Curious Japan: Maid Cafes in Tokyo

One could elaborate on many an oddity found in Japan, but this one probably has a lot of tourists amazed: the maid cafes.

Walking around the Tokyo district of Akihabara can easily make you feel overwhelmed. Shiny displays and flashing lights everywhere, electronic billboards left and right, blinking advertisements climbing the highrises to heights that make one’s neck hurt. The average newbie visitor is so distracted they could easily walk against a signpost of some sort. But when the eyes return to street level, it is quite hard not to spot them: young women in fancy dress.

Maid walking through Akihabara

Maid walking through Akihabara

Is there a costume party nearby? Is it just one of these quirks about fashion for young women in Japan, and school girls enjoy doing their shopping in costumes?

Another maid in Akihabara

Another maid in Akihabara

Although different costumes, they are always along the lines of one theme: maids. Maid costumes everywhere. One might think they are inviting passers-by to a fancy dress party with the flyers they hand out. But as soon as you take a look at the flyer, and the signs they are holding, in the middle of the road in the electronic district, you realise they are actually waitresses – at maid cafes.

Maid duo in Akihabara

Maid duo in Akihabara

Slightly sceptical at first, I decided to accept the invitation to a maid cafe. I was intrigued, to say the least. Always eager to explore the local cultural quirks and cafe scene, I followed my maid into her maid cafe right at the corner of the street, on the first floor of an electronics store.

I couldn’t believe what I found on entering her establishment. A regular cafe only in the sense of what could be bought and consumed, and the fact that the cafe had chairs, tables and a checkout. Everything else was… over the top. Pink cushions on the chairs, frilly things and cutesy pictures of kittens hanging on the walls. I am shown to my table, and given a menu with English translations. Obviously I am not the first non-Japanese tourist frequenting the cafe. I am so baffled by the girlieness, innocent music and puffy pretty stuff everywhere I don’t quite know where to look. It feels like being in one of those Japanese cartoons for children. I am being assigned a maid, and to my great surprise, she is blond and wearing a dirndl. It turns out she is actually from Bavaria.

Another maid in Akiba

Another maid in Akiba

I found the slightly subservient and cutesy behaviour by her Japanese colleagues somewhat endearing and definitely a good laugh, but seeing and hearing the same from her was just bizarre, albeit a hilarious experience. She took my order for some exotic fruit juice and shortly returned with the same. In true maid cafe fashion, she put the juice on my table, kneeled down on the floor and put her hands together to form a heart. She then said a few lines in Japanese, sounding a bit like a cartoon figure, and moved her hands over the juice as if she was putting a spell on it. In fact, that was exactly what she was doing, as she explained to me in English a moment later – put a happy spell on it so that it would taste even better!

Maids waving from the balcony of the maid cafe

Maids waving from the balcony of the maid cafe

I cannot remember what the juice tasted like, as my senses were taken over by other events in the cafe. At one point, another patron, a teenage boy of about 16, got on the small stage with his maid and grabbed a microphone. I thought they were going to do karaoke, but no. The projector started, and suddenly a cartoon was showing, with subtitles. The maid and her guest started dubbing the cartoon, to everyone’s amusement – everyone that understood Japanese, that is.

As I learnt later, maid cafes popped up in Tokyo around the millennium, and are popular with locals and tourists alike. Unfortunately one is not allowed to take pictures inside the cafe, but a picture with the maid can be taken by the resident photographer and purchased upon leaving. Cutesy drawings and happy spells included!

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  12 comments for “Curious Japan: Maid Cafes in Tokyo

  1. 28 March, 2012 at 16:16

    What a find. I loved this description and the pictures, Oh for the weird and wonderful world of travel.

    • Christina
      21 April, 2012 at 10:26

      Thanks Inka! I love these kind of surprises one stumbles into on one’s travels!

  2. 29 March, 2012 at 05:54

    Funny story! I agree that a Bavarian dirndl might feel akward there 🙂

    • Christina
      21 April, 2012 at 10:28

      Yes Anja, it was quite surreal. So the number one Bavarian fashion export has made it to themed cafes in Japan… who knew!

  3. 31 March, 2012 at 14:00

    I need to get to Japan, the culture there just seems so different than anything I would ever expect. Those maids are certainly…interesting.

    • Christina
      21 April, 2012 at 10:29

      Interesting is the word! Expect the unexpected on your Japan travels!

  4. 6 April, 2012 at 16:26

    Sounds like sensory overload, like much in Japan! Too bad pictures aren’t allowed inside…

    • Christina
      21 April, 2012 at 10:30

      You’re right, John, Tokyo is sensory overload. Kyoto is easier to cope with – beautiful gardens, history, monuments, etc. but Akihabara, and then that cultural oddity, quite a lot to take in in an afternoon. You certainly won’t be bored there!

  5. 15 April, 2012 at 18:25

    Definitely quirky and something I’d like to see someday. So many interesting aspects of Japan. By the way, is that Santa Claus in front of the KFC?

    • Christina
      21 April, 2012 at 10:38

      Yep, that’s him, Cathy! Where’s the Easter Bunny?

  6. 8 June, 2012 at 15:19

    If there’s one country in the world that out-quirks Korea, it’s Japan! This looks completely bizarre yet so much fun that I want to go to one right now! I wonder if there are adult versions that pop up at night time? Ooh, naughty…

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