As if a visit to a cat cafe wasn’t enough, I also visited a maid cafe while in Tokyo. Apparently the Japanese really like their themed restaurants and stores. I hadn’t planned on going (in fact I’d never heard of this phenomenon before), but some boys from my hostel wanted to check the whole thing out and my interest was piqued as well.
We ended up at Maidreamin in Shibuya, part of a chain.This location had vaguely Nintendo-themed decor, with Mario Bros. wallpaper and color-changing blocks hanging from the ceiling. That totally wasn’t the weird part, though, and actually the interior design seemed like a bit of an afterthought. It was all about the maids here, and ended up being one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.
When you first walk into the cafe (after descending several flights of stairs from street level… shady much?), it hits you full force with its cuteness. The girls who work there are all teen to twentysomething girls who look significantly younger, dressed in Lolita-style maid uniforms: puff sleeved blouses waist cinchers, short skirts with petticoats, thigh-high stockings, bloomers, and frilly headbands. They were constantly bubbling over with excitement about everything — it was like nothing could possibly thrill them more than taking your order for french fries at that moment. Just sitting in the restaurant is pay-by-the-hour (remind you of anything?) and it cost ¥500 per person per hour plus a minimum food or drink order. The food and drinks were surprisingly reasonably priced, though! I got an iced cappuccino, which the waitress (maid) decorated table-side with chocolate syrup to make a cat face on top. The boys all got beers, and the maid convinced them to upgrade to the “giganto” size. Then when she brought the drinks she said she was going to do magic, which apparently consisted of forcing us to repeat a short chant after her, and would only serve us after we’d finished.
About halfway through our drinks, the girls announced that it was showtime, which we were not expecting. It turns out they all sing and dance to J-Pop songs on this little stage at the center of the room and some of the customers gather around with glow sticks and dance too. WHAT. It probably doesn’t sound that weird to read about, but the whole experience of actually being there was totally surreal. It was vaguely creepy and uncomfortable, especially when we looked at who the other patrons were. Most of them were male (though I wasn’t the only girl, I think there was only one other one), and though a few were groups of school kids, there were definitely a few creepy old men. There was one guy who may have been slightly retarded or maybe just seriously lacking social skills, but he was probably college aged and was obviously a regular. He bought a whole bottle of champagne for himself (though he didn’t seem to be much of a drinker) and when the show came, he bought a whole bunch of glow sticks and was matching the dancers move for move. I just found the whole thing kind of sad, like a socially awkward virgin who goes to strip clubs because he can’t even talk to girls, or men who pay escorts for actual companionship as opposed to sex. Obviously there is a need for that kind of thing, but all this repressed sexuality under the guise of cuteness and innocence disturbs me much more than visible sex work. Freud would have a field day.
It was definitely a unique Japanese experience, though. As you can see in the amazing rules above, you’re not really supposed to take pictures inside (yes, I asked our maid for permission to take the few I’ve posted here), but the chain’s website has lots more, and it’s written in a way that’s indicative of the whole bizarro scene. The FAQ section is a particular goldmine if you’re looking for that kind of thing.