Japan’s maid cafes are probably one of those things that elicit a strong division of opinion, having visited one myself, I am still not sure which side of the fence I sit on. When it comes to deciding how you feel about them, I think it comes down to whether you see it from an outsiders point of view, or whether you accept and embrace the completely different cultural nuances that have led to their popularity in Japan.
On my recent trip to Japan, visiting a maid café was high on my list, mainly because the idea of it seemed so alien to my British self. With very little understanding for what it actually involved, I wasn’t sure if I was stumbling into some form of an escort service, almost like a ‘girlfriend experience’ or whether it was purely an innocent form of entertainment. In all honesty, having visited one, I think the lines between these two are somewhat blurred.
There are so many maid cafes to choose from, the majority of which are located in the anime mecca of Akihabara. I ended up in one of the many @home cafes but there were so many options available to us. As we walked the streets of Akihabara we were approached numerous times (well, the boys in the group were) by young, attractive women dressed in very suggestive, French maid outfits. This was in the middle of the day.
I was with one of my brothers Japanese friends, and following his recommendation, we ended up in an @home café. From the outside it looked super cute and innocent with a big pink bow above a cartoon like entranceway. Cutsie J-pop music was blasting out and a tv screen was flipping through the maids that worked there. This particular café was made up of numerous floors, and we worked our way up until we found a floor with an acceptable waiting time.
Whilst we were waiting to be seated, we were handed a laminated piece of cardboard, on which were printed a set of rules. The basic jist of it was, no touching, no photography and be respectful at all times to the maids. Before you are seated, you are asked if you have read the rules and to verbally confirm that you understand and will comply with them. Once they have this confirmation, you are led to your table and introduced to your allocated maid.
On a quick scan of the room I observed two things, firstly, that I was the only girl there who was not a maid and secondly, that the room was filled with middle aged men. I’m not going to lie, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable as I watched the exchanges between the very young maids and the men, who were old enough to be their fathers, or even grandfathers. As I settled in though, I found that although it was clear these men were attracted to the maids, I genuinely think they were just lonely and wanted company, and from what I have learnt from my time in Japan, loneliness is a very common problem.
The maids are not only there to talk and serve the food and drink, but they (for a fee) will perform song and dance routines, play board games and whatever other innocent, emphasis on the innocent, request you may ask for.
Once seated at our table, the maid talked us through how our visit would work. You can either order freely from the menu or order one of the ‘sets’ which includes a picture with a maid. As we were tourists, we went for one of the ‘set’ options. I opted for the dessert set, which was comprised of super cute poodle pancakes and a latte with a panda hand drawn on it, at the table, by the maid. I have to say the food here is super cute and the maids will draw whatever you want (within reason) on it.
You are also given a ‘loyalty card’ on your first visit. Men get ‘Master’ cards and women get ‘Princess’ cards. I’m not really going to say much more on this, as the names on the cards says it all really.
Then came the most awkward part of the whole experience, we were presented with a board with some very suggestive pictures of all the maids, and asked to pick one to have a picture with. This was seriously awkward. In the end I went for the picture that seemed the most innocent, and least uncomfortable, and next thing I knew, my name was being shouted out by the maid I had chosen, and I was called onto the stage. I was given a basket full of animal ears to choose from, I went for rabbit ears, naturally, and then posed for my Polaroid picture with the maid. Once this was over, I quickly scurried, rather red faced, back to my table.
Just as we were finishing our food, a maid came round with some pink light up hearts, and it became apparent someone had paid for a performance. The lights were soon dimed and armed with my pink light up heart, I bopped along to the music, as the maids sang and danced on the stage. I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this part! I mean I was shocked and baffled by the entire thing, but I soon found myself dancing along and waving my light up heart! I have to say, outfits aside, there wasn’t anything suggestive about the performance, and I found I relaxed a little bit more afterwards.
On leaving the café I had mixed feelings, I had actually really enjoyed the experience, and I was glad I had given a maid café a go, however, I still had this niggling feeling underneath that I couldn’t quite shake. It is exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a café where you get served by young, attractive girls in suggestive outfits. The girls know exactly how to giggle, how to hold themselves and how to please their customers, there’s no doubt about that, but if this was anywhere else, the overarching layer of innocence would be assumed to be a veil, covering the truth, but I genuinely think, having experienced and observed their interactions, that the maid cafe is somewhere lonely men, and women, can go to feel like they are special and matter to someone, have their undivided attention and someone to talk to, and it just so happens to be that the girls are young, beautiful and suggestively dressed.
Have you been to a maid café? What did you think of the experience?
You can see my vlog with some snippets of my experience, here:
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