Dotted around Akihabara, Tokyo’s electric anime district, are the Maid Cafés. If you’ve ever been to this part of town, you will doubtless have seen the maids advertising on the street. Dressed head to toe in cutesy costumes, complete with frothy tutus, knee high socks and an abundance of hair accessories, the maids transport you to a world that seems straight out of a manga novel. So, what is the maid café experience like? What should you expect if you visit one? How does it compare to Tokyo’s many other cafés?
What is a Maid Café?
Maid cafés are cosplay themed cafes that represent an iconic aspect of otaku (what English speakers would call nerd) culture. The maid cafés offer the chance to immerse yourself in an anime style environment and interact with otherworldly characters. Depending on the café, the maids will fawn over you, play games with you or even pretend to be annoyed with you the entire time.
My Experience: How to find a Maid Café and what happens when you arrive
Having never been to one before, I was curious to try it out and see why these cafés are so popular amongst tourists and locals alike. Finding a Maid Café was easy. As soon as we left the station and entered the kaleidoscopic world of Akihabara’s sky-high anime posters and arcade noises, we stumbled upon MaiDreamin. Considered one of the more accessible maid cafes for newbies, we eagerly followed the petticoat-clad “maid” to the lift, or ‘rainbow stairs’ as she called it, that would take us up to the café.
When the elevator doors opened, we were greeted by a chorus of maids chirping ‘Okairinasaimase, goshujinsama! Okairinasaimase ojousama’ (Welcome home master, welcome home my Lady) and ushered over to a seat. A maid quickly put some bunny ears on our heads, brought over a colourful menu and handed us a glossary of special maid vocabulary. To get the maid’s attention, for example, we had to say ‘nyan-nyan’ and to ask for the bill, we had to call it a ‘Love Letter’. Whilst a little embarrassing, I think the best way to experience a maid café is to just dive in and play the part, complete with all the cutesy noises and gestures. If, like me, your Japanese is basic to the point of non-existence, I find repeating a rough estimation of the maid’s ‘spells’ enough to appease them.
Food and Drink: Sweet Tooth Required
There is a wide variety of food and drink on offer at the Maid Cafés, each item sweeter than the last! For tourists, the maids will usually offer you various package combos that cost from around 1,500 yen to 3,000 yen and come complete with bunny ear and keyring souvenirs.
I ordered a ginger ale (which came in a violently orange shade) and a bunny ice cream sundae. When the maid brought it over, she had me say a special ‘spell’ to make the food taste more delicious. To her credit, perhaps it worked, because the ice cream sundae was spectacular even if it contained more than my weekly allowance of sugar. My friend, and partner in awkwardness, ordered a rice omelette, which is a typical menu item in the maid cafés and a must-have if you want the full experience. Armed with a ketchup bottle, the maid asked him to pick an animal (he chose a penguin) and then expertly drew it for him in ketchup, using her creative license to add some cartoonish features and love hearts.
I would recommend going with several friends so that you can try a range of menu items – the strawberry cheesecake looked insta-worthy.
Performances: Mandatory Dancing
When we’d been at the café for about 20 minutes, the lights suddenly turned off, the music turned up and all the maids gathered on the stage as a birthday cake was brought out. The maids sung in voices so high that dogs would have strained to hear them and lit candles and sparklers. The birthday boy, a middle-aged Japanese businessman on his lunch break, was delighted. After he blew out his candles, the maids took to the stage once again and began a co-ordinated dance routine, complete with pom-poms and even more glitter. The birthday boy knew all the words and clapped along happily, waving a bright pink glow stick in time to the blaring music. Lukas and I, being the only other customers in the café, awkwardly clapped and punched the air at the – surprisingly forceful – request of the maids. It was an utterly bizarre experience.
Yet, it is these spells, rituals and little performances that make this genre of cafés unique. If you want to see Akihabara in all its nerdy glory, then a trip to the maid cafés really is a must. Check out Hanna for recommendations on the best ones to visit and how to find them!