Japanese maid cafes were popularised around 20 years ago and feature waitresses who wear small uniforms and address male patrons as ‘master’ or similar.
They eventually spawned a gender-flipped version known as butler cafes.
While maid cafes and butler cafes serve patrons of all genders, butler cafes are where women and girls are known to flock to indulge their bougiest manga-based fantasies and escape the constraints of the patriarchy – at least for about an hour and a half.
For a relatively small amount of money, women from virtually any background can go to a butler cafe and receive the royal treatment.
One such cafe, called Swallowtail, is modelled after stereotypical British mansions.
Patrons are given a bell that instantly summons waiters in suits who act like patrons’ own personal butlers, bringing them tasty treats and tea and calling them ‘princess’.
All this for less than the price of a meal in pretty much any vaguely passable restaurant in London.
‘Butler cafes have an air of grandeur and omnipotence, and we assume that is how the British Royal family live,’ Counselling Directory member Philip Karahassan tells Metro.co.uk.
‘We all want to feel important and successful, and a butler cafe offers you a glimpse into how people of that ilk live through an immersive experience.
‘We are saturated with success through TV and social media and, for many, no other way to gain exposure to that way of living.’
When asked about butler cafes, Dr. Kinko Ito, a professor of Sociology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock known for her research into Japanese popular culture, referenced a Time article from 2007 called ‘Where Japanese Women Rule – How butler bars became the newest social hotspot for young females’.
The article describes butler cafes as a place Japanese women can go to get the royal treatment in a deeply patriarchical society.
While 2007 was a long time ago – pre-Me Too and all the changes that it brought – Dr Ito describes a Japan that has a long way to go before it achieves equality for the sexes.
She says: ‘I think the situations for women are getting better, but in very minute increments. I hope it is an evolutionary process, but it still will take a lot of time and cooperation from understanding Japanese men to improve the status of women to a certain Western standard.
‘Many large Japanese organisations now have a system of “paternity leave” in which male workers can take a few to several months or even one year off to take care of their children, but many would not take such a leave so they do not fall behind their colleagues. Some men do take the leave, which I think is improvement.
‘Many young men are doing more of the domestic chores and helping their wives, but the bottom line is that a large number of Japanese men are mama’s boys, and if they think they can slack off and avoid doing household chores, they will. They expect their wives to take care of them just like their mothers.
‘Women end up doing the majority of household chores, and many have two jobs. Their second shift begins when they get home at 5:30 pm!’
Karahassan tells us: ‘A fantasy is an idealised state where you get to fulfil your wildest dreams. A butler cafe gives an escape from a life which can feel oppressed and restricted. It offers a feeling of importance, grandeur and self-esteem which many feel they are missing.
‘This is why many people are in debt, as you feel the need to alleviate oppression by spending outside your means. You spend to evoke a feeling of power and control over your life, but then debt becomes part of your reality heightening oppression and therefore creating a downward spiral.’
However, at Swallowtail, the price tag for escaping everyday drudgery is actually pretty affordable.
Dr. Ito tells us: ‘Swallowtail seems to be very reasonable regarding the prices of the food and the experience with the good-looking butlers.
‘For example, the afternoon tea set is ¥3,300 (£24). Any high school girl or college student can afford to go there with their pocket money at least once. Dinners, which change every month, seem to be around US$60 (around £45).’
She adds: ‘I can tell that any clients who visit the cafes can enjoy interacting with the witty and elegant butlers.’
When asked to define the appeal of butler cafes, Dr Ito tells us: ‘I think the butler cafe clients enjoy talking to the butler as if they are the “princesses” (as they are called by him).
‘They can talk down to him since he is a mere servant. He is respectful and uses proper language. Their service is impeccable, and the butler is very pleasant and nice.
‘However, when he needs to discipline his “princess,” he is assertive and makes a point. This kind of interaction relieves the stress of many young women working in corporations with their male bosses and colleagues. There is much psychological satisfaction in this type of social interaction.
‘Anyway, Japan, to me, is still a men’s paradise. But women rule in a butler cafe.’
If you think it sounds like there might be something of a sexual element to the butler/customer dynamic, then you probably aren’t the only one.
However, when asked whether there’s a sexual aspect to the interactions, Dr Ito says: ‘I think the butler cafe experience is more like an entertainment – cosplay, fun, and good food and tea. It is similar to visiting Disneyland.
‘You live in the fantasy world for an hour or so, and then you come back to everyday reality. If the women want sex, they would go to a host club where they serve alcohol, provide entertainment, and maybe sex (this is called “Pillow Business”).’
She adds: ‘The Japanese demand a higher standard of service when it comes to good restaurants and cafes. So, I do not necessarily think that they are “pampered” by the butlers per se. However, the conversation and their service are the highlight of the visit.’
Dr Ito, who has written a book titled ‘A Sociology of Japanese Ladies’ Comics’, tells us the appeal also lies in Japanese manga.
She says: ‘Manga and cosplay definitely are related to the advent of butler cafes. The butler’s witty conversation seems to be rather odd to a Japanese person who does not read girls’ or ladies’ comics.
‘The lines are not of the usual everyday conversation but from fairy stories and romance novels. Japanese girls grow up reading manga, and thus the witty conversation seems natural and romantic since they have read the lines before and fantasised the reality.’
Karahassan says that acting out fantasies can be good for our mental wellbeing – but it’s important to know when to come back to reality.
He tells us: When considering developmental psychology it is important for children to play, imagine and act so they can grow and develop throughout life.
‘In adult life, escapism/role play can flesh out fantasies and give an insight into what you really want, no matter how far-fetched.
‘The positive is that fantasy can be used to inform and motivate, and this is how you make your way to a successful, happier life.
‘The risk is that you remain stuck in the fantasy, then that fantasy can feel more rewarding and safer than reality. It is playing to an idealised world where you have no problems and never has to work to get to that paradisiacal state.’
He adds: ‘An active fantasy life can create drive and perseverance for success, but it’s walking the tightrope between utilising your imagination and becoming lost in it.’
Credit: Original article published here.