In Japanese geek meccas like Tokyo's Akihabara and Osaka's Nipponbashi, otaku (nerds) flock to maid cafes. The establishments are staffed with young women, eager to talk, serve rice omelets, and play paper-rock-scissors with customers.
For a price. And depending on the maid cafe, a hefty one.
Maid cafes started taking off in Japan between 2003 and 2004. They took the place of diner chain Anna Miller's, a proto-maid cafe of sorts. Maid cafes are a space where otaku can unwind and relax as well as talk to girls (here, maids) and play silly, innocuous games with them. Maid cafes are unabashed in their geekery, and the maids that staff them are expected to be well versed in video games, anime, and manga—the lingua franca of nerdom.
Increasingly, maid cafes are being compared to another space where Japanese men relax: hostess bars. As anyone who has played Sega's Yakuza games can tell you, at hostess bars, you drink booze, talk to ladies in evening dresses, and sing karaoke bars. Maid cafes serve the same purpose for otaku. They are less a sexual outlet—which are widely available across the country—and more an emotional one.
According to a news report by Nagoya TV morning show Up!, some maid cafes in Osaka's Nipponbashi are charging customers ¥5,000 (US$63) to talk to a maid one-on-one for thirty minutes—and ¥15,000 ($188) to talk to three.
Food prices are equally insane. Rice omelets, which usually cost at most ¥800 ($10), can be ¥4,000 ($50), and drink prices can cost up to ¥5,000 ($62) for a single glass of fizzy juice.
One customer told Up! that after losing paper-rock-scissors to a maid, he had to pay around ¥20,000 ($250), while another recounted how his friend from Wakayama came to an Osaka maid cafe and left ¥70,000 ($878) poorer.
During the 1980s, as hostess bars exploded in major Japanese cities, the press began reporting how these watering holes were taking advantage of their clientele, slapping them with stiff service charges and exorbitant bills. Some maid cafes, it seems, are doing the same damn thing. They're Japan's latest rip-off bars.