Over the past couple of years, Japan has witnessed quite an explosion of cosplay cafes- cafes in which the wait staff dresses up in costumes and serves diners in character. While the concept of costume-clad waitstaff is by no means new (consider Disneyland's character breakfasts and Hollywood themed restaurants where one is served by Marilyn Monroe and Elvis impersonators), cosplay cafes are unique in their focus on otaku (basically, anime, manga, and idol enthusiast) clientelle.
The most popular form of cosplay cafe is the maid cafe, in which waitresses in maid costumes and address diners with formal honorifics, assume a variety of cute poses, and make diners bless their food with adorable spells.
Are you curious to know what it's like to visit a maid cafe? Not all are the same, but most follow the same basic format, so I can at least share my experience with you as a reference point. Enjoy!
I recently visited a maid cafe in the popular Tokyo neighborhood of Akihabara with my friend Eimi-san. We were both new to the maid cafe experience, so we thought it would be fun to investigate one in Japan's most otaku-friendly neighborhood. We settled on one nestled into the fourth floor of a building that had the slowest, most questionable elevator possible.
As the doors slid back on the fourth floor, two chimes that were taped to the doorway jingled away, and a young girl (well, young as in 18-23) in a maid costume came up to us and did a little cutesy introduction which I could not understand, but which, according to Maid Cafe Practice, involved much use of the word "master" and magical happy anime speak.
We were lead into the cafe (which had two sections- one with tables and chairs and one with three long rows of tables and chairs facing in one direction, theater style) and seated at the table closest to a heart shaped stage.
The place was packed! Even though eight maids were running around, it took a long time for them to get around to catering to all 50 or so people in the cafe.
The serving process involved first being given a special passport (read: rewards/loyalty card), then having a plastic, battery-powered candle lit with "magic", then ordering one of the cute dishes from the restaurant (e.g. Mashed potatoes molded into a heart shape, ice cream dishes arranged to look like animals, omurice with catchup drawings of cute faces...).
When an order arrives, the maid bringing it directs its recipients in casting magical spell that will make the food taste good. I think what we said was "oishiku nare, moe moe kyun!" which means something like make this food yummy, bibbity bobbity boo / abracadabra!" ("Moe moe kyun is an anime-based meme involving a character in a maid costume. There is no simple translation for the word "moe," but it involves good feelings felt by otaku. There is also no simple translation for "kyun," which Eimi-san described to me as that feeling you get when you see a guy (or girl) you like). If you're curious about the phrase, I've written a full explanation of it here.
Clapping was required for the first part of the spell, the "moe" part required the hands to shape a heart which bounced from the right to the left, and the "kyun" part turned the hands from a heart into a gun that I assume is responsible for shooting the good taste into the food.
Some orders warranted extra theatrics. Shaken cocktails required the entire audience/restaurant to clap in unison while a maid shaking the cocktail sang/recited something cutesy. Some dishes involved all those getting served to go up and pose with the maids. Special dishes are typically ordered with a package involving both the dish, the performance, and a commemorative photo.
For an extra charge, diners can pose for a photo with the maids (photos are strictly forbidden within most maid cafes, as they are a lucrative commodity which is best controlled), and Eimi-San generously ordered one for me. I am, therefore, now a proud owner of a maid cafe photo, which has been drawn all over by one of the maids in what I imagine is typical maid cafe fashion.
It was incredibly interesting to watch the diners. Though some groups of both male and female diners were present, the vast majority of the clientele consisted of male otaku. Some were obviously regular visitors (judging by the way they exchanged nods with the kitchen staff) and I wonder what percentage of a maid cafe's guests are repeat visitors. Many, however, were newcomers like Eimi-san and I, who were at once shocked and amused by the pink, frilly interior, the cutesy food, and the singing, fluttering, petticoat, frilly apron and headband, decorated purse, and thigh-high clad maids.
The elevator was so packed every time it opened to the fourth floor that the maids directed Eimi-san and I, along with some other diners hoping for an escape, out the fire escape. We emerged unharmed and very amused.
See one for yourself!
So far as I'm concerned, maid cafes are fabulous. What an amusing way to be served food and drinks!
If you're interested in visiting a maid cafe, you're in luck- you don't have to travel all the way to Japan! There are already maid cafes in New York and LA.
What do you think of maid cafes? Would you visit one? Do you think they could become popular outside Japan? Are they cute, or creepy? Share your opinion in the comments!
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on October 17, 2011:
Oh man, leroy64! I'd love to go to the Heart Attack Grill someday! I don't think there are any Texas maid cafes... YET! I hope that changes soon.
