Japan's Weird, Themed Cafés They aren't all weird, but man, the ones that are go all out

    All this week, a story has been pretty consistently making the rounds on Japan sites: from 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ya — 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 (prostitution 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 moe 1); 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 owl and bunny cafés too, but in my experience, owls and bunnies aren't as playful or friendly. (Sorry owl and 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.

    mother and boy in matching outfits on magazine cover

    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.

    kigurumi person standing next to japanese person in school uniform
    Example of kigurumi
    Source: C. Fountainstand

    Well, kind of. In kigurumi (kigurumi ぐるみ) cafés, women dress up as anime characters, wearing masks complete with giant eyes and other exaggerated features found in anime. That style is sometimes called animegao (アニメ がお), 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?

    1. Moe is Japanese slang that refers to feelings of strong affection, usually towards anime, manga and video game characters, but can be used to mean affection for any subject.