Japan has a lot of unique stuff within its borders, mostly because of how unique its culture and its people are, although that may well be a chicken-egg question best left unanswered. One such cultural oddity is the globally infamous Maid Café but, as popular as they are, and believe me they are, it can be difficult to find accurate, up to date information on them, leaving many tourists with vastly different experiences and prospective customers left unsure who to trust.
Maid Cafés are, ostensibly, restaurant-cafés where the staff dress as French Maids and that’s where the generalities have to stop because that’s about all they have in common. It’s a strange, ritualistic experience that disgusts as many as at draws in, and although it’s not for everyone, there’s such a huge selection of them in Akihabara alone, that chances are there IS one that will suit you.
So fear not, Arcadian. Your resident weeaboo, moe-loving, maid-chasing geek is here to make your Maid Café experience as easy as possible. I could talk about how the very existence of the Maid Café is inherently wrapped up in Japan’s obsession with social rankings, or try to discern when exactly Japan adopted the French Maid as their official national fetish, but let’s face it; no one has time for that and there’s enough to discuss anyway without getting pretentious about it, so let’s dive in.
MaidDreamin sells itself as the no.1 Maid Café in Japan and it’s not very difficult to see what they’re getting at. It’s a franchise cafe, and in addition to locations in Ikebukuro and Shibuya, it has more locations in Akihabara alone than any of the other chains. The first Maid Café you’ll see when you come out of Akihabara station is MaidDreamin, and chances are it’ll also be the second, third and fourth one you’ll see (or hear) as you walk around, so its popularity is easy to understand.
Unfortunately, my experience with MaidDreamin hasn’t been great. Their menu is overpriced, as is their table charge, and they’re usually incredibly busy and understaffed, so chances are you might not get the full Maid-to-Table experience to the extent you’ll get it elsewhere. Most branches have English speaking maids, but like any service scene in Tokyo, this isn’t a guarantee. MaidDreamin might well be Japan’s no.1 Maid Café, but it certainly isn’t mine.
Average Cost PP: 3000-4000 Yen
@home Cafe is the second of the bigger chain cafés in Akihabara and, in contrast to MaidDreamin, it’s got a consistent reputation as one of the best in town. It has two locations in Akiba, the first housed beneath the AKB48 theatre and the second spread across four floors in a a building masquerading as a giant maid billboard that you literally cannot miss. Their menu is a lot more reasonable than MaidDreamin, and a better staffing system means the service is infinitely superior. Most of their maids can speak at least a little English, and some are fluent in multiple languages, including one German Maid who has become famous with the Japanese customers.
In addition to providing better service to customers, @home Cafe tries to make local stars of its staff, and you’ll often see the very same girls on the aforementioned billboard serving customers who’ve come there specifically to see them. Usually, there’s a helpful board at the elevator that tells you which floor has English speaking maids each day, but they’re a little forgetful with it and sometimes it’s unhelpfully completely blank. That said, the staff are charming and incredibly welcoming to everyone so don’t worry too much about it.
Average Cost PP: 2000 – 2500 Yen
Honey Honey is the first Maid Café we’ll discuss today that is a little off the beaten track. It’s not easy to find, and it’s not very heavily promoted, but sitting daintily next to the Animax Cafe, you’ll get there if you keep your eyes open. Aside from the staff wearing the usual frilly French garb, it’s a much more casual experience than the bigger names, reflected by the fact that it’s the only Maid Café in Akiba without a table charge. The atmosphere is a lot more laid back, and the staff strike a really good balance between making conversation and leaving you in peace, so if the big chains are too saccharine for you, Honey Honey might be just what you’re looking for. Ladies can choose from a selection of maid uniforms to wear for the duration of their stay if they feel like it, and the food is a slight cut above most others. Most of the staff don’t speak English, so if that’s important to you, you might be better off elsewhere, but Honey Honey is generally a really nice, casual alternative to its eccentric sisters.
Average Cost PP: 1500-3000 Yen
Another option hidden away in the back streets, and the first non-franchise café on this list, Pinafore is easily overlooked but, like Honey Honey, it offers a slightly less cartoonish Maid Café experience. It’s less popular than most others in the area, but don’t let that put you off. The maids are all friendly and occasionally they get up on stage and sing karaoke for your entertainment. Without the rules and regulations of a franchise, the staff are less caricatured than most Akiba maids, and although they still put on a good show for the customers, you get the impression that they’re also having more fun and genuinely being themselves. It’s a goofier place than the others, takes itself a lot less seriously and is generally a relaxing fun atmosphere as a result. Until, that is, you hit your 60 minute limit and are politely asked to leave. Every café on this list, except Honey Honey, has a time limit of some kind, but given Pinafore’s irreverent vibe it’s always unexpected and most unwelcome. Again, you probably won’t get any English speakers here, but you will definitely have a good time.
Average Cost PP: 2000 – 3000 Yen
Dear Stage isn’t really a Maid Café at all, but it shares enough similarities with them to be included on this list. It’s an interesting place in the backstreets of Akiba that any J-pop fan should definitely venture out to. On the second and third floor, a cafe and a bar, respectively, are staffed by friendly, enthusiastic ladies who regularly perform j-pop songs and anime openings in the grungy-punky-looking live venue on the first floor. These performances draw big crowds and the staff, of which there are MANY, quickly become local celebrities, and occasionally national ones, as in the case of Dempagumi Inc. whose Dear Stage history is chronicled all over its walls. It costs 1000 yen into the live venue on the first floor (although that does come with a free drink) and an additional 500 yen table charge to sit in the café/bar upstairs.
The experience is what makes Dear Stage worth visiting, as the food and prices leave quite a lot to be desired and don’t expect to meet any English speakers here. That said, the staff do a really great job catering to the guests and their performances, and the reactions they elicit from the crowd, are usually entertaining like nothing else Akihabara can offer.
Average Cost PP: 1000 – 4000 Yen
Most Maid Cafés share the same rules. Table charges are usually standard practice, and generally you can take photos of the food, but nothing else. Most cafés will offer a photo service as part of their fee for an extra one and almost all of them, due to their relentless popularity, have no choice but to set a time limit for their guests. This is unfortunate when you’re having a good time, but surprisingly welcome when you’re not. The most important thing to remember when visiting a Maid Café is to have fun and be nice. Everyone in there, including and especially the maids themselves, know how mental this whole thing is, and you’re not gonna do anyone any good by being a grumpus about it. There are many more Maid Cafés in Akiba but for now, hopefully this list will help you find one that feels like home.
Have you been to a Maid Café? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!