Aiku, a Premium Maid at @home cafe Photo: Nippon Broadcasting Systems, Inc.
food

The gold standard of maid cafe quality: @home cafe

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By Ben K, grape Japan

While you may think that maid cafes are mostly alike, there is one establishment in Akihabara that many believe represents the gold standard of high quality in maid cafe experiences, and that is the @home cafe.

Conveniently located just a few minutes from the JR Akihabara Station, @home cafe comprises of a total of six cafes, five on floors three to seven of the Mitsuwa Building (the second floor is devoted to selling goods), and one inside the Don Quijote building. Moreover, a location in Osaka is opening this June, bringing the total to seven.

Role within maid cafe culture and beyond

Having launched in 2004, @home cafe is currently celebrating its 15th birthday. The establishment has played a crucial role in developing maid cafe culture in Japan. For example, in 2005, the phrase "Moe" which was used by the idol unit「完全メイド宣言」 Kanzen Maid Sengen composed of active @home cafe maids was recognized as one of the top ten trend words in Japan that year. Moreover, with their high quality standards, attention to detail and proactive attitude towards welcoming foreign visitors, they became the subject of media attention both at home and abroad. In 2015, Trip Advisor awarded them with their Certificate of Excellence.

They distinguish themselves from many other maid cafes in Akihabara not only for the quality of their food and the level of their professionalism but also for their refusal to engage in a practice commonly conducted by maid cafes, which is hiring part-timers (or sometimes active maid staff) to hand out fliers in the streets, which they feel cheapens the maid cafe experience and is not environmentally friendly since fliers are often discarded in the streets.

Moreover, many @home cafe maids have gone on to pursue careers as performing artists. For example, graduates include Kaori Matsumura of SKE 48, Nemu Yumemi and Emi Naruse of Dempagumi, Inc. and Mashiro of CY8ER. However, perhaps the most famous @home cafe maid is hitomi, who worked her way up the ranks of maids to become president, and is still executive officer, all the while retaining her role as the top maid in the organization. For her contributions to Akihabara and maid cafe culture, she was nominated Akihabara Tourism Ambassador in 2018.

@home cafe Onsite Report

Some of our readers may recall our last visit to @home cafe when we attended a special public recording of At Seventeen no Gokitaku Shimasenka? あっとせぶんてぃーんのご帰宅しませんか? (At Seventeen's Won't You Come Home?), a show on the Nippon Broadcasting System radio station featuring the members of At Seventeen, an idol unit composed of active @home cafe maids (also see our ongoing series Japanese Voices, currently featuring episodes of the show).

Since that was an exceptional experience, we returned on a regular day to give you a proper report on what you can expect as a customer making a visit to the cafe, or as @home cafe puts it, "masters" or "mistresses" "returning" to their "mansion."

Entrance

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Photo: grape Japan

Depending on your preference, you can choose which cafe to attend. Each floor is slightly different in mood and character, so it's up to you to find the one you like most. We visited the 7th floor. It is rare to see any of their six cafes with empty tables, so you can expect to wait before you get in. On our visit, the mood was very lively, with maids in their beautifully designed maid costumes busily attending to masters and mistresses.

We were guided to our table, and soon greeted by Aiku, a Premium Maid at @home cafe who just celebrated her third anniversary (@home cafe maids can rank up to Premium and Super Premium status within the organization) and also happens to be a member of At Seventeen. Masters and mistresses are assigned a maid when they first visit, and her name will be inscribed on your license card (membership card).

Aiku began explaining the system, since it was our first time.

System / Rules of the Mansion

As a general rule, a visit lasts one hour. You can leave earlier if you must, but one hour is the limit. The entrance fee is 700 JPY for adults (there are other fees for different ages and groups) visiting for the first time, and there is a one-drink minimum policy. They accept cash, credit cards and various other forms of electronic payment. If it's your birthday (or one day before or after), you're in for a treat, since you'll get a birthday song, a cake, and a group photo with all the maids completely free of charge. Just tell your maid when you visit.

You can simply show up at the floor you wish, and try your luck that day, or use their brand new online reservation system, At-Pass, also available in English (for parties of two or more).

You can't touch the maids and they won't touch you, and aside from the cheki (small-format polaroid pictures) pictures you can take with them for a fee, you cannot take pictures or record videos of the maids (food and drinks are Ok).

Getting our Master's License Card

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Photo: Nippon Broadcasting Systems, Inc.

One of the fun aspects of becoming a regular at @home cafe is the Master's License Card, which is personalized with your name (however you wish to be called), your maid's name, and the date of your first visit. Your maid will explain the features of the license, which you are receiving for being such a good master or mistress.

