Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Westerner’s Perception of the ‘Maid Cafes’ in Akibahara (Tokyo, Japan)

Akibahara in Chiyoda, also nicknamed as Akiba, was one of the places I wanted to visit mainly because of the ubiquitous ‘Maid Cafes’ there. I just wanted to observe the whole maid culture in the background and take pictures of course. Unfortunately I got sick in Japan. I spent most of my days shivering and coughing inside our hotel room. I managed to go out to a few places though but not to Akibahara. Dutchman however did visit. He usually leaves our daily travel agenda to me so each day that I am stuck sick in the hotel room, I gave him tips on where to go.

He is a gamer so I sold him Akibahara as the gaming centre of Japan, which it really is. He is of course enthusiastic at the prospect of visiting, however, I forgot to tell him about the maids and the maid cafes. I am normally quite thorough with passing information but when you are sick, you become less sharp.

So when Dutchman came back, the first thing he babbled excitedly about were the maids. He does not understand the whole concept though and admittedly found it to be very odd. LOL

The maids are sexy, demure and cute.

For westerners who are not exposed to the anime and manga culture, the whole thing can prove to be a bit difficult to understand. I grew up in Asia watching anime on TV, as well as I understood the obsession of many Asians, and not just the Japanese, with the demure, cute and obedient female role model fantasy.

So when male westerners who have no clue about anime and manga see girls in French maid costumes in Akiba, they are in for a surprise, but they also become suspicious and guarded (read this as well from several reviews online), and have questions running in their minds such as:

1) Why are they dressed like that? Why are their skirts so short? Are they selling sex as well?

2) What’s with that girlish façade? The pigtail hair? And trying to be cute (kawaii) all the time?

Combined with the short skirt and all this trying to be a cute little girl effect, do you know what a westerner thinks? Borderline paedophilia. Lolitas. I mean, seriously.

Different takes on different cultures, huh.

Here’s the good news. The maids of Akiba have nothing to do with sex. It all has something to do with what they call ‘moe’. It’s some sort of fixation to a character, and in this case the fixation symbol in question is the maid, typically dressed in a sexy French maid uniform. Customers, usually of the male kind, are called masters and pampered to bits by the maids in these cafes.

I personally think they are a form of modern day geishas, a subculture that sprung up within the gaming community to feed a new form of philosophy. It started with the otaku’s fantasy—the Japanese male who is fanatical with anime and manga. Female characters in the anime and manga world became an obsession to these men. They have become an extended real-life infatuation that ultimately led to the beginnings of the maid cafes. The besotted otaku’s can now spend their time with their favourite precious female anime character in live version. I don’t know though how the French maid character found its place here, but one thing for sure, it may sound a bit kinky but there’s really no sex involved here.

It’s one quirky business concept that is G-rated which happens to only exist in Japan, although nowadays the maid café concept is exported to other countries.

However, I would not be surprised if the career change of a Maid here in Akibahara to the complexer road of prostitution, might be easier than we would ever think.

Many of the girls give away flyers (cafe invitations) on the streets of Akibahara.

This one though is a lost clown on the street =)

Travel Period: November 2014
Destination: Akibahara (Chiyoda - Tokyo), Japan

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