Maid cafes were born out of a bit of business savvy that saw a market in servicing the fantasies of Akahabara's otaku; enthusiasts/fans/obsessives of manga, anime, and video game culture. After a day spent ogling comics and video game demos, the maid cafe would provide chance for fans to realize some of their fantasies, instead of going home damned by glimpses of paradise. The first establishment opened in 2001 and cafes can now be found nationwide and beyond.
If you've compiled a 'bucket list' of things to do in Japan, the maid cafe is probably on there. With a bit of trepidation, there's no reason (practical, a least) why you can't tick this one off the list.
Armed with an equally hesitant maid cafe first timer, this writer headed for the back streets west of Akihabara's Chuo Dori, where the highest concentration of establishments can be found. After plucking flyers from street side maids, and making use of a touch-screen information station, it became clear that we had no idea how to choose. One of the cafes had a sign indicating an English-language menu. Decision made!
Cramped! Rows of red/white tables and chairs, squashed so close together there was no possible way to hide any potential embarrassment. There was a tiny stage at the head of the room. Video screens on the walls showed images of airbrushed maids. To be honest, it all looked a bit cheap and rushed. And it was noisy. Incredibly noisy! The five or so maids working that day spent a lot of time making announcements with a microphone.
Nobody goes to a maid cafe for the food, do they? Omu raisu, curry, cake and parfait all decorated with some sort of face, and the usual selection of drinks. Alcohol was also served, should we have needed it! After being guided to a table by a maid, we had our arrival announced to the room (male customers referred to as master/goshujin-sama, women as lady/ojyo-sama), and were then introduced to the menu. Here are the basics …
Fee: 500 yen/hour (with at least one order)
Pasta/curry/hamburger: from 1,050 yen
Omu raisu: 1,150 yen
Parfait: 770 yen
Pancake: 800 yen
Coffee/tea/cola: 530 yen
Cappuccino: 700 yen
Draft beer: 560 yen
Cocktail: 620 yen
Our maid may have looked innocent, but she knew enough to steer us into a set deal for 120 minutes…
Dessert Set (parfait/cake, soft drink, gift, photo): 2,060 yen
Omu Raisu Set (as above but omu raisu, no dessert): 2,630 yen
There was no mention of a basic fee, but it was there all along. The bill came in at over 7,000 yen!
It’s the little extras, though, that make the maid cafe experience what it is. When our food was served, the maid lead us in a short chant (with gestures) before we could eat. At one point, a very uncomfortable patron was dragged on stage and forced into a series of cute poses, all for having ordered a Cocktail Set! The pièce de résistance was when a solo middle-aged guy ordered a dance (1,200 yen). The most popular maid lead the room in a short song (the lyrics were on the menu), before bursting into a dance while being cheered on by fellow maids waving glow sticks!
With time ticking, and our meal finished, we were handed our gifts (a key chain, and plastic file) and taken on stage to have a Polaroid taken.
Clearly, maid cafes don’t cater to everyone’s taste, and they are certainly not this writer’s thing. But what thing are they? Is it all a bit of innocent fun? The groups of excited mates, giggling couples, and embarrassed tourists, all seemed to suggest so. Or is there an unsavory element at play? Behind our table sat a row of middle-aged men, all of them alone and all of them old enough to be the maid’s fathers. For the most part, they were expressionless, but when the songs and gestures broke-out they joined in with all the excitement of a teenage girl meeting Justin Bieber. Some younger men, for whom school probably wasn't much fun, could barely contain their enthusiasm at the devotion of the young maids.
This writer came out confused, and somewhat relieved. Go see for yourselves.
We went to maidreamin. The website has information in English, and we did hear the maids doing their best to help foreigners past the language barrier.
Taking photographs of the maids was forbidden. Maid cafes are not a place to realize any lurid fantasies; no forward advances of any kind. Behave yourselves!