone, and the
marketplace is reaching saturation point, meaning places must strive to
stand out from the crowd. For example, Pinafore has largely eschewed
the role-play and, aside from the costumes and drinks named after
maids, is just like a regular cafe. Consequently, it attracts few
Akiba, but trendy young hipsters (both men and women) flock there in
droves.

Others, like Cos-Cha, have branched out from the maid
schtick into a more general cosplay thang. Cos-Cha has a variety of
specially themed event days each year: it recently held a Bikini Day to
commemorate the end of summer, while on other days the waitresses dress
up in costumes from specific anime series. Past swimsuit events have,
unsurprisingly, attracted customers in the thousands.

Nanako, one
of the waitresses at Cos-Cha, says of the clientele: “There are many
extremely shy Akiba men who come in here, but we also have a good crowd
of regular people as well.” And while the Akiba may fantasize
obsessively about maids and play questionable computer “dating sims”,
Nanako says that they are actually perfect gentlemen. “The worst thing
a customer has ever done is grab my hand. None of them have ever asked
me out on a date or anything like that. They are too shy.”

Sitting
in the classroom-themed area of Cos-Cha were two self-confessed Akiba
girls, Emi and Nao. These women insisted that maid cafe are not just
for delusional males. “We love coming,” said Nao. 2We think that the
waitresses” outfits are really cute.�

Little BSD is a cosplay
izakaya that was also packed to the hilt on a recent Thursday night.
The crowd is decidedly normal – salarymen and office ladies are out in
full force. Here, the girls can choose their own costumes, and many are
actually anime and manga fans themselves. As an added bonus, the staff
will allow you to take photos with them, something that is expressly
forbidden at many other maid cafe and bars. They are also quite happy
to chat with customers, and most speak conversational English.

If
you are not a huge fan of izakaya fare then perhaps you should head to
basic Bar bB instead, a typical western-style drinking hole (well, with
the exception that all of your waitresses are dressed up as maids in
impossibly short skirts). As always, however, beauty comes with a price ― the drinks are all 1000 yen.

Another spot trying to offer
something a little different is the newly opened Moekko Voice Cafe in
Ikebukuro, which has hired a group of aspiring voice actresses as
waitresses. These young women dream of putting their vocal cords to
good use in an anime cartoon, and use their jobs at Moekko to hone
their skills.

“I worked on one film dubbed from Chinese already,”
said Izumi, one of the waitresses. “This is a great place for me to
practice.”

Every day, the waitresses perform readings from anime
series in front of the customers; many have sexual themes, something
owner Yuka Hidaka hopes will attract a lot of guys.

According to
Hidaka, one of the most important aspects of any maid establishment is
the presence of moe girls. “Moe comes from the Japanese word moeru,
which means ‘to sprout'”, she explains. “Moe girls must appear not to
be a young girl, but also not yet a woman � like a flower on the cusp
of blooming. Sixteen is the perfect age for moe.”

The women
working at Moekko and other establishments are all older than that, of
course. The creation of moe is rooted in personality as well as
physical appearance: waitresses affect shyness, high-pitched voices and
other techniques to appear like teenagers. It’s a large part of the
cafe’ appeal for Akiba customers.

However, these days, maid
cafe are only part of the picture. There are now quite a few maid
massage parlors, and even maid hostess clubs. After a long day trolling
the back alleys of Akihabara for the smallest possible camera to hide
in your shoe, a stop at M@i Foot maid massage parlor may be just what
the doctor ordered. Customers can enjoy a 10-30 minute hand and foot
massage… from a maid. Afterwards, sidle up to the oxygen bar and
choose from a variety of different aromas of highly oxygenated air,
designed to soothe your troubled (or over-excited) mind.

M@i Foot
is popular, though, so a reservation may be required, especially in the
evenings. You might have better luck next door at Moema Relaxation, a
similar establishment that opened this October and is actively seeking
customers. As a bonus, the owner, Yoko Minami, also speaks excellent
English. She explains the reason for the recent explosion of maid cafe:
“In Japanese, the word for husband is ‘Shujin,’ which also means
master. In the old days, both meanings were true ― the husband was the
master of his wife ― but now most men do not have that kind of
relationship with their wives. Men like maid cafe because it gives
them a chance to feel like a real master once more.”

