As you might have worked out already, Akihabara is the otaku capital of Japan, and for lovers of anime and manga culture, this is Mecca. The funny thing is that while in Japan otaku are looked down upon and stigmatized as pathetic, perhaps even dangerous losers, otaku culture is fast becoming the coolest thing around in Europe and North America. I have got a buddy in the publishing industry in Australia, Stuart Ridley, who started a magazine called Gaijin! to promote otaku culture Down Under. In Australia, Ridley told me, the kind of people who go to underground nightclubs and read THE FACE and spend $100 on fashionable haircuts are also the kind of people who dig otaku. To them, Tokyo and Akihabara are buzzwords for futuristic street style cool. Ridley himself visited Tokyo a few years back and while I didn't meet him, I am sure he made a pilgrimage to Akihabara.
If he came back today to look around he would be surprised, because Akihabara has changed dramatically in the past year. The teeming electronic markets are still there, but there is more of a human face to the place -- there is culture as well as commerce. Amateur bands put on small concerts on the weekends and try to drown each other out in feedback. Pop idols and characters out of popular computer games or comics regularly make rare guest appearances. The most interesting development in Akihabara's gentrification, however, is the opening of maid cafes. That's right -- maid cafes. It might seem quaint to us westerners, but maids are hot in Japan! Especially to otaku.
Walk along Chuo Dori Street on any Sunday afternoon and you will see the maids, usually surrounded by a paparazzi swarm of otaku geeks, hurriedly taking photos on their cellphones. Some of them are dressed like classic maids, others are clad in skimpy school uniforms or costumes from some anime epic. All of them know how to strike a pose, and work the otaku into a fetishic frenzy. Often its more fun watching the otaku dash from maid to maid, faces grinning like little kids set loose in a candy store, than it is to stare at the admitedly cute maids. This is the human zoo, Tokyo style. In a way it is kind of the reverse of the scene going on at the same time over in Harajuku. At Harajuku it is (mostly) teenage girls competing to express their creativity to the ultimate extreme -- and beyond. At Akihabara deep fantasies get expressed in a more passive, but still interesting way: here it is (mostly) guys coming out of their bedrooms to gawk at girls dressed like their favorite comic book stars. As well as posing in pictures, the maids invite otaku to the many waiting maid cafes for more intimate entertainment.
As one Japanese newspaper wrote recently: "When this many otaku boys get together in Akihabara, someone must feed them somewhere, so cafes and restaurants especially for them have opened one after another."
On Big Empire Dot Com, the maid phenomenon was described thus: "Though the name may imply otherwise, a maid café is not a place to find a woman busily working a vacuum, nor even an ambiguous shroud for yet another type of Japanese sex establishment. With menus, written in deliberately unique Japanese, offering everything from E˝glittle devilE˝h cocktails (600 yen) to full-body massages (4,000 yen for thirty minutes), these establishments allow customers to partake in a faux master-and-servant relationship with a young lady sporting a Victorian outfit or other seductive wear, perhaps a uniform based on a popular manga, anime, or video game. Conversations often include such honorific titles as my lord or my lady."
Yes sir it is true, I have seen it with my own eyes... at such cafes waitresses with cute names like "Chocolate" and "Pudding" flirt and play games with customers, and even hand-feed them (for a fee of course.) Cure Maid Cafe was said to be the first of this new genre in Akihabara. Since its opening nearly four years ago, more than 30 other "maid cafes" have emerged in Akihabara alone. With names like "Tea Room Alice" and "Little Beauty's Satanic Dining", it is worth going to some these cafes just to take a photo of the corporate logo on the door. Many of the cafes have shops attached stocked chock-a-block with anime goods, dolls, chinawear, etc.
The burning question is: why are otaku so hot for maids? One maid cafe owner replied simply: "It's because of the image that a maid is always supposed to obey a customer. That has a sort of healing or calming effect on a guy."
Especially a guy who is shy around girls. Many of the otaku you see in Akihabara have probably never been on a real date in their entire lives. Hence their attractions to maids who will mother them while also intoxicating them with their childlike sexual charms!
Here is a description of all (or at least most of) of the maid cafes in Akihabara. It should be noted that there is more to maidology than just cafes -- there are also maid reflexology places where young women dressed as maids give you foot massages, there are places where you can go and take photos of maids, and there are even maid beauty parlors for girls who want to look like maids. Check the links bar immediately below, to see which page you want to look at:
Akihabara Maid Cafes: A-K | Akihabara Maid Cafes: L-Z | Maid Cafes in Other Parts of Japan and Korea | Maid Reflexology (Massage and Aromatherapy)| Maid Services for Freaks
Contact the author Rob Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anticopyright August 2007/July 2004.