On Friday afternoon, 11th March 2011, Northeastern Japan was hit by a 8.9 magnitude quake accompanied by a 23-foot (7-meter) tsunami literally swamping the Island Nation and triggering a survival agenda in rest of the world. Tokyo was in a tizzy and as I watched the destruction unfold on the small screen the pink-cheeked maids, all smiles and dimples flashed before me.
During my November 2010 Japan visit, courtesy JNTO, we were in the crowded Akihabara, the electronic and the geeky area of Tokyo, and some of us opted for a visit to the increasingly popular ‘Maid cafe’ or ‘Maidu‘ cafe, the ‘pinafore’ take off on age-old entertainment custom. Akihabara is the ‘otaku’ capital of Japan and for anime and manga culture aficionados, the right place to be in. Evening time is the bling time with the neon lights vying for attention with the stores overflowing with electronic products and the welcoming tiny cafes and bars. Each cafe has its own take on service and presentation, some charge extra for extra service, though sexual overtones are discouraged. Unconventional costumes, stylized or revealing, representing specific characters from fiction, manga, anime, movies, tokusatsu, hentai and fantasy movies is all part of customer care and continued patronage.
But it was something not be missed and we trooped in, all anticipation, via lift to the ‘@home cafe’ with pink cheeked pretty maids in frilly can-caned dresses, lacy maid-caps perched on frazzled curls, iridescent baubles, trinkets and bows around necks and hands, ready to serve and please with ‘Welcome home, master’ and ‘Welcome home, mistress’. The music and ambiance recreates a magical world complimented by names rhyming with ‘Swarovski‘ and the drinks are spiked with a magical chanting MOE MOE kyun .…OISHIKUNA-RE. Mesmerized we just gawk as ten multi-designed nail extensions make heart shapes in sync with the chant, weaving a spell over the drinks or love potions accompanied by a squeaky ‘good, does it taste better’. We nod in unison, impatient to take a sip of the ‘love’ potion.
I look around –the quirky curly-haired youngish patron, sitting a few tables away and swaying to an imaginary beat, the group of executives probably looking for some excitement in their long day, the young and old, waiting to be pampered with special ‘Moe Moe Rice Omelet’ with the maid using ketchup to write a simple message or draw a picture according to request, couples and a group of young women chatting animatedly in a corner. It is a mixed crowd, geeks and non-geeks, and drinks are mandatory if one wants a return gift of a photograph with a ‘maid’ with the in-house camera. I had managed to sneak a picture at the entrance, photography is discouraged, only to find dozen images posted on You.Tube. Conversations are interrupted by song and dance items and few hours later we step out in the cold to be greeted by an impatient queue, grateful for vacant spots. Our tour guide had reserved places in advance.