This week Zentern is bringing our readers some insight about maid cafes. In this blog, a collaboration between two interns at Zentern, Jacob and Angela, we will give our impressions about the experience of going to various maid cafes and provide some pointers to help you choose what cafe would be a good fit for your tastes and budget.
Before commencing your internship in Tokyo maybe you have been exposed to Japanese animation and manga comics. However, unless your enthusiasm as a fan has earned you the title “otaku,” you have probably only scratched the surface of the thriving subcultures in Japan. Actually the word オタク(otaku) in Japanese is not specific to any particular fandom or hobby; it is a general expression for describing a person who is extremely passionate about something. Anime otakus are indisputably the most well known niche Japanese community throughout the world but there are many other interests that have their own following of otakus. One great thing about Tokyo is that there are many areas that cater to specific types of otakus and allow them to truly immerse themselves in their hobbies. For a foreign visitor, enjoying the niche areas of Tokyo such as Akihabara, Nakano Broadway, and Otome Road in Ikebukuro is all about trying something new, intriguing, and maybe a little bit daunting at first glance. If you ever have a lull in ideas about places to explore during your internship in Japan, why not try plunging into one of the most famous aspects of anime otaku culture: maid cafes!
Maid Cafe of Choice for Beginners: A recommendation brought to you by Jacob
When you finally gather the resolve to enter a maid cafe, the sheer amount of options can be a little overwhelming. Even for a veteran visitor of maid cafes, it is hard to declare that one specific establishment is the best cafe because it honestly depends on what you are looking for. For starters, let me introduce a cafe that is very accessible even with little to no knowledge of the Japanese language. If a cute and touristy cafe appeals to you and a little loudness is not an issue, there's nothing better than Maidreamin where the maids speak English and you will be among many other travelers who entered the store for the first time out of pure curiosity. Maidreamin is a chain cafe with branches all over Japan and in various districts of Tokyo, which makes it slightly more convenient than other cafes that can only be found in Akihabara. Their website provides useful information regarding admission fees and minimum order requirements so it would be good idea to check the numbers in advance to make sure the maid cafe experience is in your budget.
This is one of the dessert items I ordered from their menu! It’s called テラカワユスwwうさたんパフェ(Terakawayusu Usatan Pafe), which translates roughly to a “Tera-Adorable Bunny Parfait” where ‘tera’ refers to the numerical prefix for a very large quantity. If you and a friend order different items, you’ll be able see even more of the various creative snack and meal designs available. Going in groups not only is cost effective to try as many menu items as possible but it may also help you feel more comfortable during your visit so definitely ask your fellow interns in Tokyo to see if anybody else is up for making a bizarre, uniquely Japanese memory. Moving on, I’ll discuss some smaller businesses that I have visited, some of which have drastically different atmospheres and themes to your traditional maid cafe chains.
Level Up Your Maid Cafe Experience at some of Jacob’s Favorite Places
Although groups of at least two are common for the more touristy stores, single guests are perfectly welcome at all maid cafes. For a more quiet, cozy experience and a chance to practice your Japanese with the maids waiting on you, I recommend trying some of the more obscure maid cafes on your own. At these cafes it it less likely that you will have to chant anything before eating or drinking and most of your conversations with the maids will be relatively casual. So how do you find these places? My go-to method for discovering new maid cafes is to go to the Akiba Culture Center, a five to seven minute walk from Akihabara station. On the street to the left of the building you will find tons of maids handing out fliers for the respective cafes that they belong to. Once you are introduced to a cafe that appeals to you, tell the maid that you want to go and she will take you directly to the cafe. However, please be advised that using this method to find cafes will often lead you to places where little to no English is spoken or written so if you are only just beginning to learn Japanese or don’t know any phrases at all, I would be hesitant about going to an obscure cafe without a friend who you can rely on for basic communication.
A few personal favorites of mine are:
Grand Pirates - A quiet, pirate-themed bar run girls cosplaying as classy pirates. Unlike tourist cafes that flaunt their cute dessert options and ice cream soft drinks, Grand Pirates boast a more refined menu with mainly western dishes and a fairly expansive repertoire of alcoholic beverages.
Malus Pumilla - A small, hidden-away shop where the maids dress like Snow White. It’s difficult to find this place without being guided because its shop front doesn’t stand out too much but just go to the ramen shop Kagemusha and it should be right next to it. This cafe doesn’t have a website but according to their twitter, there is an hourly seating charge of 1,000 yen and all-you-can-drink costs an extra 900 yen.
Shinobazu - A ninja-themed cafe that is staffed by waitresses dressed like shinobi who dance and sing. You can play a game of darts with shurikens, but it can get expensive if you're not careful (which, to be fair, can be said of most maid cafes). The servers here will ask you to chant ninja jutsu incantations on everything everything you order. Although the theme seems like a gimmick that tourists would love, it’s not actually as loud and crowded as you would expect.
Spell Casting and Dining at Maid Cafes Like a Pro with Angela
My first experience with maid cafes was at the @home cafe, which is located in the same building as the Akihabara Don Quijote. I went in a group of six on a Saturday early afternoon and there was practically no wait time and even for small cafes it is pretty safe to just walk in without making a reservation in advance. Like Maidreamin, @home is popular with tourists because it has menus in multiple languages and some of the maids can speak conversational English. I wanted to experience a little bit of everything they offered so I ordered a dessert drink set that included a cream soda, a commemorative photo, and a small gift box filled with cookies.
