Akihabara Maids

Mike GristJapan, Manga / Anime / Cosplay 19 Comments

In Akihabara electric town, a district a bit north of Tokyo and jam-packed with a riot of tech-shops selling all manner of computer gear and accessories, the Akihabara maids roam. Decked out in frilly French maid outfits, wide-eyed and gushingly friendly to perps, they prey on the nerdy ‘otaku’ that inhabit Akiba’s warren of back-streets like level 3 kobolds in a beginner dungeon.

Pretty in pink.

Akihabara has been getting trendy in the past 10 years or so, as Japanese ultra-nerds coming more to the fore of mainstream culture with the international popularity of manga, anime, cosplay and games like final fantasy. The maids play to some medieval urge in these dorks to be treated like a master by a doe-eyed submissive cutie, something impossible to achieve for most of the (probably?) socially inept guys that frequent their ‘maid cafes’.

Rabit ears and bunny ears- very popular.

I’ve never been in a maid cafe, though I glanced into a few when I was doing this shoot. All the ones I could find had big lines of heavy old dudes lined up outside- not a crowd I much wanted to wait with.

Not quite a maid, more like cosplay, but advertising a very similar thing.

Giving rapt attention to a potential customer.

What is a maid cafe, then? Well, it’s sort of like a hostess bar, but cheaper, and with less of the ‘sex’ allusion and more of the submissive and manga-kawaii thing played up. So what’s a hostess bar then? A bar where you spend money per the time you’re there, get romanced and chatted up by pretty young women who you buy drinks for, and who may, if you persist and offer up big money, be prepared to go off the books with you and take things to the next level.



Is there that seedy side to maid cafes- will they go all the way for the right cash? I don’t know that, I imagine it’s less of a factor than with hostess bars, but I don’t doubt it can and does happen somewhat. Plenty of otaku have cash, and plenty of young women want it.

School-girl type outfit, petticoat.


Shooting these girls is the most like a paparazzi I’ve felt yet, not a comfortable experience really. They don’t want to be shot, they turned their backs or crossed their arms in front of their faces. I asked a few to see if getting permission would ease them up, but they said no in no uncertain turns.

Shooting maids as they walk away is easier. This one is probably not properly decked out yet- her kit will be in that suitcase she’s strolling with.

Making the pitch.

Demurely closing the sale.

Perhaps they are embarrassed by what they do, and don’t want to be seen in their professional gear touting their wares on the street.

She seems unimpressed.

Perhaps miserable in this job?

Panda-head, striding confidently along.

The archetype, hugely-busted massive-eyed blue-haired aliens.

She turns to see me, purses her lips, spins around immediately.

Impeccably put together.

Shooting this final girl I found another guy out with camera, taking shots, which made me feel less bad. I guess there’s truth in the theories of anonymity raising confidence. I used him as a blind, since she was trying to not face either of us, and managed to get the first shot of her head on as she turned from him.

But yeah, felt a little bad, so in the future will try to mostly take shots of people more willingly showing themselves off.


You can see all MJG’s Tokyo content here:

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Comments 19

  1. I feel sorry for them.
    their dreams and reality are no doubt, more unlike than they imagined.

    Me thinks anyway.

    By the way I added you to my Blogroll. Nice site /pictures.
    Keep up the good work

  2. You have some great shots here. I had trouble getting these photo’s last time I was in Tokyo. They definitely do not like their picture taken. What type of camera setup do you use for this?

  3. You clearly realize that they don’t want their pictures taken, yet you do it anyway? Just how much of an asshole are you?

  4. Post

    Chris B.- Cheers, and thanks for the link, much appreciated.

    Jay- Cheers- using a Nikon d90 and Sigma 70-200mm telephoto.

    Headbang- Cheers!

    tokyojesusfist- I don’t appreciate your tone or your language- post like that again and I’ll delete it. Your underlying point though, yeah.

    Jeffrey Armstrong- I was using a 200mm telephoto, still had to be close enough to be seen though to get tight shots on the face.

  5. Nicely done! BTW, I went to Ikaho (Gunma)over the holiday and I thought of you. They have some great onsen and hotels that have been abandoned. You might want to check them out considering your interests, or maybe you have already. i took a few shots for you and I’ll send them to you in an email. Which email shall i send them to?


  6. Maybe if they knew you weren’t a pervy jerk they would not have been so reluctant to be photographed. I’d say being photographed was an occupational hazard of dressing up like a bunny/maid and being out on the street. Worse things have happened. Plus you have freely discussed how it made you feel and that it was awkward – that is part of the journalism of the piece – alongside their reaction – it gives a better understanding of what is going on and what these girls do/think etc. I’ll be concerned when I see millions of pics of Britney on your pages drinking some Japanese hello kitty style Starbucks concoction!!!!!! But until that day I think this was interesting and informative.

