Best Tokyo maid cafés
Maid cafés have become so embedded in Japanese media and fetish culture that it is hard to imagine a Tokyo without them. There are now about 217 maid cafes in Japan, but the good news is that increased competition is making them much, much crazier. (For those needing background, there's more on the history of maid cafes here)
Here is a guide to the best maid cafes in Akihabara -- to help you pick just the right place for your maid-ly needs.
Cure Maid Café: First maid café ever
Service offerings: The keyword here is "iyashi" -- or "to be soothed." Cure Maid offers the quintessential Victorian maid fantasy, though not in the sexualized sense of the anime and games featuring these characters. There is abundant greenery, classical music and respectfully distant maid service. The food is decent, and less conventional services may be offered during the café's regular anime promotions.
Downside: Because maids do not break decorum and engage their masters in conversation, casual visitors might be a little bored.
Cure Maid Café: Gee Store 6F, Soto-Kanda 3-15-5, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 3258 3161, www.curemaid.jp
Schatz Kiste: 'Akihabara Culture Café'
Service offerings: A place to relax, sharpen hobby skills and meet people with similar tastes. Otaku pay for time slots to build models, draw manga and generally geek out. Even the maids are in on it, and their homemade crafts decorate the bookshelves. Try some of the girls' culinary creations, too.
Downside: With only 30 seats and dedicated regulars, it is not uncommon to be turned away.
Akihabara Culture Café Schatz Kiste: Hasegawa Building 1F, Soto-Kanda 6-5-11, Chiyoda-ku, tel. unlisted, schatz-kiste.net
@home café: Moe maid heaven
Service offerings: The insanely friendly and cute maids are masters in conversation. They also chant "moe moe kyun" over your drinks to make them taste better. Certain foods, most famously the omelet rice, include the maid writing on your food with ketchup, as cute little addition.
Pictures and games are on the entertainment menu for just ¥500 a pop. The maids sing and dance too, and CDs and merchandise are available.
Downside: The line can be two hours or more on evenings and weekends. Inside, time is limited to an hour and the seating charge starts at ¥500. Being as saccharine sweet and kinetic as it is, some customers might leave with a headache.
@home café: Mitsuwa Building 4F-7F, Soto-Kanda 1-11-4, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 5846 1616, www.cafe-athome.com
Cos-cha: Back to school
Service offerings: Cos-cha is famous for its costumes, including variants such as "school swimsuit" day. Spoon-feeding service starting at ¥500, and for ¥2,500, customers can play a game where they have to drink a vile concoction the maid mixes. Those who fail at this task get a slap in the face in front of the room.
Downside: There is a table charge for everyone if anyone at a table orders alcohol. The menu is a bit pricey, and the crowd can get a little rambunctious at night.
Café & Kitchen Cos-cha: Soto-Kanda 3-7-12-2F, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 3253 4560, www.cos-cha.com
Nagomi: The 'little sister' café
Service offerings: The girls dress in frilly outfits and call you "big brother." Depending on their mood, they can be kind and sweet or rude and bossy, or both -- an icy-hot routine called "tsundere." Sometimes they bully you for an hour and then cry when you leave. Score some conversation time with tabletop games for ¥500.
Downside: The old location has limited seating and smells sort of stale and smoky, but the new location on Chuo Dori is touristy.
Pash Café Nagomi: Zenitani 2F, Soto-Kanda 1-8-4, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 5256 8001, www.nagomi.tv
Most foreign friendly: Popopure, which has several non-Japanese, English-speaking maids on site. Dub your own souvenir anime DVD with a maid for ¥1,500. (2F, Soto-Kanda 1-8-10, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 3252 8599, popopure.com)
Weirdest service: Royal Milk offers "Soul Care" -- 90 minutes of one-on-one talk with a maid for ¥9,000. This is more expensive than a private English lesson. (Nikka Sekiyuu Building, Soto-Kanda 3-10-12, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 3253 7858, r-milk.com)
Strangest concept: St. Grace’s Court is a nun café where the staff offer miniature food for men dining with dolls and pray for the souls of all their guests. (Chiyoda K1 Building 1F-B1F, Kanda Sudacho 2-19-33, Chiyoda-ku, 03 5298 5947, www.st-gracecourt.com)
For the ladies: Queen Dolce, a "danso" café where girls dress up like beautiful boys and strut their stuff. They are better men than any man ever could be. (Akibako Tower 3F, Soto-Kanda 3-15-6, Chiyoda-ku. tel. 03 3252 2031, www.akibakotower.com/queen-dolce)
Most overrated: Pinafore, which appeared in the Fuji TV primetime drama "Densha Otoko" in 2005 and put Akihabara maid cafés on the popular radar. They don't actually offer the services seen on TV, and the place smells like cat urine. (Yamanaka Building 1F, Kanda Sakumacho 1-19, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 5295 0123, pinafore.livedoor.biz)
>About the author: Patrick W. Galbraith is the author of The Otaku Encyclopedia.