It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. You’ve been waiting in line for the past hour and a half just to visit this one café together with your friends. Finally, the door opens for you and a cute Japanese girl, wearing a French maid outfit with frills abound and ribbons in her hair, opens the door. As you walk in, all the other maids currently engaged in serving, stop to greet you in full smiles with a choir of “Okaeri nasaimase, Goshuujin-sama, Ojou-sama,” (Welcome home, Master, Madam). As you are led to your seat you see that several other customers are getting their pictures taken with a maid. The maid hands you your menu, and leaves for a while. When she returns, you place your order: One of you gets a parfait and tea, one orders the pasta dish and another decides just have a soda. While you wait, you see a customer in the store ordering “play a game with a maid.” Both customer and maid proceed to the game corner beside the bar seats. After rolling a dice to decide which game they’ll play, they pull out an old looking toy similar to Rock’em Sock’em Robots. After three minutes of playing, the customer has bested the maid and as a reward receives a coin, which he takes to a machine beside the stage. He uses it to receive a sticker or a button of some sort.
At long last the maid comes out with your orders and sets them in front of everyone. Then she pulls out a basket containing all sorts of colorful straws and asks that those who ordered the tea and soda pick one. She then unwraps, bends, and places your straw in your drink for you. Next she asks the person with the tea if he wants some sweetener in his tea. After he says yes, she pours it in, and mixes up his tea for him. Then she places a basket containing a spoon wrapped in a white napkin next to his parfait. Last is the pasta, at which she asks everyone to follow along and repeat after her as she sings a little tune about mixing the pasta: “maze maze” (mix, mix), as she stirs your pasta for you. Lastly, to add love into everyone’s order, she has you act out a little chant, including hand-motions, along with her. When all this is over, she takes her leave, allowing you to eat and talk with your friends. By the time you’ve finished eating, your half hour in the store is over and its time to pay the bill.
On top of the flat entrance fee of 500¥($5), the drinks also cost about 500¥ each, while the parfait comes out at about 800¥ ($8), and the spaghetti at about 1200¥ ($12). After paying the bill you receive your “Master Certification Card”, which acts as a point card for frequent customers. You’re then escorted out of the store as you hear a choir of “Itterashaimase, Goshuujin-sama, Ojou-sama” (Take care on your trip, Master, Madam).
The above describes the atmosphere you can expect to find in Akihabara’s famous maid café @Home café. It is the type of café that you would most likely see in animes and mangas. The rest of the cafes, however, are very different and will most likely fall far short of your expectations. In reality, the majority of Maid cafes in Akihabara are nothing more than perfectly normal cafes, except the waitresses wear maid outfits and the prices are exorbitant.
If the cafes are normal, then why are they such a big deal and so famous throughout Japan? Well, first of all, it doesn’t stop at just maid cafes. There are Imouto (Little Sister) cafes, where you’re greeted with “Okaeri, Nii-chan!” (Welcome back, brother!). There’re also Tsundere cafes, where the greetings are rough and unfriendly. There are even cosplay cafes, where the employees wear costumes matched by the settings, and both costumes and settings change every day from themes such as nurses to school girls. Besides the outfits and greetings, however, they’re just regular cafes where you can rest your feet while sipping on a drink after a day of shopping in Akihabara.
The most surprising part of the maid phenomenon, is that it fails to stop at cafes. Recently in Akihabara, maid massage parlors have become increasingly popular. Similar to the maid cafes, they are essentially massage parlors with employees dressed as maids. There’s even a maid massage parlor tucked in Akihabara’s back streets which offers a “tsundere course.” This massage starts of rough and painful becoming softer and gentler towards the end. There’re also Maid bars (where you’re served by maid bartenders), a Maid casino (where maids serve as the dealer), and even a maid optometrist (where you can have a maid optometrist check your eyes, and maid employees help you select a pair of glasses).
While the majority of maid cafes are disappointingly normal, it’s still a nice place to go to if you want to see young pretty girls dressed up in maid outfits. However, if you were to ever visit Japan, don’t expect to see a cute maid dancing and singing on the stage for you. Cafes such as @home, offer point cards that you can use to gain access to specials not on the menu (like making maids sing on stage). The more exciting the special is the more points it costs; therefore, it is something only the obsessively frequent visitor is able to engage in.
With the cost of one soda at the maid café being more expensive than a value meal at McDonald’s, frequenting the cafes will empty your wallet faster than you can imagine. With that said, visit at your own discretion. I hope you enjoy your stay, Goshuujin-sama!