Japan’s Weird, Themed Cafés

All this week, a story has been pretty consistently making the rounds on Japan sites: from RocketNews24 to JapanToday to Japanator, a bunch of different sites have been really interested in the opening of a new restaurant.

A new café called Soineya (ソイネ屋 — literally “sleep together shop”) has recently opened up in Tokyo where people can pay to sleep with young women. I don’t mean they have sex with those women (prositution is illegal in Japan, after all), I mean literally sleep with these ladies.

It’s not hard to see why this story has caught the attention of so many people; after all, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to sleep next to a complete stranger (no matter how moé); but in reality, Soineya is just the latest in the long series of themed cafés in Japan.

For years, different themed cafés have been popping up all over Japan (although mostly in the big cities). For the most part, you can split these cafés into two different categories: those that cater to otaku, and wacky cafés with a wider appeal.

Maid Cafés

Unsurprisingly, Soineya is located in Akihabara, the otaku Mecca. Akihabara is also home to several maid cafés, which have become sort of a standard otaku destination. They’re even so popular that a few have sprung up here in the US too!

In a maid café, women dress up as maids and dote upon their patrons, either by being really affectionate and maybe even submissive, or by withholding affection and being tsundere.

Danny Choo did a great job of showcasing what a maid café is like in an episode of his Culture Japan series. (Although nothing will be Tommy Lee Jones’ foray into the world of maid cafés).

Animal Cafés

If the idea of a maid café makes you a little uncomfortable, then you might enjoy cat cafés, which are pretty much exactly what they sounds like: cafés with cats. Patrons can not only grab a drink and a bite to eat, but they can pet, groom, and play with their choice of adorable cats.

This is a treat because a lot of urban dwellers can’t own their own pets. And it’s not exclusively limited to cats, either: there are bunny cafés too, but in my experience, bunnies aren’t as playful or friendly. (Sorry rabbit lovers!)

(If you want a full rundown of a cat café, take a look at Vice’s writeup about Tokyo’s first cat café, 猫の店.)

Maid cafés and animal cafés are really just the tip of the iceberg; those two types of cafés have been pretty well-covered in the media over the years (even Katy Perry’s been to a cat café), but it goes a lot deeper than that.

Mom Café

A few years ago, we covered a strange new café opening in Osaka: a “mom café,” where customers could enjoy all of the services of a maid café, but with women of a certain age.

Might be a bit weird for some, but perfect for the Buster Bluths of the world. Some people find it relaxing to have a maternal figure to confide in, even if that woman isn’t actually their mother. Oedipus would be proud.

Kigurumi Cafés

If you want to experience the ultimate otaku fantasy, then you’re in luck: there are cafés where you can hang out with a real, live anime character.

Well, kind of. In kigurumi (着ぐるみ) cafés, women dress up as anime chracters, wearing masks complete with giant eyes and other exaggerated features found in anime. That style is sometimes called animegao (アニメ顔), or “anime face.”

(Not quite the same as the weird-looking eastern European girl who looks like a real life anime girl, but close.)

The list of quirky cafés goes on and on and, as I mentioned, it’s not limited exclusively to otaku-focused cafés. There are cafés where you can just hang out and play video games or cafés that look like churches, or prisons, or ninja hideouts, or whatever.

Why are there so many of these cafés? My hypothesis is that a lot of Japanese have to rely so much on public space that it’s probably just good business to mix it up a bit and make your café stand out from the crowd. It’s the lack of personal space that’s the same reason that Japan relies on love hotels for couples who want to get a bit of intimate time.

We’re kind of spoiled in the US; a lot of people have houses that are big enough to have dens or basements or other places to just sort of hang out without having to worry too much about disturbing the rest of the household.

Obviously not everybody in Japan lives in a tiny Tokyo apartment, but urban areas do suffer from this sort of issue of lack of personal space. And hey — who could say no to those cats?


Header image by sprklg

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    The only thing that I really like are the cat cafés. And there are good and bad ones.