And please do, Erin Boggs1! That sounds amazing. And you're right- conventions, be they for comics or anime or something else, are great places to hunt otaku. You'd better get to Japan, though!
Oh man, tirelesstraveler, sorry about the wasps!! Thank god for Benadryl! Love the stuff! Thanks for reading.
Dude. Om. I would totally work for a maid cafe. How hilariously fun would it be???
And thanks for reading, htodd!
htodd from United States on October 15, 2011:
Om Paramapoonya on October 14, 2011:
Sounds like an awesome place to be. Actually, it might be fun to work there and dress up as a quirky maid everyday for a month! Can you please write me a letter of recommendation? Oh but don't mention my real age! Tell them I'm 22. LOL
Judy Specht from California on October 14, 2011:
What a hoot. You have brightened my day. I blame the huge dose of Benedrayl, I took after being attacked by wasps, for my inability grasp the Maid part of the title. Looks like a fun place to visit.
Erin Boggs1 from Western Maryland on October 13, 2011:
I could give you a link to where I get mine. They are cheap and can be custom made to fit your body for 6 dollars more. I would love to go to this Maid Cafe, another cool place for otakus in America is the Comic-cons, they have a whole section dedicated to Manga, anime, and a cosplay party...Simone you have great taste and I envy that you get to travel to these awesome places...ah but one I will too, well I hope lol until then I will fulfill my dreams by reading your hubs.
Brian L. Powell from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff) on October 13, 2011:
The place kind of reminds me of the Heart Attack Grill, where the waitresses are all dressed as nurses so they can take care of you, just in case. I wonder if the Maid Cafe's have arrived in Dallas yet?
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on October 13, 2011:
OMG Arlene V. Poma. I totally love Hooters. It's so hilarious how they write your orders on paper napkins with sharpies! Hmm. I should go back. And daaang... now that I think of it, Hooters really is the American equivalent of a maid cafe. How depressing. America sucks.
If you like campy stuff, leahlefler, you will LOVE maid cafes! I hope you have the opportunity to visit one!
Dear ezhang. Agreed. Maid Cafe = next HubPages outing? Whaddya think, Maddie? Do you think they'll go for it?
Yes!! I'm glad I have proof, Happyboomernurse! And to be honest.......... *I* would totally work at a Maid Cafe!! IT WOULD BE SO HILARIOUS!! Plus I love petticoats. And acting strange. Hmm... maybe I should start one.....
I think they're only popular in Japan, FloraBreenRobison. But I hope that changes!
You are beyond cool, Erin Boggs1!! I envy your costumes!!!!!
Erin Boggs1 from Western Maryland on October 13, 2011:
Otako = me. (secretly has a Japanese school girls costume, this year I want to dress up like Lucy though.) Okay so I am beyond Nerdy lol
FloraBreenRobison on October 13, 2011:
I must have missed that news story, because this is the first I've heard of a Maid Cafe.
Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on October 13, 2011:
I think it's a good thing you had "proof" of your visit in the form of a photo or I would have suspected your creative imagination had gone into overactive drive!
But your trip did sound fun as a one time adventure and I could see why you enjoyed it. You looked cute enough in that photo to even go undercover as a "maid" and possibly do an expose' one day about how hard the job is and how humiliating the costumes were aka Gloria Steinem's Playboy Bunny expose back in the 60's (or was it the 70's?).
At first thought I didn't think something like these maid cafes could succeed in America but then again it's probably enough of a novelty to attract customers and with so many young women out of work they could probably find enough maids to staff it.
Voted up across the board because this was a useful, fun, awesome, interesting and beautifully written hub.
Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on October 13, 2011:
Yesssssssss! I was so hoping you would write a Hub about this experience. It sounds amazing.
Edward Zhang from Bay Area, CA on October 13, 2011:
Dear Simone Ojouu-Sama,
You are hereby forbidden to have any more fun without me! Have a nice day.
Leah Lefler from Western New York on October 13, 2011:
I think your visit to a Maid Cafe was really fun - of course, I am a sucker for anything campy. I don't think I'd ever visit one outside of Japan, but if I were in Tokyo, I'd have to visit one just for the experience and for the laughs!
Arlene V. Poma on October 13, 2011:
Oh, nooooooooooooooooooooo Simone! I would not set foot in this Maid Cafe and slap $75 on the table for these young women to serve me. It reminds me too much of Hooters. Only these women are more creatively dressed for the occasion. If I was being served, by "butlers," then you're talking! Voted up, interesting and AWESOME for such a creative subject! WooHoo!!!