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Akihabara, lost to the maids.

Posted 20th September 2012 at 11:51 PM by rjm
Updated 23rd September 2012 at 11:24 PM by rjm

A maid cafe is, as far as I can make out - and wikipedia confirms - a cafe/light restaurant staffed by girls who dress up as anime characters or doll-like maid costumes. Chatting with customers is encouraged, so the atmosphere is more social than a regular cafe. Its also more expensive, and the food worse. (from what I can judge from the menus: its what my nine year old daughter might make if left alone in the kitchen...) They advertise by by having the staff stand around - in costume - on busy street corners nearby handing out small cards.

This is a phenomena that started about 5-6 years ago, or at least started to go mainstream then. Ground zero for maid cafes is the "nerd districts" where computers, comic books, and video games were sold: Akihabara in Tokyo, Nipponbashi in Osaka.

Growth appears to be exponential: every time I visit either region (I'm in Tokyo right now, staying near Akihabara) the number of maid cafes (and therefore maids on the street) doubles. Soon I don't think you will be able to walk around in Akihabara for tripping over them. I saw literally dozens, within a couple of blocks. Maids are now even being used to advertise regular restaurants, like noodle shops.

Besides the pedestrian hazard, and the slightly creepy similarity to a red light district, space constraints mean maid cafes are replacing the older, more useful stores that once formed the retail backbone of the district. Akihabara as an electronics mecca has being dying off for years, but I was particularly struck this time by how much has now gone. The iconic "radio department store" with its little booths selling resistors and all manner of parts is half empty, more tourist attraction / curiosity than store. Many of the electronics stores are essentially duty free shops for foreign (mostly Chinese) tourists. "hifi" as a presence is just about nonexistent.

Internet shopping, manufacturing moving to China, the rise of the ipod and now smartphones, the assault has been pretty merciless.

Last night I took refuge a short walk up past my hotel in Ochanomizu to Kanda, which is traditionally serving the student/university population. You go past a few blocks where every store is selling snowboards or outdoor gear for some reason, another district selling musical instruments, and into cafe/bookstore territory. There at least life seems to be going on as I remember it always did. It was nice to be in a large, extremely busy bookstore again. I bought a copy of "MJ" magazine. 1100 yen. Ouch!
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  1. Old Comment
    freax's Avatar
    Thats a real shame to hear that is happening to Akihabara...
    Posted 12th December 2012 at 04:20 PM by freax freax is offline
  2. Old Comment
    KMossman's Avatar
    needs photos of the 'maids' !
    Posted 5th February 2013 at 12:22 AM by KMossman KMossman is offline
  3. Old Comment
    billo44's Avatar
    I made my first visit to Akihabara last Friday, though I have been here in Japan for twenty years.... I thought it was great!
    I need to go again with more time to spare.........

    I found the maids weird yet very easy to ignore, but the 'in your face' manga style adverts covering most of a ten story building are bad on the eyes in my opinion......

    I was impressed first by a dusty little place under the tracks run by a grumpy old man... Then at ten a.m. the electronics bazaar under the tracks opened and I was very impressed with one store where the lady running the store seemed to have her current inventory memorised and went down the list of parts I was looking for, had 2/3rds of it and suggested close alternates for the rest....

    Sounds like I should have been there ten years ago.

    BTW there is a new capsule hotel..., up market (for a capsule hotel), where you can stay for about 4000 yen a night (40 USD). google anshin-oyado.jp if you wish.

    I plan to go again (with a proper shopping list) next time my work takes me to Tokyo.
    Posted 14th October 2013 at 09:35 AM by billo44 billo44 is offline

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