The Quirky World of Japan’s Maid Cafes

Maid Cafes: Where Japanese Cuteness is Embodied

With the rise of the anime subculture, more and more young Japanese adults were openly proclaiming their love for dressing up as these anime characters through costume play, known worldwide as cosplay. From the victorian goth walking in the streets to the anime character posing for the camera, the streets of Japan have started to be known for these unusual sights. The cosplay phenomenon had slowly crept into the Japanese media and culture that when the mere thought of Tokyo would bring up images of Japanese youth in these outfits. It wouldn’t be long before the idea of using this subculture as a basis for a business venture. This was the basis for cosplay restaurants. Cosplay restaurants are themed restaurants wherein the staff would be dressed up according to a certain theme and would treat their customers in accordance with it. The most popular cosplay restaurant by far would be the Maid Cafe.

What Is A Maid Cafe?

Maid Cafes have been a defining feature in the Japanese anime and cosplay subculture. These themed restaurants involve having the staff dressed up as maids. The uniform that the staff would be wearing would also be in accordance with the specific time period that they would have as a theme, such as victorian or french. The staff dressed as maids would then refer to each and every client as their master and would proceed to serve them as if an actual maid. In these establishments, customers are treated as if they are the masters of a private home.

The standard maid cafes in Japan at the moment would be those with the French maid theme. When one enters these French maid cafes, it is standard to be referred to as goshujinsama, which in English means “Master,” and ojosama, which translates to “Mistress.” The first thing to greet customers entering the shop would be a warm welcome by all of the staff. The girls would typically proclaim “Okaerinasaimase goshujinsama/ ojosama,” the Japanese way of saying welcome home master or mistress. The waitresses would then lead the customers to the table and offer them a towel to wipe their hands with. The food and drinks in these restaurants typically do not conform to the theme and are mostly Japanese comfort food. Sometimes, these maid cafes offer extra services for patrons such as the opportunity to take photos with the staff, play card games with them, and play video games with them. There are some cafes that offer a more unusual form of entertainment such as allowing the customers to pay for the chance to get slapped by the maids or for them to have the maids pet their heads. Some of these maid cafes also have shows which go on different times of the day for patrons to watch.

Maid Cafes in the Anime Mecca; Akihabara, Tokyo

A trip to Japan would not be complete without experiencing the modern culture that it has developed. From the sudden expansion of the Japanese, came the emergence of many different subcultures. Part of the ever growing list of newer subcultures of Japan would be the Anime and Cosplay subculture and these are best experienced by a visit to a maid cafe in the world famous center for everything otaku, Akihabara district, Tokyo. Akihabara is home to many maid cafes, all vying for the same customers. Each and every cafe has their own unique quirk thus making a trip here might be intimidating for the average tourist, so research beforehand is a must. This is a list containing the most popular maid cafes that will surely give anyone the right otaku experience they are looking for.

Cure Maid Cafe

The first ever maid cafe is a must to visit. Cure Maid Cafe is very well known as being the first ever permanent maid cafe. Located in the Chiyoda-ku area, Cure Maid Cafe offers its customers a wonderful Victorian maid experience. Many forums describe the experience as very immersive as the maids never break their character and act in a prim and proper manner. The setting is filled with greenery and furniture appropriate to the Victorian theme and classical music plays in the background. Entrance to the maid cafe requires the usage of a top secret codeword available only to trusted members. Luckily throughout the years, this has been passed around a lot and is not so big of a secret anymore. Just speak the word “Iyashi,” (which roughly translates to healing or soothing) and the doors will open for you. When looking for the cafe, their sign is hung up on a wooden plank with the image of a maid silhouette.

Location: Gee Store 6/F, Soto-Kanda 3-15-5, Chiyoda-Ku,
Tel.:03 3258 3161

@home Cafe

@home Cafe offers a more lively and fun approach to the typical maid cafe setup. This cafe puts an emphasis on customer engagement and games as each of the staff here are trained to be able to converse with anyone in a cute and refreshing manner. Everything about this cafe screams cute. Examples of this would be when ordering their famous omurice (Omelette Rice), the staff would write little notes with ketchup on your plate. A tip for anyone who would like to see how cute the staff can get, try showing discontent with their drinks as they will start chanting “Moe Moe Kyun,” over it. This phrase can be roughly translated to “cute cute ah,” which they say is their magic spell to make things taste better. Some would even encourage you to cast the magic spell “Moe Moe Kyun” already before you can even start eating. Whether or not it works is up for debate. This is a really popular maid cafe in Tokyo and lines are known to take as long as 3 hours on a good day. Seating charge at @home cafe starts at 500 yen and extra services and games will cost the same amount. The maids here also sing and dance, and one can buy their merchandise as well in the gift shop.