As a general custom across most of the more touristy cafes, the maids will ask you to join them in chanting special “yumminess spells” with choreographed hand motions on each item you ordered before you start eating or drinking anything. First-time visitors might consider these gimmicky interactions with maids to be embarrassing but going along with your maid’s bubbly, sing-song prompting is one of those things that you do in Japan just to say you’ve done it once regardless of how absurd it was, sort of like attempting to climb Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari shrine in Japan’s blazing summer heat.
When I went with my American friends to a maid cafe, it was highly amusing to translate some of the magical spells that the maids ask you to recite to ensure your food is as delectable as it looks. For your future reference, here are some example phrases:
Te de haato wo tsukutte…. Oishikuna~re~
Make a heart-shape with your hand and wish….”Be delicious!”
Moe moe kyuun!
Note: This phrases requires a little background knowledge in Japanese onomatopoeia. Moe is a sort of noise for cuteness that inspires adoration while “kyuun” is the sound of a heart clenching in anticipation or hands squeezing together in hope so the phrases roughly communicates that you are channeling cuteness into your drink and wishing for the beverage or dish to be especially flavorful.
Ai wo ko-me-te♪ o-mu-rai-su♡
Fill it with love♪ Omelet over rice♡
You might also get some odd requests like the following:
Ojousama, watashi ga hotto-tii wo kappu ni sosogimasu node, sutoppu shitai tokoro de “nyan nyan” tte itte kudasai
Young miss, I will pour hot tea in your cup for you so please say “nyan nyan” when you would like me to stop.
[Note: Nyan is the noise that a cat makes in Japanese and is associated with a beckoning paw motion that you can see all throughout Japan performed by Maneki neko figures that stores place by their entrances in order to promote good fortune.]
For a even more individualized experience, I highly recommend ordering a cake or omelette. These items have the special bonus of having a maid draw a picture for you with chocolate syrup or ketchup. On my recent trip to a Cinderella-themed cafe I was ecstatic to find out our maid was also a fan of the anime Card Captor Sakura and so we asked her to draw an iconic character from the series named Kero-chan.
The maid waiting on me was very modest about her drawing skill so I was shocked how well it came out. Of course you can’t expect all your servers to be Picassos but most maids will be more than happy to take your recommendation so feel free to be creative!
Closing Comments about Maid Cafes
Beyond all the frills, the act of dining at a maid cafe is actually a very rigidly structured experience so it is our advice that you ask if you are unsure about any policies such as restrictions on what you can take photos of for free. So that you can enjoy the experience full without worrying about upsetting staff, please read the following advice:
IMPORTANT RULES OF MAID CAFES
Do not under any circumstances take a photo of a maid without asking. This includes on the street.
Reason: Photos are part of the maid cafe business model and typically must be paid for and taken under fairly strict conditions such as within a certain area of the store and only containing one maid of your choice. Most maid cafes will use their own polaroid camera to take a picture and provide you with a physical copy of the photo with a cute message drawn on it afterwards. Please note that while photos of maids and the cafe decour are highly restricted, you are allowed to take pictures of the food you order free of charge.
Do not touch the maids casually such as by patting their shoulder during conversation
Reason: Unlike in American culture where simple body touches like shaking hands and a pat on the back are common gestures that can even be exchanged by complete strangers, in Japanese culture any form of touching is considered fairly intimate and is thus exclusive to interactions with close friends, family, and romantic partners. Being able to step outside of your frame of thinking and to consider the perspectives of people from other cultures on topics such as standards for personal space is one of most important skills that you can learn during your internship in Japan.
Do not ask the maids for their personal information or contact details.
Reason: Acting personable and making you feel comfortable while you are dining in the cafe is part of a maid’s job responsibilities but she is under no obligation to continue to keep in touch with you outside of the facility. To retain and haul in new customers, maids will be friendly and may sometimes come off as flirty but this behavior should not be interpreted as an invitation for increased intimacy. This is not to say that the maids don’t genuinely enjoy your company but maid cafe visitors should be considerate of the border line maids draw between their work and personal lives.
Ask for a point card at every maid cafe you visit if one is not readily provided
Reason: Most if not all maid cafes have some form of customer loyalty system that rewards their cafe patrons with points for purchasing menu items or visiting the cafe multiple times. These points can be spent on special gifts and activities or used to receive discounts so it is best to take the initiative in asking for a card if you plan to come back multiple times.
If you would like to try visiting smaller cafes with staff that only speak Japanese and cater to locals, try to find a maid on the street and have them bring you directly to the cafe.
Reason: If you walk into the cafe by yourself, the Japanese staff at the maid cafe may become nervous and avoid speaking to you out of fear of awkward communication difficulties. However, if you walk into the cafe with someone who works there, during the short walk to the cafe you will have time to speak with the maid and demonstrate your ability to speak Japanese. Even if the conversation is as simple as “It’s really hot today, I want to sit down by the air conditioner,” they will be relieved to know that you understand basic phrases and will more likely try to approach you for small talk while you are dining at the cafe.
Have at least 10,000 yen on hand whenever you enter any maid cafe
Reason: Since some cafes only have written descriptions of their price systems in Japanese, it may be difficult to keep track of the bill if your reading comprehension level is not high enough. We recommend a budget of ten thousand yen because it is very rare to spend more than that on a single visit to a maid cafe unless you constantly order new food and drinks, ask for performances, or stay for multiple hours.
Prepped with these tips and knowledge of standard rules for behavior at maid cafes, you are now ready to add the maid cafe experience to your log of memories from your internship in Japan. Tell us about your first visit in the comments. Did you find a cafe with an interesting theme? Whether you want to see them all or are simply happy to have visiting a maid cafe checked off your bucket list of things to do in Tokyo, we hope that this blog post proves helpful.