Japanorama: “Welcome home, my master...”

Fetish cafés sweep Tokyo’s Akihabara district

By Miyako Takano | Feb - April 2006

Recently a unique new style of business has been sweeping the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan; it’s called the “maid café.” This growing fad features waitresses who serve their customer as his or her own personal maid.

Over 20 maid cafés have opened within a 500 meter radius of the Akihabara subway station. Most customers at maid cafés are “Otaku boys;” fanatics of manga, anime and video games.

The shop’s scale is the same size as a normal café. About five to 10 maids work daily at each location. Although the price of drinks and food are a little more expensive than normal, a maid café has become ultra-popular due to its novelty.

The key to the maid café’s success is in providing a unique form of hospitality. They attempt to create an atmosphere where customers can relax as if they’re at home. Although, I'm not sure just how many Japanese homes are actually equipped with scantily-clad submissive slaves...

When you step into a maid café, your servant greets you by saying, “Welcome home, my master.” These words make the customers feel important and powerful.

Iori Nomizu, from “Maid in Japan,” shows off her over-the-knee- socks and absolute domain, to the delight of local Otaku boys. Photographs by Miyako Takano

Most café customers are very shy when communicating with girls, and they feel more at ease speaking to a servant. The maids make the customers feel in total control, secure in the fact that their servant won’t take defiant attitudes toward their master.

Customers don’t have to be nervous talking with girls at maid cafés. At maid cafés “the master” is always cordially received and served as if they are in the privacy of their own home. People go to maid cafés to heal their spirit and relax.

The maids wear fancy costumes like manga characters, clad in very short skirts, aprons, and socks that go up over the knees. This sexy cartoonish appearance is very popular among Otaku boys.

Many customers share a common fetish –they love the small patch of skin peeking out between the girl’s thighs just below the skirt, and right above the over-the-knee socks. They call this part of a woman the “absolute domain.”

It is rumored the absolute domain gets its origin from a famous manga tale. The exact definition of absolute domain has to do with the proportions of the costume. For the diehard fetishist the ratios in length of a skirt, the thigh, and the upper parts of the over-the-knee socks must be 4:1:2.5 –the maid café costumes are based on this phenomenon of absolute domain.

Maid cafés aren’t so much about providing breakfast and coffee to patrons, though they do –they are more about indulging the customers’ fantasies and appealing to their imaginations. They satisfy the patrons’ fetishistic desires by offering a variety of custom hospitalities.

Maid cafés have many different options regarding service. One option is in how the food is served. When you order an omelet, a maid will come to your table with a ketchup bottle asking, “Do you want me to write on your omelet with ketchup, my master?” After she’s told what to do she will write any words the customer requests. The service of “ketchup writing” is the most popular option at maid cafés.

Another service provided at many cafés is “foot care massage,” in which the maid gently massages your feet with warm water. They also have a special photograph day when customers are given permission to photograph the maids. These options cost extra, but they are immensely popular among the clientele.

Some maid cafés feature performances. Maids sing anime songs and dance on stage. Some perform to dramas on TV and radio.

“I am enjoy working here and love wear a costume,” says 20-year-old café maid, Iori Nomizu, who works at “Maid in Japan.” Nomizu meets a lot of people in the café and is proud of her growing popularity. She says she enjoys the attention and interacting with her patrons.

The café has become a way for aspiring young ladies to promote themselves and enjoy a kind of celebrity status.

Other fetishes have been born out of the popularity of manga, in addition to a variety of new slang words. The slang word “Moe,” derived from “manga,” is now very popular when expressing excitement in Japan. It’s not surprising that the word is especially popular with Otaku boys.

According to "Wikipedia", Moe (pronounced mo-EH) is a Japanese slang word originally referring to a fetishistic feeling of affection, or sexual attraction to female characters in video games, anime, or manga. The term can be used to express the feelings of an individual or group.

A popular use of the term is “over-the-knee socks moe,” which means having a fetish for these particular outfits.

Some patrons claim two-dimensional characters are the epitome of perfection. In their imaginations these clients often see these characters as targets of affection, satiating their need for love.

The maid café phenomenon is rapidly expanding. This odd business’s success is the result of good research. They delve into customer psychology, exploiting the customer’s passions and delivering the desired product or fantasy.

Regardless of popularity, maid cafes may be symbolic of a subculture of contemporary Japanese that find reality hard to deal with, looking to find an occasional escape into fantasy. In a society with a long tradition of strict social hierarchies, it’s not surprising that so many people enjoy the feeling of importance and power provided from maid cafés.

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