I consider myself as someone with an open mind. Someone who’ll try most things once. Someone who prides himself on being non-judgemental, on accepting things as they are, someone who isn’t too quick to criticize the different, the eccentric or the outlandish.
But last night, in Tokyo, I experienced something that stretched the boundaries of even my ability to take what I see at face value. Because last night, I went to a maid café.
First, allow me to present a few disclaimers: going to a maid café, where you are waited on by young girls dressed in maid’s costumes, was not my idea. It was the idea of my girlfriend, Trang. Furthermore, we didn’t do it out of the idea that it would be a Nice Thing To Do, but rather that it would simply be an experience. With those two points accepted and understood, I feel I can continue writing.
The maid’s café in question was found in Akihabara, the home of all that is weird in Tokyo. We were shown into the second floor Maidreamin café (website here, in case you’re interested…) by a young girl wearing a blue maids costume, complete with white leggings and black shoes, and were greeted by half a dozen similarly attired girls upon our exit from the lift.
Once seated in the small café, the walls adorned with giant sweeties and the music an irritatingly chipper birthday song being played on loop, one of the maids came and introduced herself. She talked us through the menu, which included a range of drinks and snacks, available at rather steep prices.
In the end I opted for a cup of tea. I felt this a typically British response. When out of one’s comfort zone, there is no known situation where a brew won’t do you a world of good.
The maids all spoke with ‘cute’ squeaky voices which I can’t accept for a moment aren’t put on. They came to our table several times to playfully encourage us to make ‘miu miu’ cat noises, say how delicious the tea was whilst doing heart shapes with our hands, and generally act barely a quarter of our age.
Before we left we were invited to pose for a photograph with our maid whilst wearing cat’s ears and making ‘paw’ shapes with our hands. We paid our bill, and then waved goodbye to the maids who very enthusiastically waved back. They should have been enthusiastic as well: we’d just paid £15 for two cups of tea and a bowl of nuts.
I left feeling numb at the sheer weirdness of everything that had just happened. I barely said a word on the train ride home, as my brain tried to process the sheer weirdness of it all. Even once safely back in our hotel room it still all felt a little bit too surreal. I sat there genuinely asking myself, ‘did that really just happen?’
Japan is a country who’s youth revel in cute stuff. They not only create entire fantasy worlds through things like manga comics, but they then look for ways to blur the boundary between fantasy and reality. For example, certain outlets in Japan specialize in providing costumes of cartoon characters, and they invite customers to wear said costumes and pose for photographs.
In a way, the maid café is another extension of this theme. Its another attempt to make fantasy reality. I couldn’t get away from the fact that this is the sort of thing only men in Japan do – an idea created by men for men. I couldn’t imagine a group of girls wanting to go and have a maid wait on them.
But then again, maybe they do, and maybe I’ve misunderstood it completely. I’ve stopped trying to make sense of things in this country. What can I say, other than ‘miu miu’?