He dryly notes, “Maids in the original sense are not sex workers, though this is perhaps not always the case at the 200-plus cafes around the country.”
This I find interesting. Though it may be a one-sided perception, there has long been a sense of exotic sexuality tentatively attached to cosplay in the West. It’s not new; as far back as Richard Feynman’s 1985 autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! one finds a well-educated Westerner at a nice Japanese inn uncertain as to whether or not the kimono-clad attendant is going to provide sexual favors. How much more confusing, then, would one find it at what is often translated into English as a “fetish cafe”?
It’s not hard to think of the supply of willing maids in familiar terms: just as waitresses in Los Angeles are often aspiring actresses, Galbraith writes of the maids, “most do it because they enjoy it, but a lucky few can become cosplay idols.” Given that this fits the mindset so well, is it any surprise that Los Angeles has its own maid cafe?
For the Japanese otaku, perhaps personal interaction is at the heart of it. In an increasingly isolated society, people are starved for personal interaction. Japan, with its workaholic culture leading to deaths of karoshi, can only feel this problem more acutely. Twitter, Facebook, and all social media – including, yes, blogs – aim to provide people with regular interaction. This would seem to be confimed: Galbraith reports that many customers are regulars.
Is it really very different from going to Starbucks because you chat with the barista, or going to the local pub where the bartender knows what you like? The more people hold up these behaviors as examples of how otaku differ from normal society, the more apparent it is that they see differences primarily because they want to see them.