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Popopure Maid Café, Akihabara

JAPAN | Monday, 22 March 2010 | Views [5503]

A promoter for a 'Maid Cafe' in Akihabara, Tokyo.

A promoter for a 'Maid Cafe' in Akihabara, Tokyo.

 If Tokyo is the world capital for weirdness, then Akihabara would have to be its pulsating heart.  In this district, famous of its electronics and anime, you can find everything from computer parts and popcorn machines to gaming outlets, manga galore and even entire department stores dedicated exclusively to X-rated adult entertainment, making a trip to Akihabara a real adventure into some of the more bewildering and baffling elements of Japan.

It is therefore unsurprising that Akihabara is also home to Tokyo’s highest concentration of maid cafés – cafés where young female waitresses, dressed in cutesy French-maid outfits, act as servants waiting on their masters and mistresses.  This involves highly formalised speech and subservient behaviour such as kneeling before a customer while stirring sugar in their coffee.  It all sounds much kinkier than it actually is – in reality, it’s just a fairly tame way to spend some time in a fictional world.

Interested to see what all the hype was about first hand, my Intrepid Travel guide, Tatsuya and I visited the Popopure Animation studio and Maid Café for an afternoon coffee and snack.  Entering the café, we were greeted with a chorus of “Welcome home, Mistress. Welcome home, Master”, which was slightly unnerving and started off a wave of giggles that would continue to shake Tatsuya and I for the duration of our maid café visit.  Our maid came and took our order in English before singing a little song to welcome us to the café… it was supposed to make us feel relaxed and comfortable, but really it made me want to crawl into a little hole and hide for a while.  When our order arrived, our maid asked us to join her in singing another song.  This time, to our coffee and cake… yep, apparently serenading your food with a little love ditty makes it happier and therefore it tastes better.  Riiiight.

Overwhelmingly, the clientele at Popopure consisted of geeky male otaku (manga, anime and video game fanatics), but there were enough women, couples and tourists present to convince me it wasn’t a seedy establishment (and how could it be when it The Backstreet Boys had visited the café last year to record part of their new music video!? … watch it – it’s unintentionally hilarious).  Around us, customers were singing and playing games of rock, paper, scissors with the maids and we watched on in amusement as one particularly awkward chap energetically rehearsed then recorded a voice-over for a short anime film created by the café to be taken home as a special souvenir… *cool*

The maid café is another wacky Japanese experience to add to the ever-growing collection, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the popularisation of maid cafés seems to have diluted their authenticity and charm (see, for example, this article and one can only imagine what the original maid cafés would have been like). Despite this, the average maid café is still a bit of fun and quite easily accessible to non-Japanese speaking tourists who are keen on exploring the quirkier side of modern life in Japan.

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