The tour group we joined was comprised of anime, manga, and gamer otaku so of course one of our stops was Tokyo’s electric town, Akihabara. In addition to electronics, anime goods, and gaining centers, Akihabara also features maid cafés! A visit to Maidreamin was listed as an optional tour activity, but when the guide asked who was interested, more than half the group raised their hands.
These establishments are, as my husband likes to describe them, a kind of modern-day geisha house. Just like geisha, these women entertain their guests with song, food, and drink. But instead of kimono, they wear ruffled and ribboned maid costumes, and their songs are belted karaoke style instead of sung with traditional Japanese instruments.
When these cafés first appeared, their clientele was solidly male. Now couples frequent them as well. For those who are curious, the gender ratio of our group was about 50-50.
The experience was by far the most rollicking part of the tour. Maidreamin is located on the sixth floor of a small building, and when we emerged from the cramped elevator, we were greeted with cheers, applause, and high-fives. I thought at first that it was part of the café “service,” but it turned out to be other patrons! Another group’s party was in full swing, and they totally wanted us to join. The salarymen were so friendly and enthusiastic we had to join in, especially when they ordered up a song, broke out the glow sticks (yes, maid cafés turn into mini-rock concerts), and began showing us the accompanying dance moves. It wasn’t long before we were all laughing and calling to one another in broken English and mangled Japanese.
While I can’t guarantee all café patrons will be so exuberant, you can count on the maids to be. Their job is to be super perky and super friendly and create a fun atmosphere for everyone. The staff had little knowledge of English, but they were no less attentive for it. When one of our guys hung back during the karaoke portion, a maid came right beside him to encourage him to clap along. They’re determined to make sure all patrons have a good time.
I must emphasize that this is all good, clean fun. These establishments do serve alcoholic drinks, but they also have rules. Standard ones are: no touching, no asking for personal information, no touching, no pictures (except for those taken by the café staff for a fee), no touching, and did I mention, NO TOUCHING.
They will, however, sing requested songs on their mini-karaoke stage with energy and verve, and at other cafés, maids will play games like Connect Four with patrons. And depending on what you get from the menu, you could get a little chant or poem to go with your order. Another tour participant and I ordered omrice (omelette-rice: fried rice wrapped in an omelette and topped with ketchup). Most maid cafés serve this dish with a heart or “LOVE” rendered in ketchup. Our maid actually took requests. So I picked Hello Kitty (“Kitty-san!”) and the other guy, a tremendous Naruto fan, chose Naruto. Our omrice art were an exception to the photo rule, and I’m glad we got a shot before they got gobbled up.
Oh, and I should mention that in addition to food, drink, glow sticks, songs and photographs, maid cafés will charge an hourly sitting fee (ours was 500 yen per hour). So keep that in mind should you choose to party all night long at a maid café.
We spent an hour at Maidreamin and left at about 5 PM to explore more of Akihabara (yup, Japanese salarymen were partying on out at the maid café in the late afternoon). At about 7:30 PM, we headed for the subway and happened to run into some of our fellow café patrons. Suffice to say, the greetings exchanged were loud, somewhat tipsy, and entirely good-natured.
So much fun, Akihabara.
Next up, Butler Cafe Swallowtail!