Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cross-dressing maids add spice to Tokyo cafes

"Welcome home, Master," a group of French maids sings out, bowing deeply to a customer entering their maid cafe.

This could be any of the dozens of maid cafes dotting Tokyo's Akihabara district, where geeks engage in role-play with girls dressed as French maids. But don't be fooled by the frilly pinafores: all of the maids here are men.

In this novelty-hungry market catering to Japan's free-spending computer and comic book fans, cafe owners are coming up with ever more exotic formulas to satisfy booming demand.

"I do this for a change since I have an ordinary job," Miyuu Kurusu, one of the cross-dressing maids working at the cafe, said. "I love talking to people, enjoy wearing cute costumes and get a kick out of it when people tell me I'm pretty."

It all started when the manager of "Hibari Tei" cafe, named after a bird, asked a few cross-dressing men to fill in for women working at a different maid cafe. To his surprise, no customer found out they were being served by a male waiter.

Maid cafes generally do not offer sexual services. Customers order typical cafe fare as coffee, tea and sandwiches, served by girlish maids.

Maid cafes first emerged in Akihabara some six years ago. They have grown into a booming business and are a core part of the Japanese "otaku" or "nerd" industry believed to be worth nearly $2 billion.