As you walk through Akihabara and other parts of Tokyo, you may see females in maid or other costumes advertising one of maid cafes. These cafes offer a unique opportunity for tourists to indulge in a different part of Japanese culture. While there has been some controversy over them, maid cafes are a safe and enjoyable experience. There are a few ground rules and tips you should know before visiting a maid cafe in Japan.
Where to Find a Maid Cafe
You can find maid cafes scattered all around Akihabara. Just by walking the main and side streets you may stumble upon a few. You may see advertisements or even an employee of a maid cafe inviting people to come inside.
The Master, Princess, and Maid Theme
When you enter a maid cafe, you will become known as a Master (male customer) or Princess (female customer). The main goal of a maid is to ensure you have a pleasant experience. You will either be paired with a maid or can sometimes choose one.
Rules of Behavior
There are strict rules in place to ensure the safety and respect of the employees. You are not allowed to have physical contact or ask for personal information. As seen in the picture below, cafes may have other rules such as purchase minimums, limitations on photography, and time limits.
Food and Drink Offerings
One of the fun parts of visiting a maid cafe is the interesting food art and drinks served. You can order dishes that are formed in a fun image or object. Japan is known for creative culinary presentations. Even drink offerings can be colorful and interesting. For example, a cappuccino may have a cute image on the top. Ordering a set, or packaged option, will usually save you money rather than ordering each item separately.
Beside serving food and drinks, maid cafes offer various entertainment options. During your stay, you may have the option to play a game or take a photo with a maid. Other forms of entertainment may include a maid singing a song, doing a skit, or other interactions with customers.
Cover Charges and Wait Times
Maid cafes can be expensive. You should expect a cover charge in addition to food, drink, and other purchases. Even when purchasing a set, you can easily spend $25 to $30 for a short stay. Another issue is the chance of a wait list to be seated. Like many restaurants and bars in Japan, maid cafes have limited seating. Be mindful of a long wait during peak hours.
For more information on @home cafe, visit their website here.
@home cafe Akihabara Cafe inside Don Quixote 5F
The Harajuku district in Tokyo, Japan is well known for fast fashion tailored to an urban lifestyle. Walking the streets of Harajuku, you can see interesting tops, shoes, costumes, and much more. While the area is known as place for young adults, there are a number of shops and restaurants for older individuals. Harajuku is home to many boutiques and designers offering a variety of clothing and fashion accessories for all ages. One thing to keep in mind is that the shopping area is not just small, independent retailers. Multi-national brands such as Louis Vuitton, Lululemon, Gap, Nike, and Zara are also located in the area. Here are a few places that should be near the top of the list for anyone interested in fashion and urban culture.
The entrance to Takeshita Dori is very close to Harajuku Station. This street is home to many retailer shops that symbolize the essence of Harajuku. A great way to start exploring Harajuku is to walk through the Takeshita Dori corridor to get a feel of the vibe and fashion trends. Take a peek inside some of the interesting boutiques and grab a quick snack along the way.
Omotesando Hills is an upscale shopping center with multiple floors of shops and restaurants. While Takeshita Dori caters to a younger audience; you will find more shops here that cater to a slightly older crowd. The area around Omotesando Hills is also quite busy and a destination for many people.
The street close to Omotesando Hills lined with trees and expensive retail shops is called Omotesando Dori. This busy road is full of high-end name brand retailers you may recognize. The atmosphere around this street is a different feel from Takeshita Dori and also caters to a slightly older crowd. You should definitely try to catch an outdoor spot for a drink or afternoon snack to enjoy people watching and to soak in the beauty of Harajuku.
Discover Hidden Gem Clothing Stores
Around Takeshita Dori are many narrow side streets and maze-like alleys. This area is home to unique and vibrant boutiques that are off the normal radar for travelers. If you want to be adventurous and explore more of the Harajuku fashion scene, take some time to wander around the area.
There are many retail shops with interesting products and luxury goods scattered throughout Harajuku. From name brand retailers to flashy street wear, you can find a wide variety of goods. However, finding items that are not clothing or fashion oriented can be a bit more challenging. One great place to pick up inexpensive Japanese gifts is the large Daiso on Takeshita Dori. This Daiso is just down from the entrance near Harajuku Station and carries a large assortment items at affordable prices. It is definitely worth a stop when shopping for gifts to bring back for friends and family. Another place well-known for carrying more authentic Japanese souvenirs is the Oriental Bazaar. You can visit their website to see what kind of goods they sell along with their store hours.
