The Truth Behind Maid Cafes—Is It That Quirky?

Going Behind The Biases

By Madina Baygelova
November 23, 2020
Japanese Culture

The cute and adorable exterior of Maid Cafes will catch the eye of passersby, and we doubt you will resist the temptation to have a look inside. The place itself resembles a quaint coffee shop, which seems to be dragged outright from an anime, skillfully nestled on the corner of an actual city street. Let’s try peeking inside...

Maid Cafes, places which seem to be renowned solely among otaku and slightly eccentric people. Or is it so? What is hidden behind the Maid Cafes’ Narnia door and is it as quirky inside as it’s believed to be?

Maid Cafe front in Osaka

Crossing the threshold

Once you decide to brush off your social anxiety and finally get inside, plenty of cute girls will meet you at the entrance, welcoming you with enchanting smiles and shouting “Irasshaimase”. They usually clad in aprons-like gnaws trimmed with lace, making them look like pretty anime or manga characters.

Depending on the cafe, visitors can be called ”Goshujinsama” ( ”Master” in Japanese) adding some peculiar charm to the place. Fluffy armchairs and colorful tables give to the atmosphere some childish vibes, and it seems like the place itself suggests visitors to act playful and relax. 

Oh my! Should I wear this?

You can be offered to wear a cute rabbit or cat ear headband, just to blend more into the local atmosphere—but no one will insist if you turn down the offer. While they serve food and drinks, the maids will also entertain you and even teach you how to dance and sing along with them.

Sometimes, they also conduct special performances on a lit-up main stage, with dances and anime-like songs. Those who are not into this sort of entertainment might find the offer quite weird, and depending on the person, the impressions and feedback on the experience will vary.

Are Maids modern Geishas?

Although a common belief, maids have nothing to do with the sex industry and are completely devoted to their work solely out of passion—and sometimes, the paycheck. Just like the geisha in ancient times, the maid is supposed to be an eloquent orator, good singer, and dancer to keep her guests occupied and happy. Moreover, since maid cafes serve food and beverages, some maids are requested to draw cute pictures on top of the dishes with ketchup or any other sauces, which also implies some art skills. In the situation where a guest would touch or harass a maid, he is immediately driven out and will no longer be served or even allowed to get inside the cafe.

According to Japanese law, you can get a part-time job starting from high-school, explaining why a majority of maids are mere high-schoolers or university students. Furthermore, visitors must ask the maids if they don’t mind being photographed—and usually, it’s simply forbidden to take a picture—hence the only pictures that are allowed are expensive polaroids (they usually cost around ¥800).

just like the geisha in ancient times, the maid is supposed to be an eloquent orator, good singer, and dancer to keep her guests occupied and happy

Let’s hear some clients…  

I have made my own little research to find out what people think about Maid Cafes, and if they prefer these “no mediocre” places to ordinary street cafes.

Some foreigners I interviewed consider the Maid Cafes to be an unusual way to immerse oneself into the Japanese otaku culture while having a nice convo with cute girls dressed up as adorable anime characters. Both Japanese and foreigners find these a bit weird and don’t find themselves keen to visit a maid cafe without a specific reason—or a good excuse.

Ryan visited a maid cafe out of curiosity during his trip to Japan. He thinks that this kind of place is “attractive to those who are mentally immature and who tend to mix up reality with an imaginary world”. However, he assumes that it is a great opportunity to comprehend the Japanese culture much better from the inside, giving a glimpse of the mysterious human nature and its hidden desires. For Ryan, a one time experience was quite enough: “diving into Japanese culture doesn’t have to be too deep.”

Another girl named TJ, who has a blog about Japan, thinks Maid Cafes are fascinating and very appealing. Moreover, she is stunned by the high-quality service provided by maids, and how skilled and talented they turn out to be.

My personal “Maid Cafe” experience

My own Maid Cafe experience was quite challenging and unusual (I was also the only girl among the visitors). But despite a feeling of awkwardness, I had a blast chatting to cute and polite waitresses, asking them about their job and endeavors. 

Even though being polite and considerate is a non-written rule in Japanese service, maids’ concerns and enthusiasm towards guests seemed to be surprisingly natural and real. That made the overall atmosphere friendly and guests felt free to open up and have honest conversations. Thanks to this innate courtesy and because maid staff is mostly good listeners, guests feel important and understood, which creates an unforgettable experience. 

Maid cafes tea and sweet

What is it like to be a Maid?

Maid Cafes are usually not considered by all as a decent place to work. How would parents let their girls work in a place with such a dubious reputation?

Ramune is a Maid. She told us that at first, her parents opposed her decision, but the more they learned about the industry, the less they worried, and eventually, they even supported her in her choice of earning a living as a Maid. She was even chosen as the Best Maid of the local cafe she works in and got a quite weighty bonus along with this title. She assumes that people are embarrassed to visit Maid Cafes because they do not exactly know what Maids are and who they serve. If only people dug a bit deeper, a lot of misunderstandings and unnecessary prejudgements would go away, giving much more space for fun and joy.  

[…]at first, her parents opposed her decision, but the more they learned about the industry, the less they worried, and eventually, they even supported her in her choice of earning a living as a Maid

Another Maid who preferred to be called Yomogi (Maid workers are requested to use a nickname to avoid any interruptions into their private life) said that she was aspiring to be a Maid and that she was thrilled when her application was approved. For her, it was a good way to overcome her complexes and fears, and she could prove to herself that she was pretty and attractive. “When guests are eager to take a picture with me, I feel like I am an Idol”, —she said, beaming, “it makes me feel special. Besides, I like working here, as it is not too far from my home, but I will never tell it to my boss,”—she laughed, replenishing my cup with flavored tea.

Maid Cafe staff distributing flyers

Saying goodbye

While exiting, happy and well fed, you can get a memory shot with a Maid. They will sign and illustrate a really cute polaroid of you and her (or them), and put in a little cute envelope for you to take home… For those who expected a different experience, it could be quite disappointing as these heartwarming welcomes and goodbyes are not exactly what the Maid Cafes are associated with. 

The sun is drowning, and shop alleys are starting to light their signs, inviting passersby to enter. But, who knows what is hidden behind these doors?

At least, a little truth that lay behind the pink and girly doors is revealed for now…