    P.S.: I’ve been to the one that Koichi went to on Naoshima (just 2 weeks ago).
    Thanks for the great video btw. @ koichi! ^___^

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1434168513 Juan Fernando Castellón

    I can easily say no to cats! And in several languages: No, No, Non, Nein, Nyet, いいえ、沒有、Aniyo!

  • Clarissa S

    I was lucky enough to drop by a cat cafe when I was in Tokyo. I’m not used to eating with pets near my food but it was a nice experience. It was weird that we actually had to clean up before touching the cats and not the other way around as what I usually do. :)

  • orangedude

    Why did she slap him?! Like, is that a thing in Japan, paying money to get slapped by a pretty girl? 0_0

  • Mescale

    Oh I so want the tsundere course.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    It’s… it’s not like they *wanted* to take your order, they just had a few extra menus. Jeez, don’t misunderstand!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    So baka!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    It’s a fetish thing that’s definitely not limited to Japan.

  • MrsSpooky

    I have six cats (four in the house, two outside). I can’t get enough of the little darlings except the vet and food & litter bill can be a bit much. xD I’d probably live in the cat cafes.

  • orangedude

    0_0 I guess I didn’t get that from the video… I just thought she felt like slapping him in the face ’cause of something he said!

    If you don’t mind my asking, why was my original comment reported as abusive? Did I say something wrong?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    No clue, but I’ve cleared it up and I’ll keep an eye on it.

  • ZXNova

    SHUN THE NON-BELIEVER!!!! SHUUUUUUUUN!!!

  • Reptic

    From my experience lurking the comments section of most Tofugu articles, I’ve come to the realization that there are a few people here who don’t take kindly to what they perceive as even the slightest insult to Japan. Even when it’s just a simple cultural misunderstanding like your question here.

    That’s my best guess as to why your simple comment was both voted down and flagged as inappropriate.

  • DAVIDPD

    Enjo Kousai.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Posting the word “insult” in the same sentence as the word “Japan?” Better down vote and report this comment.

  • orangedude

    Thank you Hashi! And thank you Reptic for that bit of information. I I can see how someone might interpret my original comment as being slightly negative towards Japan (although that was not at all my intention)

  • http://twitter.com/komarunda komarunda

    Lol @ those prices at the “sleep together café”. Hug for 30 seconds = 10000 yen, look at each other for 1 minute = 1000 yen? Crazy indeed.

  • vortexpulsar

    Can Japan get any weirder?

  • vortexpulsar

    Also those are some very lonely males LOL… Sleeping with someone( not referring to the euphemistic meaning) can often times be more awkward than sex itself.

  • sandra03

    the real life anime girl creeps me right out o_O

    I want to go to a cat cafe though.. or a bunny one. my mother in law found out about maid cafes and thought it was the most demeaning and sexist thing ever, I tried to explain that it’s not really like that at all but I think she got the wrong idea from the start and that’s that. maybe if she sees a tsundere maid she’ll be more open to it haha

  • http://twitter.com/Adrian_Med Harringui

    Japanese dudes are sure lonely

  • http://www.facebook.com/NeoRyu Cory Staats

    Oh Japan how I love you.

  • http://twitter.com/MikaMaddela Mika Maddela

    Hmm… I totally am on the same wavelength when it comes to sleeping next to random strangers–it’s next to impossible for me. Besides that, can you imagine a job where you get PAID to sleep.. doesn’t sound like a bad deal to me;) BTW-just found your blog and really glad to know there’s another person in PDX who is into everything Japanese:)

  • Ki-chan

    This article (as nearly all the other tofugu articles) is great! However, I get a little twitchy about labeling something as “weird”. It’s a social construct, & while you are trying to be humble and appeal to others who deem it as such, it only further perpetuates that anything perceived deviant from the “norm” can only be “weird”. In other words, it hurts more than helps. (You could try substitutes such as variety, diverse, ‘unlike one you’ve ever seen’, etc.)