A taste of Japanese culture: Tsunagari Japan’s flagship maid cafe

Tsunagari Japan volunteers, including Director of Digital Media Joce Ortiz (center), brought high-quality service, live performances and fun, giving customers a true maid cafe experience.
Tsunagari Japan volunteers, including Director of Digital Media Joce Ortiz (center), brought high-quality service, live performances and fun, giving customers a true maid cafe experience.
Noah Henriques/The Observer

While maid cafes are a well-known stereotype of anime and Japanese culture as a whole, they are rarely heard of outside of these circles. Popularized in Akihabara, Tokyo, maid cafes are specialty coffee shops where women dressed in maid outfits act as servants of the house and serve customers who are considered the “masters.” But what really differentiates this experience from your typical cafe is the unique entertainment—maids deliver short performances, draw personalized pictures on napkins and engage in casual conversations with customers.

This past Saturday, Case Western Reserve University’s Tsunagari Japan attempted to recreate this dining experience, providing students a taste of Japanese culture for a $5 ticket. And for the most part, they succeeded.

Stepping inside the Thwing Ballroom, we were greeted by cheerful maids in frilly aprons and tall white socks. As soon as we were seated, our maid offered us a selection of drinks and informed us of the itinerary for the afternoon—trivia, food and dance performances.

The menu, however, left something to be desired. The portions were quite small, and there were only two entrée options to choose from. However, the items were carefully curated to capture the essence of a maid cafe experience. Chicken Katsu, a classic Japanese comfort food, fried rice and dessert buns were all very fitting. Even the vegetarian option, a tofu slider entrée, looked equally appealing.

But the true magic of the mock maid cafe lay in its service. Most of the “maids,” club members who had volunteered for the event, embraced their roles with enthusiasm. Their introductions were sweet, and multiple maids checked up on us to ensure we were taken care of. Some maids even addressed customers with honorifics, calling them “master” in Japanese, like you would in a traditional maid cafe. It seemed even the maids were enjoying the theme, with one volunteer, third-year Ben Kurzion, mentioning that once he donned the costume, he “was pretty comfortable and had a good time chatting [with the guests].”

Keeping with the practice of live entertainment, performances from different clubs ran throughout our visit. Klover, a K-pop dance club, put on some spectacular routines with synchronized, fast-paced movements and lively music that captivated the audience. Following Klover’s performance, members of Tsunagari Japan put on more stereotypical dances to the tune of popular J-pop beats. Their moves were lighthearted and playful, embracing the slight awkwardness of the kawaii aesthetic.

After speaking with members of Tsunagari Japan, we were unsurprised to learn that organizing this event was quite a feat. According to the Food and Drink Subcommittee Head, third-year William Cankar, “Planning this event has been a very involved process but I was very glad to be able to make it a reality.” This didn’t seem to be an empty statement—even as we arrived at the Thwing Ballroom, maids and club members were still rushing around, trying to set up colorful decorations, peppy J-pop music and even a photo corner to take pictures with the maids. The secretary, third-year Katrina Aldana, noted that “this caused the event to start a little late, [but] the club seemed to adapt quickly, and the event was back on schedule.”

At CWRU, there are numerous clubs representing a wide variety of cultures and countries on our campus, and Tsunagari Japan is a perfect example of this. The maid cafe was a delightful taste of Japanese culture and a testament to the creativity and enthusiasm of the CWRU community. Despite some setbacks, the event left us with a newfound appreciation for the unique charm of maid cafes and anticipation for what Tsunagari Japan will put on next.

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