All of the help at the Hibari-tei cafe in bustling Akihabara are dressed as maids, and they call the customers “master.” It’s pretty much like any other “maid cafe” in Tokyo’s electronics district, except for one small detail. All of them are male, wearing wigs to go along with their female uniforms.
Male “maid cafes” are growing more common, and books on how to dress like a woman are starting to hit store shelves. Men wearing skirts have also been seen in Tokyo’s Harajuku and Aoyama districts.
Behind this nascent trend, observers say, is that more men are beginning to enjoy dressing as a woman from a fashion viewpoint, and society is becoming more tolerant of the practice.
It was 2 1/2 years ago when the owner of Hibari-tei first used a male as a maid at another maid cafe he owns. It started when one of the regular waitresses quit. A male employee dressed up as a maid and tried to serve customers. The attempt proved popular among the customers, who enjoyed the odd experience.
The owner launched Hibari-tei in January 2008. About 60 percent of its customers are male.
“Men who are not used to being served by women can feel relaxed and talk to the ‘maids’ easily because they are male,” said Chaan Sarin, who heads the cafe’s waitstaff.
Before the cafe’s debut, more than 100 men applied for a maid position. After auditions narrowed the field, 15 made the cut and are still working there.
One of the maids, Reina, is in his 20s. During the week he goes to work in a business suit at an information technology company, but on weekends he serves at the maid cafe wearing a size 9 uniform, padded bra and fake nails.
At 165 cm tall and weighing 51 kg, he has a girlfriend, but she doesn’t know about his second job, he said.
“I become a totally different person to release my stress from work. I have the feelings of a man and I will quit once I get married,” he said.
More male fans are also dressing like their favorite female characters in “anime’ animation and computer games.
Cashing in on this trend, Osaka-based Yu-time Publishing released the book “Otokonoko no Tameno Henshin Gaido” (“Guide for Boys to Transform Themselves”) in October 2008.
The book, which comes with illustrations, explains various techniques so boys can look pretty, ranging from wearing makeup and choosing clothes to taking care of wigs and wearing pantyhose.
The book has been selling well, especially in Akihabara bookstores, inspiring the publisher to produce a second volume.
Meanwhile, Tokyo-based lingerie maker Wish has been selling bras for men since November last year. It says it sold more than 10,000 in the first year.
Junko Mitsuhashi, a lecturer at Tama University who wrote the book “Joso to Nihonjin” (“Disguising as Women and Japanese”), maintains that Japanese are becoming more tolerant toward men dressing as women.
“People’s values are growing more diverse, and Japanese people’s perception of masculinity has changed over the years,” she said. “People began to accept men dressed as women, saying it is OK as long as they are beautiful. At the same time, as there is more information nowadays on how to dress like women, men have gotten dramatically better at it.”