At Japlanning we have covered Cat Cafes and now it's time to uncover the cafe Japan is most famous for: the Maid Café. Originating in Japan, these cafes are very prominent in Akihabara, Tokyo and are an otaku's dream café.
If you happen to be in Akihabara and are looking for a distinctly Japanese experience, then venture no further than into one of the dozens of Maid Cafés in the electric city.
The first Maid Café, "Cure Maid Cafe", opened in Akihabara in 2001, and its massive popularity ensured many, many more opened fast, creating a sub set of cafés in the restaurant industry in Japan. Since 2001, they have opened all over Japan and internationally in China, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Mexico, the US and even Australia.
The cafés' main market is otaku (obsessive fans of manga and anime) males looking to fulfil their fantasies. Over the years, the image of maids is one that has been used in countless manga and anime shows, as well as in many Japanese dating simulator games. Many tourists have the image that these establishments have a seedy strip club-like atmosphere, however this is incredibly inaccurate. The cafés' are clean, brightly coloured and have strict rules on conduct with the maids (No touching, asking for numbers, work schedules, and no pictures... to name a few). In fact, many men bring their girlfriends with them, and you will always find plenty of salary men visiting these establishments on their lunch breaks. Today, Maid Cafés' attract more than just male otaku, but also couples, tourists, and women.
In these cafés', waitresses are dressed in maid costumes and act as a servant, treating all customers as masters and mistresses in their private palace, rather than a normal run of the mill café back home. The costumes are intricately made, and look like they have leaped from the pages of a manga comic right into the café. Upon entering, you can expected to be greeted with a "welcome home master". Depending on the place, your maid may give you some cat ears or rabbit ears to wear, then take you to your table. Once seated, you will see many similarities with a regular café: you can order drinks, have a meal, and get some desserts -- however, this is really where the similarities end. Your maid will explain the menu and ordering process to you, you can expect that in order to get your maids attention, you'll need to do so by making your hands into paws up against your cheeks and making an adorably hilarious "meow meow" for them to dote on you. All meals, drinks and desserts will come served to you either decorated with kawaii animals, or for savoury dishes they may draw cute cats, hearts and your name on them with ketchup.
Don't start eating yet though! They will expect you to participate in a magical spell on your food, complete with hand moves and love hearts, so prepare to chant a "yummy, yummy, delicious!!" at your food and drinks before your maid will allow you to partake in the now magical treats you have bought. If you don't co-operate, she will likely drop the cute act very quickly, and pout and yell at you to do it (don't disappoint the adorable maid!)
However, they offer many other services too: perhaps a quick round of jenga is more your style? Well they'd be happy to play a match with you (for a fee)! You can also get your photo taken with your maid, or perhaps have a little song performed for you, these and more are available to enhance your time in your palace, er- we mean, the Maid Café. Many Maid Cafés also have little shows throughout the meal which include musical numbers, kawaii dance moves, and audience participation is required, so be ready to be part of the meal/show!
Maid Cafés are not a cheap experience by any means; everything is designed to get more money out of you, so keep this in mind before making a step into the café. However, if you're going in with intentions to have fun, a really good laugh, and a uniquely modern Japanese experience, this is perfect.
You may be thinking, "these seem exclusively aimed at the gentlemen and their yen" - well, don't worry ladies, there are new cafés for you and all your girlfriends: Butler Cafés! Yes, someone saw the untapped market for women and invented the Butler Café in 2006.
The biggest Butler Café is located in Shibuya, and has gained fame for only hiring foreigners as the butlers. So when you enter, you can expect to be greeted with a "welcome home Princess" by a handsome, young American or British man, dressed like a butler from your favorite manga comic or anime series.
The butlers treat you like royalty, taking your coats pulling out your chair, even placing a tiara on your head when they bring your meal to you. The butlers will also get down on bended knee, play games and, when desired, engage in English conversations with you as entertainment for their "princesses". You will even find on the menu, a "pick me up photo" - this menu item will get you lifted in the air by the butler of your choice, for a photo, which will be printed and given to you when you leave.
Here are Japlanning's reccomendation of the best Maid and Butler cafés in Tokyo, which are a must on your next visit:
The biggest chain of Maid Cafés in Japan, with over ten stores in Tokyo, two in Osaka and one in Nagoya. Their main café is in Akihabara, located on the sixth floor of the Sumiyoshi Building, 3-16-17 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku. To get to the main store and another five Maid Dreamin Cafés, take the train to JR Akihabara station, and take the east exit.
Official website - http://maidreamin.com/ (in Japanese)
Cure Maid Cafe
The original Maid Café still exists in Akihabara today. The original has a victorian flair, with fine china used and tea poured freely. It's located at 3-15-5 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku. To get to Cure Maid Cafe, take the train to JR Akihabara Station, and take the Electric City exit, and it's about a 10 minute walk.
Official website - www.curemaid.jp (in Japanese)
So this is the place for any women looking for the maid experience with a nice regal man-servant instead of a beautiful maid. Butler Cafe has fine furnishing, and a distinct european feel. It's located at 11-6 Udagawacho, Shibuya. To get to Butler Cafe, take the train to JR Shibuya station, take the crossing exit, and head north towards the love hotel district, and it's about a 10 minute walk.
Official website - www.butlerscafe.com (in Japanese)