Location: Mitsuwa Building 4F-7F, Soto-Kanda 1-11-4, Chiyoda-ku
Tel: 03 5846 1616

Schatz Kiste

This maid cafe is the best one in all of Japan for those who want to mix up conversing with female staff and hobby enthusiasts. Described as an “Akihabara Culture Cafe,” Schatz Kiste prides itself with the female staff that is knowledgeable in the various hobbies and otaku culture in the country. The maids of the restaurant might not have a lot to offer in terms of choreographed entertainment, however, they are very enthusiastic about their hobbies and crafts that they even proudly display it on the shelves and converse with customers about the latest trends in their respective hobbies. This is a place to relax and to practice your hobbies in the presence of other enthusiasts, some might be on the job, though. The only downside to this cafe is that it has a limited seating capacity and there are many regulars who go often.

Location: Hasegawa Building 1F, Soto-Kanda 6-5-11, Chiyoda-ku

Another notable maid cafe is Popopure Maid Cafe in Akihbara. This maid cafe prides itself by housing English speaking maids that caters to foreign tourists. But don’t worry, even if the other above mentioned maid cafes don’t have english speaking maids, they are so used to tourists that they know how to converse and make tourists understand them in very little english.  Just like in the other maid cafes, all maids in Popopure are very nice and welcoming to guests. Take note that the magic spell in Popopure Maid Cafe is “kyun kyun” and you would need to cast this magic spell to make your food tastier!

The Rising Popularity of Male Maid Cafes

With the rising popularity of maid cafes, a spin-off of this idea was bound to happen. Male oriented maid cafes are known as butler cafes and the very first one was indeed named as such. Butlers Cafe was opened in the year 2006 in the heart of Japan’s fashion district, Shibuya, Tokyo. They have since grown to have more branches throughout Tokyo, but predominantly have their roots in Akihabara. As of the year 2008, Butlers Cafe has been known to be the only male maid cafe to be hiring only foreign men for the butler job. The cafe serves a predominantly Italian themed menu, teas, as well as alcoholic beverages. This was conceptualized as the cafe owners had seen that the female Japanese office workers had a predisposition to pretty boy types and that they would appreciate a bit more fun and excitement after working hours.

The Butlers Cafe is the joint business venture between Graeme Cooke and Yuki Hirohata. The former was working in Japan as an English teacher and Hirohata as a typical dreary office lady. They both had stated in interviews that they were disappointed with the states of their lives and dreamed of different ways to escape it. It was through many back and forths between the two that the idea had come into fruition. Since their opening in 2006, as many as 2000 regular customers visit Butlers Cafe and it has been a featured article on many media outlets. The biggest feature would have to be a story done by CNN which explored the social environment and disposition of young Japanese women and to why the Butlers Cafe is the answer to the needs of these women.

The concept of Butlers Cafe can be basically traced back to the Japanese’s love of western style fantasies, as seen in the consistent popularity of the Disney and Universal Theme Parks. The Butlers Cafe hires non-Japanese males that are in their 20’s and can be described as pretty, personable, and sweet. Basically, they are after the image of a caucasian pretty boy. Hirohata and Cooke came to this concept after interviewing hundreds of Japanese women. The common traits that these Japanese women wanted out of their ideal cafe would be that the staff were male, looked good, treated them like princesses and that they were of western descent. The owners seem to have taken a page out of the book of Cafe Cure as they describe their establishment as a place of healing for the Japanese women. They claim that this is a safe environment for women to interact with foreign men without fear of rejection or humiliation. The basic decorum for the male staff is to treat the ladies with the dignity and respect that would be given to royalty. The butlers would take the coats of the customers, pull chairs out for them, and even give them tiaras to wear. The staff would answer questions of customers in Japanese but with a foreign accent included in order to push the foreign aesthetic. Patrons may also pay to have a photo with the butlers, and if they so desire, they may request to be carried by the butler in the style of a classic fairy tale.

From the victorian maids to the foreign butlers, the Japanese maid cafe phenomenon has spread across the globe. Countries such as China, South Korea, Australia, and the United States have started setting up their own versions of the maid cafe. But wherever you are in the world, please remember the universal rules when dealing with these establishments. Do not touch the maid’s body inappropriately nor should one ask for personal information as sexual assaults and stalking have occurred in the past. It is important to treat the staff of these establishments with as much respect and dignity as they have shown you during your stay in their respective cafes.