Ueno Park in the heart of Tokyo offers many activities and attractions for locals and tourists. It is home to a number of museums, temples, and even a zoo. Here are a few reasons to visit Ueno Park during your next stay to Tokyo.
Cherry Blossom Viewing
One of the best places to view cherry blossoms in full bloom is in Ueno Park. It is very common for people to have picnics and gatherings under the beautiful trees. It can also get quite crowded during this time of the year. The cherry blossoms are a great excuse to visit the park along with its other offerings.
The oldest zoo in Japan, Ueno Zoo is a great destination for families and tourists. One of the zoo's biggest attractions is seeing the giant panda bears. The admission rate is very affordable and free for children. Families traveling to Tokyo should definitely mark Ueno Zoo as a possible activity in Tokyo.
Tokyo National Museum
As the largest art museum in Japan, Tokyo National Museum is a prime opportunity to peek inside Japan's rich history. One of the interesting parts of the museum is its outdoor garden that has multiple buildings representing different periods of history. They have been moved to the museum to show the various architecture and cultural significance of the past. In addition, the museum houses many National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties. If you have played any of the Final Fantasy games and recognize the name Masamune or Yoshimitsu, then you should definitely visit the sword and weapons exhibit.
Tokyo is a huge city. When factoring in population density and land area, it is one of the largest cities in the world. Seeing all of Tokyo in one trip to Japan is an unreasonable expectation. It is important to narrow down activity options and think about what are the highest priorities for you. Making a short list will help guide you as to what area of Tokyo is the best fit for you.
Follow the Narita Express
One of the easiest ways to decide where to stay in Tokyo is to pick a stop along the Narita Express (NEX). The express train from Narita Airport drops passengers off at major areas of Tokyo including Shibuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo Station, Ikebukuro, and Yokohama. There are plenty of lodging options around these stations. Getting back on the NEX to take a flight out of Tokyo is also convenient when staying near a station on the NEX route.
Stay Along the Yamanote Line
One of the best JR Rail transportation options is the Yamanote Line that runs in a full circle around Tokyo. This line stops at over 20 different destinations including some of the biggest tourism areas. Staying near the line simplifies navigating the complex transportation network of Tokyo. You can easily access the Yamanote Line by stopping at Tokyo Station after riding the NEX from Narita Airport.
Pick a Neighborhood to Explore
There are a few neighborhoods that cater to nightlife, shopping, and other interests for tourists. Do you want to experience a bar scene and some night life? Shinjuku or Roppongi may be of interest to you. If shopping is a high priority, then you may be interested in the Ginza area. There are certainly benefits to staying in a particular place such as saving travel time and close proximity for carrying shopping bags.
Other things to consider when choosing a location to stay is price, amenities, and even how many people are traveling with you. Also note that public transportation does not run all night long and taxis are expensive. Picking an area to make your home base can enhance your experience and allow time for more of your favorite activities.
Typically, during the last week of March is when you can view the cherry blossoms in full bloom around Tokyo, Japan. This cherry blossom tracker is a great resource each spring to see the expected blossoming time by region. The blooming times vary each year which makes it hard to plan correctly ahead. If you are fortunate enough to be in Tokyo during the blooming time-frame, then definitely take advantage of it. Here are a few suggestions for viewing spots based on personal experience.
Shinjuku Gyoen Park
This park is located in the heart of Shinjuku and features a large amount of cherry blossom trees. There is a small admission fee to enjoy the large park and its multiple gardens. You should definitely take your time and enjoy the beautiful landscapes in Shinjuku Gyoen Park.
Another great park with wonderful cherry blossom trees is Ueno Park. This park is very popular for picnics during cherry blossom season. You will find a large crowd of people in the park spending time with friends and enjoying the blossoms. The park also contains multiple national museums and a zoo. They are all worth visiting if you have the spare time.
A park located along the Sumida river covered with cherry blossom trees. It is a great place to stroll through. The trees are also illuminated in the evenings during Cherry Blossom season. Also, Sumida park is a less than ten minute walk from Asakusa Shrine.