At first, you receive a bronze card. At this point, you are a "Level 1 My Master." Depending on the number of visits, you will be able to rank up to a different card. For example, after five visits, you receive a Silver Card and become a "Familiar Master," after 50 visits, you receive a Gold Card and become "Eminent Master," and so on. The complete list is here. With each level, the entrance fee goes down and you receive benefits such as free chekis, new games you can play with maids, menu items you can order, new features on the @home cafe app (more about that below).

Menu

After we received our bronze Master's License Card, and understood the system, we were ready to order. Aiku showed us what was available from their extensive range of selections.

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Photo: grape Japan

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Photo: grape Japan

Chekis

A cheki (or playing a game) with a maid is included in all the combos (sets) which are highly recommended for first-time visitors (you can see the menu online here), but you can also order them separately for 600 yen (3.5 x 2.1 inches) or 800 yen (3.5 x 5 inches) a piece. Aiku also showed us a panel displaying the maids on duty who were available to take chekis with.

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Photo: Nippon Broadcasting Systems, Inc

Ordering

Since we wanted to get some variety (and we were hungry), we decided to go with the Full Combo (2,700 yen) which includes a food item, a dessert item, a drink and, of course, a cheki or game.

We ordered the recommended Pipiyo-Piyopiyo♪ Hiyoko-san Rice (individually: 900 yen), @home cafe's version of an omrice, the Mofu-Mofu♥ Toy Poodle Cake (individually: 700 yen), and a Chocolate Latte (individually: 680 yen). If you want to make your time at @home cafe more entertaining, we recommend ordering items which include "Drawing Service" (for some food and hot drink items) or "Shaking service" (for some cold drinks) on their descriptions in the menu.

To assist with the drawing, Aiku (right) was joined by Toro (left), who will be celebrating her third year in May.

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Photo: Nippon Broadcasting Systems, Inc.

Drawing in progress...

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Photo: Nippon Broadcasting Systems, Inc

We couldn't eat it until we added the final ingredient, a bit of moe magic conjured up through a special incantation we performed together with the maids, making the heart sign with our fingers.

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Photo: grape Japan

And voila! The Chocolate Latte also featured a cute illustration masterfully drawn in syrup. You can give the maids drawing requests, as long as it's not too complicated and in their repertoire.

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Photo: grape Japan

It wasn't long before the delicious food disappeared. Sometimes, maid cafes can be a bit stingy with their menu selections, investing more in sprinkles and whipped cream than in good quality dishes, but at @home cafe, everything is made with care from scratch, and you can taste the difference. There are even vegan items on the menu.

At the end, we were also joined by Tsurara, who won a Maid Excellence Award and will be celebrating her third anniversary in May. Just like Aiku, she's also a member of At Seventeen!

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Photo: grape Japan

@home cafe app

Another thing which distinguishes @home cafe from many other maid cafes is that they have a very well-designed specialized app which makes being a licensed master even more entertaining.

The app tracks numbers of visits as points, shows your rank (our friend was a "Familiar Master" who already visited eight times since she obtained her Silver Card), how many visits until the next level, how many trophies you won for unlocking achievements such as chekis, games, special events attended, etc., plays voice clips from maids, displays information (in Japanese) on upcoming events, and more.

You can also review which maids are on duty.

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Photo: grape Japan

With so many charming maids, delicious food, entertaining activities and incentives to return (and we didn't even mention souvenirs and gifts available in the gift shop), it's no wonder @home cafe is consistently mentioned in tour books and websites as one of the best maid cafes in Japan. It's the kind of place you can comfortably visit with friends and family members, take your kids to, and recommend to anyone who would like to have a taste of Akihabara culture.

Information

  • Name (EN): @home cafe (alternatively, "At-Home Cafe")
  • Name (JP): @ほぉ~むカフェ
  • Main Store Address (EN): 3F to 7F, Mitsuwa Building, 1-11-4, Sotokanda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo 101-0021
  • Main Store Address (JP): 〒101-0021 東京都千代田区外神田1-11-4 ミツワビル3F~7F
  • Don Quijote Store Address (EN): 5F, Don Quijote Akihabara 4-3-3 Sotokanda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo 101-0021
  • Don Quijote Store Address (JP): 〒101-0021東京都千代田区外神田4-3-3ドン・キホーテ秋葉原店5F
  • Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM
  • Website: @home cafe
  • Reservations: At-Pass

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© grape Japan

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1 Comment
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I love Japan, but this is beyond weird...and not in the good only in Japan way.

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