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New 'maid cafe' stirs up debate

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : March 16, 2023 - 17:39

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Maid-themed cafe’s Instagram posts. (Instagram) Maid-themed cafe’s Instagram posts. (Instagram)

A new Japanese-style "maid cafe" opened in Seoul on Wednesday, sparking controversy, with some raising concerns that the cafe's costumes and theme of female servers being dressed as anime-style "maids" could be degrading and commercializing sex.

Located in Mapo-gu, the so-called "maid cafe" welcomes customers with overly accommodating waitresses dressed in ruffled miniskirts and fishnet stockings. A total of 28 workers or "maids" serve food and drinks while calling customers "master."

Operating by reservation only, the only cafe of its kind in Korea has been booked solid for March since it first day open. Last year, more than 300 people applied for staff positions on a single day, according to the cafe.

Despite its initial popularity, the Japanese-inspired eatery also caused a stir online. Some voice concerns that the premise of young women dressing as maids and acting submissively is designed to appease the male gaze, which could convey a problematic message supporting misogyny.

On the cafe's official Instagram account, posts with details on each maid read: “Master, I'm here for whatever you need," "My heart towards you -- my master -- will never change" and "I hope my love and cuteness will make you feel loved and happy."

Maid cafes originated from Japan in the 1990s, where they are a subcategory of cosplay services. Inspired by dating simulation video games, they were designed to fulfill people's missing intimacy during Japan's lost decade of slow to negative economic growth. The first maid cafe opened in Akihabara, a district in Tokyo famous for its extensive electronics and anime-related stores.

Meanwhile, the cafe that opened in Seoul has a strict “no touching or asking to touch” policy like most other maid cafes. On its official Instagram account, a cafe official wrote that its focus is celebrating anime and to create a safe environment for people to enjoy the subculture.

Residents in the neighborhood also have mixed reactions. While some say the cafe will boost up local economy, parents worried it could have a negative influence on the many kindergartens and elementary schools in the area.