How often have we fantasized about becoming royalty? Would it not be fun to pretend – even just for a while – that we live in our own grand palaces, with every whim attended to, and without a single worry in our world? Well, those daydreams come to life with maid and butler cafés!
Maid cafés are themed restaurants where waitresses wear French maid outfits and address customers as “master” or “mistress”. Service quality in maid cafes goes the extra mile because walking into one gives the impression of coming back home. The maids would kneel beside tables to stir drinks, make doodles on food with ketchup, play board games and even pose for pictures.
Because of the success of maid cafés, butlers were then quick to follow to cash in on the trend by the mid-2000s. A male counterpart to the maid, the butler café caters to female patrons. Because some butler cafes exclusively hire white, native English speakers, Japanese women would have a fun venue to practice another language.
These concept cafés first sprung up in Tokyo in 2001, specifically in the Akihabara district. One of the city’s top tourist destinations, Akihabara is an electronics and anime Mecca. It is the spiritual home of the otaku, which for the uninitiated, is a Japanese catch-all term for a fan. Manga, anime series, video games, pop idols – the outlets to channel one’s inner otaku are endless.
However, the connotations of the word “otaku” conflict for different groups of people. While some look down on them as obsessed geeks, others still proudly identify themselves as otaku, affirming that they fearlessly embrace their passions. Otaku even indulge in cosplay, the art of dressing up and acting as a character from a film, a television show or a comic book.
Now, let us take a trip to another Tokyo district, where a subculture of “make-believe” is just as strong: Harajuku. There, in its jam-packed streets, lives the Lolita. No, this is not the Vladimir Nabokov novel where a predatory middle-aged man lusts after a pre-teen girl. Lolita is a style movement inspired by the centuries-ago fashion of the Rococo and Victorian period. Ruffles, bows, hearts, poufy bell-shaped skirts, pastels, high collars, headdresses and massive piles of curly hair – the Lolita aims to become a walking, talking doll. Lifestyle Lolitas take it up even further by not only dressing up like a porcelain princess, but also acting like one every day.
If there is anything to be likened in both the otaku and the Lolita, it is their fantasy element. This same fantasy element is the lifeblood of the maid and butler cafe. Maids in anime are an entire category, garnering their own fair share of otaku attention. French maid aesthetics share similarities with the Lolita style as well.
So, is the kawaii role-playing nature of maid and butler cafés only attractive to young Tokyoites? If its expansion to other countries is any indication, it definitely isn’t. Though maid and butler café stem from a Japanese fascination for classic fairy tales from the West, these cafés have been imported to North America and Europe.
This year, Cebu rides along the bandwagon – or better yet, the horse-drawn carriage – with Tomo Cafe, our very own maid and butler café smack dab in the middle of Talamban. Cebu has long fostered a healthy cosplay community, one whose presence is felt in regular events held in local universities and malls. In the same conventions, Lolita come together in the prettiest of pink frocks, peacefully coexisting with Naruto and company. Tomo Cafe will undoubtedly foster the same sense of camaraderie. Already, there exists that perfect target market, one that patronizes the mushroom-multiplying of cutesy Korean-themed cafes across the metro.
Located on what used to be Kukuk’s Nest meters away from the gates of USC, Tomo Cafe sits a sanctuary for students searching for an extra special break. Ms. Dannea of Tomo Cafe kindly spared some of her time for a short interview despite her busy schedule with last Saturday’s soft opening:
Congratulations on your successful opening!
Thank you so much, hope you and your friends can visit there soon too.
What inspired Tomo Cafe? What’s the story behind the name?
Tomo is short form of the word ‘tomodachi’, which means friends in Japanese. The inspiration for the cafe is the fact that we want a place where groups of friends can hang out, chill and enjoy stuff like anime, gaming, playing cards, good food and good ambiance. All of these were something we wanted to enjoy even when we were younger, so we decided to create such a place
What makes Tomo Cafe unique from all the other cafes?
It is unique because it is Japanese-inspired whereas most of the cafes here are Korean or Western. It caters to lovers of anime and Japanese culture in general. It also incorporates a Western vibe and is all about comfort, chilling and having a place to cultivate friendships.
What can customers expect from Tomo Cafe?
Since we just opened, there are still a lot of things we need to work out but we are hoping that together with our customers, we can continue to work hard towards better service. Expect a good ambiance as our place is nestled on a hill top. Aside from the comfortable interiors, we also have a lawn and terraces perfect for enjoying relaxing afternoons and evenings outdoors. We serve rice meals, some Japanese foods and pasta. We also have a wide range of hot and cold coffees and teas.
Can a girl be served by a maid, or a guy with a butler?
We have maids and butlers in the cafe and they will serve whoever comes in depending on availability. So yes, a girl/guy can be served by a maid from time to time and a butler from time to time
I’m new to Japanese pop culture. Will I still feel at home at Tomo Cafe?
Yes! We are all about being friendly and will be constantly doing our best to work with that ideal in mind. Basically, we just want to have our customers feel relaxed, welcomed and able to enjoy themselves.
With the city’s first maid and butler cafe, you think a cat cafe could be next?
We’re not really sure about a cat cafe here yet because unlike in Japan where most apartments won’t allow tenants to own pets, we Filipinos are more or less freer to own pets. We also see a lot of cats going around freely. But a cat cafe does have potential, it just needs to jive well with the environment we have here in Cebu.
With all these said, why don’t we indulge in a little bit of Wonderland over an afternoon? The maids and butlers await us, their masters and mistresses!