Did you know that there are countless cafes in Tokyo’s Akihabara district where school girls are paid to serve and perform in flirtatious french maid costumes? I didn’t. Feeling inquisitive, astonished and awkward as hell, heres what happened when I visited one of Tokyo’s most popular Maid Cafes @Home Cafe and the disturbing reality why you should avoid them.
What Is A Maid Cafe?
Naively, at first, I thought that the experience might be similar to that of the subculture practices of the “Sweet Lolita” girls from Harajuku. I pondered whether maybe a Maid Cafe was a place where teenage girls hung out dressed up as french maids for fun (who knows? It’s Japan after all), but alas it turns out that I was wrong. Maid cafes are in fact restaurants that employ teenage girls to dress up as French maids, thus to provide entertainment and service to their customers.
What Happens In A Maid Cafe? Watch this video to see the full experience.
Upon arriving at @Home Cafe you can expect to be cheerfully greeted by pretty polished young girls looking around the age of 16 wearing frilly mini pinafore dresses, lace petticoats, knee high socks and pigtail hair.
You sign into a register to receive your membership card, where from then on the young girls now refer to you as their “Master” (No I’m not joking). The maids take you to your table and give you a menu of kawaii style fast food, drinks and deserts designed to look like adorable bears, kittens, love hearts and stars. When you are ready, your maid will kneel down onto her knees and take your order (WTF?).
When your order is ready the maids will come over, kneel down and ask you to participate in casting magical spells over the food to help make it taste better. This includes chanting some words in Japanese whilst making love heart hand gestures and nodding your head from side to side. All innocent fun to the 5 year old and her mum sat on the table next to me, but slightly unnerving to observe the 2 solo men in their mid 40s enjoying the exact same experience on the tables opposite.
After lunch you are invited to play dress up with your maid by selecting from a variety of props such as bunny ears, love heart glasses and top hats etc, before taking a polaroid style photo together. It is forbidden to take your own photos of the maids by yourself at any time.
Depending on the time of your arrival you might be lucky enough to witness the cafe’s cabaret style show. Maids distribute flashing glow-in-the-dark love hearts for everyone to wave around in the air whilst the whole staff sing and dance too what I can only describe as teeny princess macarena-esque pop songs on the in-house stage. As they joyfully bounce and bow their heads in synchronization their tiny mini skirts and petticoats flash what appears to be innocent glimpses of the top of their thighs and knickers.
Isn’t It All Just Innocent Fun? #Spoileralert = NO.
Was the question I asked. On the surface yes, the young girls appear to be having fun, being cute and living out their daydreams, singing, dancing and drinking rainbow colored lemonade for albeit a brief living (until they look 18 that is). The only thing that makes the whole experience not so innocent whilst also being extremely downgrading and misogynistic is the fact that their hemlines are at least FIVE INCHES TOO SHORT AND THE MAJORITY OF THESE GIRLS ARE UNDER 18. Under the shiny surface of all that candy colored, cutesy kitten crap these girls are in fact being inappropriately exploited and sexualised for adult entertainment, regardless of whether the cafe has a “no touch” policy or not.
“Under the shiny surface of all that candy coloured, cutesy kitten crap these girls are in fact being inappropriately exploited and sexualised for adult entertainment, regardless of whether the cafe has a “no touch” policy or not.”
Although I was assured by my tour guide at Akibaland tours that @Home Cafe is “One of the better ones”, looking around it quickly became apparent to me that the novelty of such service was not for tourism purposes, but that it was primarily a wildly popular venue for single middle aged men at lunch time. Now, I am not that naive (this time around) to think that they are there for the debatably delicious food and high brow entertainment. No. I’m going to make a balls to the wall statement here and say that they are simply just f**king perverts.
According to my guide being a maid isn’t all its cracked up to be (#NOSHIT), maids are to some extent seen by the public as a modern day Geisha and therefore most girls would be ashamed if their families knew that they were working in a place like this. After a lengthy discussion it transpires that in many similar establishments girls are often groped, harassed and propositioned by adult male customers both in and outside of the work place, Which leaves me thinking #WHYAMIHERE #HITSHEADAGAINSTWALL !
(Me, dying inside. Get me outta here)
After further investigation into this disturbing fantasy my suspicions were confirmed with Vice Magazine’s shocking documentary School Girls For Sale. WATCH HERE.
Why Do Maid Cafe’s Even Exist?
Akihabara district is known as Tokyo’s capitol of Otaku culture. Otaku is a negative term used to describe someone that has a unhealthy obsession with anime and manga material, usually to the detriment of their real life social skills. Walking around Akihabara, my guide from Akibaland informs me that in Japan people work extremely hard, rarely taking days off or holidays, because of this it is widely accepted that many Japanese people develop strong and sometime unusual interests in virtual/alternative reality merchandise and characters.
Akihabara is a area over saturated with shopping malls that are crammed with corridor after corridor of Otaku related hobbies, such as anime, cosplay, computer games, gadgets, collections and cheap electronics. Maid Cafe’s appeared in the early 1990s as a place of respite for male Otaku’s in the area by providing them with a opportunity to bring their cosplay fantasies closer to real life.
The serious problem is, this was around the same time Japan developed a overwhelmingly unhealthy obsession with JK (School Girl) culture resulting in the employment young girls to fulfill these roles.
Unnerving But Relevant Facts About Japans Sex Laws
- The legal age of sexual consent in Japan is only 13.
- Japan only banned child photographic pornography in 2014.
- It is not illegal to illustrate child pornography or sexually abusive images of children in anime or manga.
Should You Visit A Maid Cafe?
After reviewing the available information I would say NO. I am the first person to put my hand up and admit that 9 times of of 10 I am as much a tourist as the next person, often emerging in experiences first and asking questions later. When I discovered that there was a part of Tokyo where it was common place for young girls to dress up as french maids I was naively intrigued, but never for once considered that these “girls” would actually be “girls” under the age of 18.
I believe that tour companies offering these services to visit Maid Cafe’s are perpetuating a demand which leads to the further exploitation, sexualisation and potential abuse of vulnerable young girls in Japan.
Akibaland provided me with a fun, interesting, insightful experience in Akihabara’s streets and shopping malls, in exchange for this review, but I would advise readers to opt out of visiting a Maid Cafe for the reasons listed above.