Maid cafes have lately come under scrutiny for exploiting both otaku and children, with the manager of one cafe being arrested for having 14-year-old girls serve his patrons, and others coming under fire for their extortionate charges and failure to register as establishments offering “personal” service.
Maid cafes in Osaka’s Nipponbashi otaku district are said to have become so abusive that a crackdown is imminent, with sexual services, underage maids and naked exploitation of patrons all attracting the attention of media and authorities.
One long-established Osaka maid cafe to fall victim to the authorities at the start of the month was “Meido Dreamu,” after they were found to be employing a trio of 14-year-old girls.
Their 61-year-old proprietor was arrested for child labour offences, which he admits, the crime only having come to light after their school found out about their maiding and tipped off police. Customers claim none of their maids looked underage.
The cafe in question reportedly charged ¥1500 for every 10 minutes of maid service, plus a ¥3000 table charge and maids who begged for ¥4000 glasses of cola, along with various other charges.
One reporter describes a typical encounter with the tamer sort of cafe – after being ushered into an unmarked 2nd floor cafe by one of a rank of frilly young maids in the area, he and a companion were first coaxed into buying her a $35 glass of juice as “my throat is really dry from soliciting customers in the hot street.”
He was then obliged to join her in playing a board game, with the condition that he buy her another glass of juice if he lost. After 30 minutes in the establishment he had racked up charges of ¥15,0000 ($190), which after pointing out as a little steep he was informed formed her “service fee.”
Similar establishments offer back-rubs, maid walking, dates, and kisses through cling film, though they maintain they are “just cafes.”
More involved relationships in the tradition of hostess bars are apparently also possible, though for those with more urgent needs “image clubs” and “delivery health” services are never far away, and as might be expected offer maids amongst other cosplay offerings.
According to those familiar with the local cafes, their otaku patrons are viewed as “prey” to be exploited, and the proliferation of cafes has resulted in fierce competition for customers with ever more extreme maid services on offer, resulting in trouble as they draw closer to becoming fully fledged brothels or hostess bars.
Establishments offering personal service, sexual or otherwise, are in practice legal whether or not maids are involved, but are forced to register with police and possibly pay them off if they wish to do business unmolested.
However, many cafes offering more intimate encounters apparently do not welcome police supervision and the restrictions which come with it, or else do not consider their services to warrant it in the first place, making them easy police targets.
Relatively legitimate establishments and other businesses in the area have also been complaining of damage to the area’s reputation, although the multitude of conventional brothels in the area and throughout much of Osaka might suggest other factors are at play as well.
Online, otaku have been ridiculed for putting up with such exploitation at the hands of the cafes – though more for paying tens of thousands of yen to kiss a girl through plastic wrap when the equivalent amount at a non-otaku establishment would buy hours of sexual debauchery…