Maid cafes are theme cafes that cater to anime and manga otakus (people obsessed with anime and manga) by offering them a place where they can – sort of – live out some of their otaku-ish fantasies.
Most maid cafes are located in Akihabara, Tokyo, but they can also be found in Osaka’s Den Den Town. There’s even one in the sleepy town of Washinomiya, Saitama. Washinomiya, by the way, is the setting for the ultra-popular anime and manga series, Lucky Star.
Nothing sleazy goes on in maid cafes. No touching or sexual harassment of any sort is allowed, and the maids make sure customers understand this by getting them to read a rules and regulations list beforehand.
A big difference between maid cafes and normal cafes, apart from the fact that the waitresses are dressed in a variety of western-styled maid costumes, is that instead of “okyaku sama” お客様 (Customer) male customers are addressed as “goshujin sama” ご主人様 (Master) and female customers “ojou sama” お嬢様 (Lady).
While the food and drinks don’t taste bad, they’re not all that fantastic either. They’re simply stuff you can order at any other restaurant in Japan, with fancy names and jacked-up prices. After the maid arrives at your table with your order, she may chant a moe (the closest English equivalent of this word is “cute”) magic spell, complete with a moe voice and moe hand gestures (like making a heart shape with her hands), to make the food “taste more delicious”. If you order a plate of omelet rice, she can use ketchup to draw a simple moe picture and write a word of your choice on the omelet.
The decor inside maid cafes differs from place to place, but most of them look pretty similar. However, in Akihabara, there’s one particular maid cafe with a samurai theme, where the maids dress in samurai armour costumes, and speak in the old Japanese language (like the English used in ancient times). The decor of this cafe has a somewhat Japanese feudal era feel to it.
Besides dining, some cafes offer extra services. Customers may play simple, childish games with a maid of their choice, such as Hungry Hippo... for a couple of hundred yen, and for just a few minutes. Some maids may even do a song and dance performance.
Taking pictures is allowed, but with restrictions. You aren’t allowed to take pictures on your own, or with your own camera. For a few hundred yen, you can select a maid to take a picture with, and another maid would take it for you with an instant camera. There is a number of moe stuff you can borrow to use for the picture, such as cat ears and, in the case of the samurai themed cafe, fake swords. The maid who took the picture with you would then sign on it. It makes for a nice memento.
To cater to the international community, several maid cafes offer an English menu, and even have English versions of their brochures and pamphlets. But non-Japanese visitors are unlikely to visit a maid cafe – or at least the same maid cafe – more than once, unless their level of otaku-ism is as high as a real Japanese otaku’s.
Apart from cafes, there are even places where customers can get a body massage or their ears cleaned by girls in maid costumes. In the latter case, the customer would lay his head down on the maid’s thighs while she cleans his ear with a cleaning kit. Strange but true…
For the female otaku, there’s the butler cafe – the male equivalent of a maid cafe – in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Ladies, are you interested?