Tokyo's 'maid cafes'

"Welcome to Butlers Cafe, princess," says a Western man in a trim suit as he places a sparkling tiara on a woman's head.

by: Kanako Nakanishi | 25 Feb 2008

In a nation where many girls grow up on Western fairy tales, Tokyo's Butlers Cafe is tapping into the popular fantasy that they will grow up to meet their Prince Charming.

Just stepping over the threshold, Japanese woman can forget for a few hours that they are in Shibuya, one of the capital's most crowded areas, and enter a world where a handsome man rushes to the tinkle of her bell, goes down one knee and asks: "Yes, my princess?"

The cafe offers a variety of homemade food, sweets and drinks, as well as photo shoots in which a favourite butler holds the woman in the air – and English lessons. Since opening in mid-2006, Butlers Cafe has attracted around 2,000 frequent customers.

An evening here, drinking tea and nibbling cake, is certainly more affordable than the well-established "host clubs" where women can spend hundreds of dollars in a few hours drinking expensive wine with well-groomed Japanese men.

In some ways, the Butlers Cafe is a mirror image of the growing number of "maid cafes" where men are served by young women in frilly maid uniforms.

Yuki Hirohata, 36, the joint owner of Butlers Cafe, said she came up with the idea during her previous job as an office worker as a way of escaping her workaholic world.

She interviewed other women and found their wish list – romantic settings and a chance to learn English. While many were curious about foreign men, they wanted a safe setting – not host clubs or drunken nights out in bars catering to Westerners.

Western-style fairy tales, often with their stock images of a chivalrous Prince Charming, have long permeated Japanese culture, and provide a balance for the male-dominated reality of Japanese society.

While attitudes are changing, many Japanese men are raised to be reticent about expressing their appreciation of women. "It is actually a shame that women need to pay to be treated well," said Shinichiro Shuto, who gives tips to men on Japan's popular "All About" website.

After having lived in New York, Shuto said that on returning to Japan he noticed a huge difference between American and Japanese men. "To be frank, we Japanese men do not oppose the lady-first ideal. It just looks too show-off and cheesy for us to copy Westerners," he said.

"I believe in women's power," she said. "By wearing a tiara, being treated as a princess or making progress learning English casually, we hope that customers can feel more positive and confident about themselves, if only a little bit."

What do you think – do we need a some 'maid cafes' in SA?

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