iMaid Cafe:T.O.'s First Cosplay Fetish Gateway Closes
Passing by the big red storefront at McNicoll and Kennedy, I got excited - there's something kind of creepy and cute about little Chinese waitresses dressed as maids - but before I could oust a high-pitched "Yatta!", it appeared the windows had been boarded up after only a year in business.
Does this mean T.O. isn't ready for cosplay - a Japanese subculture centered on dressing up as characters from manga, video games or pop bands - in all its kitschy and kinky forms over a bowl of noodle soup?
In Tokyo's Akihabara district, (otherwise known as the city's "nerd central," for gamers, comic buffs and Hentai), maid cafes are popping up every week. Asian girls dressed in revealing, frilly maid outfits, who will greet customers with a "Welcome home, master," bowing deeply, hands clasped. In one cafe, maids get down on their knees to stir the cream and sugar into the customer's coffee.
At Royal Milk Cafe and Aromacare in the area, diners can follow up a meal with a range of grooming services, including ear cleanings. Diners can also receive fully-clothes massages and for $75 US, customers can chat with a maid one-on-one in a private room. Maids at other attentive shops even offer to spoon-feed customers at their table.
If this sounds sexist to you, earlier this year, the Swallowtail Cafe, also in Tokyo, turned the tables on the boys. The women-exclusive country house has its all-male staff dressed as butlers provide subservient service to the 20- to 30-somethings (cougs in training) who make up the majority of the female customers. The modern Geisha, indeed.
So how does Toronto mirroring Japan's cosplay culture make sense?
Speaking with Aaron Wang when his shop first opened, the 24-year-old Beijing-raised entrepreneur explained that "Rich people, they have maids - I want people to feel comfortable in my restaurant."
In the old days dressing up was reserved for Halloween and naughty role-playing sessions. Today, thousands of cosplay aficionados parade through conventions dressed as anime, comic book and movie characters using their costumes the same way frat boys use roofies.
So why didn't this phenomenon stay alive in Toronto?
"There are tons of fetishes in North American culture but they are very tied to our culture and the sexuality that we learn from early pubescence on (and the norms that are dictated)," explains Sarah Forbes-Roberts, owner of Come As You Are. "Japanese culture, while different, also has different fetishes (for the most part) that North American culture may not understand having not the same cultural and sexual norms. While the concept of maid cafes may seem clever - they just might not have had enough clientele to draw from."
I suspect that this Anime News Network contributor, Zac Bertschy, is right when he says "Sometimes you get these female characters that to us (or at least, those of us with progressive attitudes toward gender roles and representations) seem almost neolithic in their leering sexism." So maybe the kitschy appeal wore off fast here.
But perhaps a Y chromosome version of such a coffee shop? would make a bigger hit here? Something along the lines of "HimAid Cafe?"
Wang protests, "But, female maids look cuter than males," which is why he has an all-girl wait staff despite claims that his clientele is 50-50 of both sexes. He noted that all customers are greeted with a "Shang-di," which translates as "God" in Mandarin.
Well, either T.O. likes to keep its frilly dusters in the closet or at conventions or maybe cosplay isn't mainstream enough to keep places like iMaid afloat. Also, you might want to consider the $1.99 charge to sit down as well. Canadians are used to that, either.
As for what's happening with the cheery maid waitresses of iMaid - I'm sure you can still spot them around the arcade at the Pacific Mall if you're looking for a pic with them giving the peace sign.