In our
modern world, amidst calls for women in Japan to be more assertive, it
seems a bit odd that some would want to be so subservient. Two maid
masseuses from Moema Relaxation, Aisha and Riri, share their thoughts
on their current career choice.

“I
am into cosplay, so this was
the perfect chance for me to do it and make money,” says Aisha.
“Normally I do cosplay from One Piece [a popular pirate manga], but I
think maids are cute too.”

Riri’s inspiration was a bit more
impulsive, “I went to a maid cafe a while back and I just knew I wanted
to become a maid. I love the costumes. I�ve always been into anime, so
it just seems natural for me.”

“I’ve
wanted to become a maid for
three years, but I didn’t want to work at a maid cafe,” says Aisha.
“Everyone’s doing that. Here I have actually acquired a skill I can use
in the future. I’d like to own some kind of maid shop some day, but who
knows how long this will be popular.”

Not all employees have such
enthusiasm for maid culture. Nanako at Cos-Cha admits: “I used to work
at a family restaurant and now I work here. It’s the same to me.” She
enjoys her job, but doesn’t feel the same attachment that others do. “I
don’t even like anime that much.”

For customers, maid cafe offer
a chance to escape the harsh world of reality, if only just for a few
hours ― but don’t expect the feeling to last. Dating customers is
against the rules at all of the places we visited (yes, we asked).
Either way, the maid fantasy only really works if it remains, well, a
fantasy ― everyone knows that the reality never quite lives up to
expectations.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Maid World
As with most everything in Japan, don�t expect English service at the
places listed below. Some, like MIA, offer English menus, and others
like Moema and Little BSD have staff that speak enough for you to get
by. For the rest, it is recommended that you brush up on your basic
nihongo, or go with a game Japanese friend.

With so many maid establishments in and around Tokyo, it may be that
this boom has reached its peak, so visit one while you still can. The
maids are waiting for your return home, master.


Cafe
Moekko Voice Cafe

8F, 1-13-9 Higashi Ikebukuro

(050) 3528-0027

www.moekko-cafe.com

Ikebukuro Station, West exit

Head towards Sunshine City, past the Hello Kitty shop and KFC. It�s on the right side, on the 8th floor.

Cos-Cha

Isamiya Dai 8 Building 2F, 3-7-12 Soto Kanda

(03) 3253-4560

www.cos-cha.com

Akihabara Station, Electric Town exit

Turn right onto Chuo-dori (the main road). Walk past Smoker’s Style,
then turn left at the corner with am/pm. Walk two blocks and turn
right. It�s on the left, on the 2nd floor.

Pinafore

Yamanaka Building, 1-19 Kanda Sakumacho

(03) 5846-0778

pinafore.jp

Akihabara Station, Showa-dori exit

Turn right down a small side street before reaching Show-dori. Walk for one block and Pinafore is on the left.

Maid In Angel Cafe

Meiji Building 1F, 3-12 Soto Kanda

(03) 5256-5078

English Site: www.cos-cafe.com

Akihabara Station, Electric Town exit

Turn right on Chuo-dori, then left at Smoker’s Style. Continue straight
until the next major boulevard, then turn right. MIA is on the right
side, up a short flight of stairs.


Izakayas

Little BSD

Isamiya Dai 8 Building 4F, 3-7-12 Soto Kanda

(03) 3252-2733

www.littlebsd.com

Akihabara Station, Electronic Town exit

On the 4th floor in the same building as Cos-Cha (see above).


Western Style Bars

basic Bar bB

KT Building 2F, 1-25 Kanda Sakumacho

(03) 5294-3262

www.maid-bb.com

Akihabara Station, Showa-dori exit

Turn left onto Showa-dori, and it’s immediately on your left, on the 2nd floor.


Massage

M@i Foot

Suzuki Building 3F, 3-1-3 Soto Kanda

(03) 3253-1113

www.mai-foot.com

Akihabara Station, Electric Town exit

Head to MIA (see above) and keep going ― it’s on the right.

Moema Relaxation

Soto Kanda Dai 2 Nagashima Building 2F, 3-2-3 Soto Kanda

(03) 5294-0025
www.moema.jp

Akihabara station, Electric Town exit

Just along from M@i Foot (see above), on the 2nd floor.