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    Loco- Cheers bud, and very interested in the hotels you mention in Gunma- thanks for thinking of me. I’ve been to a few things up there, but not hotels. Will gratefully receive photos at michaeljohngrist@hotmail.com. Cheers!

    David- Cheers, and yeah, it’s awkward, but makes for an interesting study afterwards.

    Alice- True, they are kind of asking for it by being out there in costume. I felt a bit stalkerish a few times, especially once shooting a girl who turned away when she saw my lens, I repositioned, she turned back then turned away again. I walked away from her without a shot, too uncomfortable to continue ‘hunting’ her like that. Will we see Britney on these pages? Ha, probably not 🙂

    1. man, its akihabara. You knew what is was before you went there. why writing filled with prejudice?

      “Perhaps they are embarrassed by what they do, and don’t want to be seen in their professional gear touting their wares on the street.”

      “but I don’t doubt it can and does happen somewhat. Plenty of otaku have cash, and plenty of young women want it.”

      “Decked out in frilly French maid outfits, wide-eyed and gushingly friendly to perps, they prey on the nerdy ‘otaku’ that inhabit Akiba’s warren of back-streets like level 3 kobolds in a beginner dungeon.”

      You basically just degraded all women. They’re doing a job. period. So the girl with the big breasts at your local restaurant that Im sure you tip a little more(when you’re not in japan of course) is wrong too? You knew what it was before you went there. Some people Im sure that visit this site have never been there as you and I have. Why describe it so incredibly sexist and be very degrading to the women that do work there.

      That’s not a very journalistic point of view. I enjoy this site a lot… but MJG this was absolutely your worse piece or “reporting” ever. Your approach would have maybe been applicable 30 years ago.

      1. Post

        Hi anime-tl, I appreciate your comment. I didn’t intend to be sexist at all, but accept the possibility I might have been by accident.

        In writing this article I assumed maid cafes were not entirely different to hostess clubs, but perhaps that is wrong, and there is no seedier side to them. In which case yes, this article would be suggesting women in service jobs were akin to prostitutes, which I can see would be degrading.

        But. Surely maids in a maid cafes are not the same as a big-breasted waitress in a regular cafe. I’d go to the regular cafe primarily for the food. Maid cafes are places that thrive on the master-servant goth-lolita attraction otakus feel. No-one goes for the food. Is it wholly wrong to infer some kind of sexual undertones at play here? Certainly the maids are in the business of selling their appearance, even if it goes no further. We could (cynically, sure) call that ‘touting their wares’. Doubtless they can get bonuses if they get their patrons to like them more and splash out on super-fancy omelettes or whatnot, similar to expensive champagne in hostess bars. Is it unreasonable to assume some might go further, in the hopes of making more cash?

        That final step is conjecture of course, and speaks more to my opinion of what men will pay for than the nature of the women involved.

  8. Pingback: Bouncing Red Ball » A ride through Tokyo Metropolitan Bayshore Route

  9. Post
  10. Well, my gf lashed atthe maids
    saying that they do that job
    out ofnecessity… I dont agree:

    If the maid job was degrading
    I am sure would command a “degrading”
    premium as MOST jobs in developed countries do.
    if you do some reserch and check the hourly salaries ???
    of?maid versus the say STARBUCKS (800 JPY)…
    surprise surprise:

    in a maid cafe : 800 to 1200 JPY per hour
    in food service establishment: 1030 JPY (2006)

    I just visited maidcafe twice
    one time it was wonderful and theother was boring.

    I say let-s respect the men and women who do like doing that job.
    I do not understand why quite number of foreing girls feel so jealous and feel
    so self righteous about criticizing that akiba lolita gothic kawaii culture.

    No, maid cafe it is not a more degrading job than starbucks.
    And yes,?it is a popular job, and it requires some EQ skills to be a good maid.

    1. Post

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts- I hardly feel now like the girls are being degraded. I guess its all just good fun, brightly lit and above board. Primarily cute.

  11. From what I know, the cafe told them to stay away from being photographed, mainly because the cafe provides a service where customer must pay for taking a photograph of maid. It’s quite strict that they only allow the photo to be taken with a polaroid camera owned by the cafe.

    One more thing, if you still stay in Japan, you should be cautious when posting a portrait photograph on a website. Unlike other country, under Japan’s law, the person in portrait can sue you if you posted his/her photo without permission even if you take the photo in public area.

    Personally, I think Japanese is pretty paranoid when it comes to photography.

    1. Post

      I never knew that Keiko, thanks for the info. No one has yet complained about the photos I’ve posted, but if they ever do- I guess I’ll quickly take the photos down. And I don’t do that kind of candid photography anymore, so no ongoing concern.
      And yes, about the cafe telling them to not get photographed- that makes sense when they’re making money from photos.

      Thanks for sharing your knowledge on this!

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