The common western perception of a maid is a largely practical one; maids do the cleaning or otherwise act as servants to their masters. However (as I have recently discovered) in Japanese culture, they represent something quite different! As with everything else related to Japanese culture, trying to gain their exact perspective on something is often a challenge simply because their culture is so vastly different from ours, but from what I have been able to gather at this point, the perception of maid culture by the Japanese is roughly as follows.
Back in the seventies, youth culture in Japan underwent a kind of minor revolution not dissimilar to the way teenagers became a thing for the west in the fifties. However, the way Japanese teenagers expressed their rebellious intent was not necessarily to wear a leather jacket and smoke behind the bins in the school yard, but instead to reject the social pressure exerted on them by their society to work hard and have a productive career by, in essence, simply refusing to grow up.
And lets be honest; I think most of us like the idea of living like children (no rent, no bills, no worries.) But from what I have discovered, this phenomenon coupled with the Japanese love for anime and the sub-culture that comes with it has resulted in many interesting outcomes, one being; maid culture.
In the Akihabara district of Tokyo, you can find several maid cafés. Like any other café, they serve a variety of food but with one crucial difference; all of the waitresses are dressed as anime style maids, and will treat customers as though they are their masters/mistresses! Bending to their every whim, they will decorate the food they serve with cute images accompanied by a dazzling demeanour and constantly broad smile and in some cafés, they will allow photos to be taken with them (something normally prohibited in such places.) The waitresses are dressed to be as cute as possible; a prized quality for most females in Japan, and represent a caricature of the traditional Japanese housewife.
I think though, that this represents a much broader aspect of popular culture in Japan; their tendency towards escapism, utilizing everything from video games to sex simulators to augment or otherwise exist separate from reality. Women who don’t want or have time for real relationships go to bars where they can enjoy the company of men, for a fee. Men who just want the simple affections of a woman will pay money simply to lay beside someone whilst they clean out their ears! And, as It would seem, those who want to feel like they are masters of their surroundings and to engage with cute, child-like waitresses will go to maid cafés.
That said though, it is easy for us, being westerners, to see this sort of behaviour as strange and immature, but our alternatives are hardly better. Japan has generally lower rates of crime, obesity and illiteracy than either Britain or the USA, so we are certainly in no position to criticise these aspects of their culture. Plus who doesn’t love video games, cartoons and being able to read? What’s more, you can now find maid cafés in New York, so perhaps in the same way that the Japanese take from the west; we are now learning to adapt our culture to theirs. I’m certainly not complaining…
If you fancy more info on Maidreamin Café in Akihabara, be sure to check out their official website! http://maidreamin.com/en
Before I sign off, I’d like to leave you with a short clip from the BBC TV programme ‘The Hairy Bikers’. 3mins in to the clip, they visit a Maid Café in Japan…Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R44D3COma54