Sunday morning three weeks ago I went with my host bro Shigeki to a Maid Café.
The above picture is the advertisement outside the building of the Maid Café that I went to.
Oh man, what an experience. Unless you are already acquainted with the kind of sub-culture that this establishment is run in you probably won’t have a clue what I am talking about. I know that some of my readers do, such as Sir Chuc, but for the rest: Maid Cafés are cafés primarily found in 秋葉原 (Akihabara) that particularly appeal to 御宅 (otaku) and are unique because all of the staff (invariably female) wear maid outfits and treat you like their master. Akihabara is the electronics district of Japan if not the world and is well known for for its wealth of not only computer goods, but also animé, manga and games. The kind of people that meet up and hang out in Akihabara are known as 秋葉系 (Akiba-kei) and are generally animé 御宅 (otaku), basically people obsessed with animé and often have problems interacting in normal society. It is for this group of people that Maid Cafés are marketed.
As the 御宅 (otaku) culture is a little underground in some ways it took Shigeki and I some time to actually find a Maid Café. It didn’t matter though as when we eventually did find one it wasn’t yet open. So we spent fifteen minutes or so outside the place waiting in line with other customers. Shigeki was probably the youngest guy in the line (17yo) with most of the others being 20-30 years of age I think. Probably about half of them fit the stereotype of being an otaku. The others were presumably ‘closet’ otaku, preferring to dress in normal fashion and hide their secret obsessions from the rest of society. I was the only 外人 (gaijin, foreigner) there which isn’t very surprising. Certainly one has to have a certain cultural subtlety to appreciate the Maid Café which most Japanese, let along Westerners, don’t possess. Also unless you understand Japanese you don’t really ‘get’ the point of a lot of what the maids say (more on this later).
While waiting outside the café we could see most of the staff inside preparing the place. There were maybe about ten girls dressed in maid outfits that looked as if they could all pass for being about sixteen. Shigeki assures me that they are all in their early twenties though. I thought they would be raking in the cash with this very unique line of work, but another of my Japanese friends (なつみ) says that they don’t earn above 800円 ($8.50/hr) which is very much average for their age. In addition to the maids there was one male guy dressed like a butler who from far away looks about twelve years old because of his minuscule stature but on closer inspection is probably closer to thirty and has some hand in running the place. I wanted to take photos but there were signs everywhere forbidding it (for it would ruin business, as you will see soon).
When we entered the Maid Café, and this happens everytime a customer enters, all the maids stop what they are doing and say お帰りなさいませ、ご主人様 (okaeri nasai mase, go shujin sama) which in English means something to the effect of “Welcome home, my master.” I think my ego inflated to about five or six times its normal size (which is already quite large) when they said this. It is simply a level of customer service that you don’t get back in Australia, haha. While we were being seated I took note of the interior decor of the place: simple, cute, and uses soft pastel pinks and similar colours. Very appropriate.
Right from entering the Maid Café the fees start. First up there is a 300円 ($3) charge just to enter the café and sit in the ‘standard’ section (which we chose). Fair enough, this place is a bit of a novelty so you have got to expect that. Shigeki and I were given a menu which we poured through while watching other people being served, the maids running back and forth and what seemed to be a privately produced pop music video filled with all of the maids that work at the café running in the background. It reminded me a lot of モーニング娘 (moningu musume, Morning Daughters) – click here for YouTube video.
All the the drinks and food were just ridiculously expensive and as we were a bit short on time I decided to just order a photo. You’re not allowed to take photos inside these places but you can get your photo take with a maid and have them write a note on it for you for 500円 ($6). Also, you can get プリクラ (purikura, suped-up photo booth) for 1000円 ($12). I opted for the former option. When I went to order though I was told by the maid that you weren’t allowed to get just a photo. You needed to order something from the food/drink menu as well. I can understand this. They don’t want people just escaping paying only the entry fee and the price of a token photograph. Shigeki and I decided to order a small piece of cheesecake and split it between us. Ordinarily this would have cost maybe ２００～３００円 ($2.50~3.50) but of course at the Maid Café it was twice that at 600円 ($7).
We went to order again but it just so happens that she forgot to inform us that it wasn’t enough to just order food, you needed to order a drink as well. Knowing time was ticking (we had somewhere to be) we quickly decided on a cola for Shigeki and an ice coffee for myself. These weren’t even fancy or anything but the cost 500円 ($5) a piece. It was quickly becoming clear to me that whoever runs those establishments isn’t doing bad financially. After a bit of a wait we had another maid (I think she was different) bring us our order. She didn’t just give it to us though, no way. First she knelt down on her knees and held up to us a container for us to pick our favourite colour straw out of. If choose pink as I am the epitome of masculinity while Shigeki opted for green. She then stirred my ice coffee (on her knees in front of me) and put the straw in our drinks. I thought we would get our items now, but no, there is more. She placed the tray in front of her and said “もえ、もえ、胸、きゅう！” (moe, moe, mune kyuu!) in a cute little voice accompanied by some hand actions. And we had to do the same thing if we were to receive our order. My dignity was annulled, but it was fun.
As well as getting your photo taken with the maids if you have enough money you can rent out special rooms and just chat with them or place certain board games and stuff. I don’t quite see the point myself, but I can understand the otaku who might like that. Before taking the photo the maid serving us brought us photos of two different girls who I could get my photo taken with today. I didn’t see a difference in them at all and just went with the one closest to me. I spoke a tiny bit to the maid who seemed surprised to see a foreigner in the café but still treated me like a Japanese ‘master’ before being asked to put on either bunny ears or cat ears for the photo. I chose cat ears.
In the photo we are doing the imitation of a cat in Japanese. I look embarrassingly happy in the photo I have to say. On it she has just written the name of the café, にゃん (nyan, meow) and ‘Welcome home, my master.’
Shigeki and I now left the place, my wallet being ２６００円 ($28) lighter. It was definitely well worth it for the experience. Going there every weekend as some otaku do is way too expensive though.