Osaka’s Geek District Turning Into Den Of Inequity

Den-Den Town, Osaka’s “denki machi” or “electric town”, is known for its used game retailers like Super Potato and figure shops like Osaka Gundams. There are also the maid cafes, where folks can get a coffee and talk to a maid. Some, however, are serving way more than coffee.

“Struggling arcades and video game shops are converting into maid cafes because it is a simple job from an interior point of view,” an Osaka-based reporter tells weekly Shukan Jitsuwa (via Tokyo Reporter), “and this is the right time in the business cycle to make money.” Struggling game centres have a difficult time purchasing expensive game cabinets, which can cost thousands of dollars, or even sticker picture machines, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

The popularity of maids exploded between 2003 and 2004, just as home video game and handheld consoles were taking a bite out of arcades’ businesses. As their popularity grew, more and more maid cafes sprouted up in Tokyo’s Akihabara as well as Osaka’s Den-Den Town. The cafes hit Tokyo hardest and first, and then trickled down elsewhere through the country. In 2004 and 2005, maid cafes still weren’t quite mainstream in Den-Den Town, and the area still had the air of dudes in flannel shirts looking at old Neo Geo cartridges. Things have since gotten slightly more frilly and cute.

Part of the appeal of maid cafes is that allow men to chat and even perhaps flirt with girls. Simple, but that basic premise is what drives the hostess business, with the difference here being that customers can talk video games and comics with maids and probably not with many hostesses. They’re generally quite innocuous, and even chaste with far less emphasis on sexuality and far more emphasis on cuteness. But more and more maid cafes means more competition, which means that some maids must do more than play paper, rock, scissors with customers for ¥500 a pop.

“Some also will let customers touch the girls.”

“Some massage places are offering intimacy, such as letting customers lay down next to the maids for 1,000 yen for 10 minutes,” a maid cafe owner tells Shukan Jitsuwa. “Some also will let customers touch the girls.” And apparently, some maid massage parlors are even offering more than the standard ear cleaning and back-rub — odd because a few blocks up from Den-Den Town is one of Osaka’s most famous red-light districts. “This kind of thing has led to rumours about which girls will allow for a customer to cop a feel or even get full service,” the Osaka-based reporter continues. “I’d guess that some shops will soon take advantage of this and start offering illegal out-call services.”

While there are more and more maid cafes in Den-Den Town, there is also a fair share that never make it. But many of the most popular ones are straight up maid cafes with girls in smocks serving cake and cafe lattes. It doesn’t get any racier than a maid drawing a heart on a rice omelet. But, then, there are the cafes and massage parlors that are run out of back rooms and converted one-room apartments. Customers might be playing paper, rock, scissors or something else entirely.

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