Okaerinasaimase goshujin-sama, ojou-sama! (Welcome home master, milady!)
So why Maid Cafés? Where the heck did they come from? Is it just something else attributed to another crazy Japanese innovation? Does the idea come from hentai (Japanese anime porn)?
The first permanent Maid Café opened up less than two decades ago in Akihabara, Tokyo in March 2001. Masato Matsuzaki opened up “Cure Maid Café” in order to appeal to the otaku as a place where they could relax knowing they weren’t being judged. A critic has said that maid cafes are a “2.5-dimensional space”, a place existing between fiction and reality. But the essence of a maid café goes further back… like, hundreds of years back.
So here’s a little bit of a History lesson for you. DON’T WORRY, it will be fun and interesting! I promise. I’m a great history teacher… you won’t even know you’re learning. 😉
In order to understand the modern day phenomenon of “the maid café” we have to travel back in time, all the way to Feudal Japan.
Think samurai, geisha, shogun (warlords) and tea ceremonies.
It’s in this time period that a new form of entertainment was introduced to society.
I’m sure almost everyone has at least heard of the term geisha. But I’m equally sure many of you have misconceptions about what a geisha was and did. (I’m looking at you Memoirs of a Geisha).
Let me first say this: Geisha were not prostitutes.
Yes, SOME may have prostituted themselves at one point in their lives, but that is not what a geisha was. Prostitutes were called oiran or courtesans. The confusion stems from the fact that they often worked together, in the same place. So while geisha did usually work in what is called “pleasure quarters”, they were not bought for sex. For the most part, they were forbidden to have sex with customers. Oiran were prostitutes that took on clients to sleep with. Geisha were hired entertainers.
The original term geisha translates as “artist”. The Japanese kanji for geisha is written 芸者. 芸 (gei) meaning “art” and 者 (sha) meaning “doer”.
Geisha were expected to be high level performers, accomplished in:
- Playing musical instruments
- Writing (and reciting) poetry
- Specialized games
- Pouring sake
- Conversation (Trust me, this is an art in itself. Check out my post about the art of conversations here!)
Starting as young as 5 years old geisha would train for many years! These young apprentices were usually called maiko, and would train under a “sister” geisha. They lived together in a shared house all year round where training would happen day and night! And they would study hard. Geisha would be expected to learn about art, entertainment, current news, literature and even politics. This would ensure they could follow whatever conversation the guests wanted to discuss.
They were expected to be the ideal companion. To be talented AND hospitable. People came to them to relax, and to have fun. Geisha wouldn’t fall between the gender divide and would be called to entertain both men and women. Geisha even had their own games they would play with guests.
So how are Geisha and Meidos (from Maid Cafés) connected?
If you read my previous post (found here) about what actually happens at a maid café, a lot of this might be sounding familiar.
Most of the things a geisha would do is exactly what a meido does at a maid café! Our job is to help you feel relaxed and refreshed when you visit. And to provide a little entertainment at the same time. While we may not train every day for years like a geisha, we do practice hard at what we do! And like geisha, we have our own codes of conduct as well.
“Geisha were their own class… I feel like that’s kinda the niche a maid café fills.” – Bosu, Café Delish
The essence of meidos at a maid café emerge from the long and noble tradition of the geisha. Both are there to provide entertainment while making guests feel comfortable. Meidos are like the newer, modern take on a geisha. Geisha 2.0?
What do you think? Do you think the meido are the new geisha? What are the chances of meido surviving for centuries, becoming a part of history just like the geisha?
♥ Ja mata ne (See you next time), Naoko
For more information on Geisha see:
*Title image courtesy of www.seejapan.co.uk