As a lot of people interested in visiting Japan know, visiting one of Japan's quirky, themed cafés is a must while in the country. Among the many different types of cafés available, one of the most popular is the maid café. Originating in Akihabara and made to cater mostly to male otaku or anime/manga/game geeks, the maid café is definitely a very special kind of establishment that requires a particular mindset to appreciate.
With that said, there are some important things to keep in mind when you do want to visit a maid café, lest you want to feel weirded out by the experience:
1. A Maid Café Is All About Overwhelming Cuteness
A maid café is not a place you want to go to if you're looking for quiet service and refinement (except if you're going to the Cure Maid Café in Akihabara, which sets itself apart with its more formal atmosphere). A maid café is also not as sexy as their short, frilly skirts might suggest. At most maid cafés, the service and the atmosphere is all about kawaii (cuteness) and moe (a concept that's kind of like the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see kittens, puppies, or other baby animals)—and it will be all in your face.
Maids at the café will all be very cheerful and will all act very cutesy. The food and drinks served will also be made cutely. For those unfamiliar with Japanese kawaii culture, everything inside a maid café might feel like being in a world meant for a little girl. But approaching it with an open mind is the best way to enjoy it because…
2. You'll Need to Participate!
When it comes to immersing yourself in Japan's culture of cute, a trip to a maid café will give you the full experience. On top of your servers and the food being cute, you will also need to do cute things, too. Depending on the café you visit, you might be given cute headgear to wear during your stay. Another common practice in most maid cafes is using hand gestures and a chant (like "Delicious! Delicious! Moe moe kyun!") whenever your food or drink is served. It's a lot of fun if you've prepped yourself for the experience! It's even more fun when you're with friends who are more than happy to do the actions with you and make it less embarrassing. The laughter from participating also makes everything taste better!
Most people who go into maid cafes not expecting to participate are most likely to feel awful. I've personally seen and read some reactions from people who didn't open themselves to the experience and left with a bad impression of Japan's cute culture. So it's important to remember that when you're in the company of cutesy maids who have no reservations about being painfully cute, you'll also want to leave your reservations at the door to enjoy it, too.
An extra tip: because enjoying the maid café experience to the fullest requires participation, it's very important to go to a café with English-speaking staff if you can't speak any Japanese. Otherwise, it's best enjoyed with a friend who can speak Japanese and can explain to you the quirky things happening at the café.
3. Be Aware of the Rules
Because maid cafés are pretty special, they have a couple of rules in place to make sure the best atmosphere is maintained. They're also in place to protect the servers working there, too. The most common of which is that most photography is not allowed. Usually, you'll only be allowed to take photos of your food and drink. You can't take photos of the maids. Also, touching the maids is not allowed. When in doubt about what you can or cannot do, always ask your server.
Photo : Angelina Earley on Flickr
When you do decide to go visit a maid café, don't forget to get a souvenir picture with your server! At most tourist-friendly maid cafes, they have it bundled with a meal and one or two hours stay at the café. While it might feel weird to pay for a photograph, it's actually well worth it as the staff does make sure to hand-decorate it so you go home with a perfectly kawaii item to remember your visit by.
With all this in mind, go ahead and enjoy the maid café experience to the fullest! It's definitely something worth experiencing if you want to immerse yourself in every bit of Japanese pop culture!