Whether or not a deathblow can be deemed victorious, it doesn’t feel as good to be on the receiving end.
LINK-UP Inc., the parent company responsible for @home cafe, @home sabo (tearoom), @home Hana, and most recently Miko-san Cafe, more or less invented what is know as the “entertainment-kei” variety of maids and moe. They opened @home cafe three years ago with the intent of bringing a new type of “idol-maid” to patrons who were perhaps in need of something more to worship. In effect, pairing the rather ambiguous maid character with a singing and dancing short-skirted idol created a new precedent in the industry, and pretty soon everyone was trying to hop onto the bandwagon. The barrier between maid and customer began to erode, performance and exhibition became seen as part and parcel of the job, and the already suspicious general public actually began to suspect something more than tea and cakes. That something more has been theorized many different ways, but the effects of this merger more or less defined if not redefined the one-word mantra for a generation of Akiba geeks: moe. (Pronounced “mo-ay.”)
This brings into question what is moe – or in the case of LINK-UP, which parts of moe are the most profitable?
“Moe” is a part of Japanese slang, a double entendre pronounced “burning” but written with a character that means “sprouting” or “growing.” It can be both an adjective or a noun, even a verb at times, and is perhaps best translated into English as “passion.” A non-otaku Japanese associate speaking to a salary man once explained, “Moe is when guys look at young girls and getting excited – the same way girls get excited when they see Mickey (Mouse).” His statement beautifully articulates the ideal “sexlessness” of Utopian moe. However, as @home boasts at least 40% female patronage, and many of their female clientèle are regulars, the gender exclusion in his statement is perhaps a bit of a misunderstanding. Even before @home, it’s safe to say that moe captured a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for youth, beauty and all things “cute.” Because after @home, things started to change.
Though not always and for everyone, idols remain to be sex symbols at some level. The idea of openly mixing the images “maids” and “idols” leads to a definite conclusion – supported with the various photos, hand-drawn art, and various goods (such as beach towels and body pillows) emblazoned with maids’ images. That is, the sex appeal of the maid image can be materialized commercially, while still contained within the safe and friendly container of a moe-cafe. This is pretty much what LINK-UP has accomplished, and as sex is a more basic human interest than moe, more and more maid-related businesses are taking this angle in both Akihabara and beyond.
In recent times, LINK-UP has worked towards ever more aggressively towards their brand of moe-capitalism. Their most recent venture into moe enterprise is Miko Cafe. Miko means “shrine maiden” – the girls dressed in red and white at Shinto shrines. In recent times, they have become something of stock characters in popular literature – perhaps most recently in the anime series Lucky Star, in which two sisters dress as miko to help out at the temple every New Year’s holiday. However, as most things LINK-UP, these girls are miko with a twist, namely: short skirts and microphones.
Miko Cafe takes up two floors of a predominant Chuo Dori building, which isn’t saying much considering floor size; however, the top floor is reserved for song and dance performances by the miko (currently once a day weekdays, multiple times weekends and holidays). The lower floor is run sort of like a cafe, with a 1000 yen seating charge. They give cute greetings when you enter and leave, such as, “We welcome your worship at Magokoro Shrine,” and “We hope your dreams come true.” They “pray” over your food before you eat it as well, emulating @home’s patented “ai-kome” or “love infusion” magic spells seen in LINK-UP’s other venues. Performances are given at a set time at an additional price.
@home certainly garners a substantial number of regulars who fork out for special services, but by and large their clientèle could be described as tourists. It’s this author’s opinion that Miko Cafe, with set performance times, will be even more popular with casual curiosity seekers yearning to gawk at otakudom. The most regrettable part of this venture is the substantial departure from most things otaku and moe, making Miko Cafe just another cog in commercial entertainment at the expense of the girls working there.