It was several months ago, back in 2012, when I first heard about Chou Anime Café (which has unfortunately closed down, but many patrons and people who wanted to visit the cafe (myself included!) all hope to see it back up and running in the future).
Of course, what I didn’t know was that it was a fully-functioning maid cafe. Now, for those of you who don’t live in the world of shoujo manga like I do (seriously, me and reality aren’t on the best of terms), a Maid Cafe (often called Maido Cafe (メイドカフェ) in Japanese) originated in Japan, where adorable young women would dress up as maids and would cater to customers (both male and female), serving them from custom menus.
Originally designed to cater to the (male) fans of anime, manga, and video games (specifically, dating sim games geared towards heterosexual males), Maid Cafés became so popular that even female fans of anime and manga began to frequent these shops, enjoying the cute moe style of the girls wearing maid uniforms fashioned in various styles, ranging from the French Maid to the Lolita style, with pink lace and white frills (and for those who don’t know, moe refers to young or innocent-looking young women). In short, it’s a fantasy that customers who enjoy being served by adorable girls (who also very much act the part, including bowing and greeting customers enthusiastically), all in good fun (assuming the customers don’t get too creepy or crazy) that has spanned across multiple countries.
The opposite, also becoming popular, are Butler Cafés which cater to women, where they are served by attractive young men.
It’s a much more innocent version of the very adult Host (and Hostess) Clubs where, in the case of Host Clubs, very attractive young men cater to the whims (such as pouring liquor, flirting, and possibly even sexual encounters (outside of the Club, of course)) of women who pay a lot of money to be doted upon by handsome men, and vice versa in the case of Hostess Clubs, where women cater to men in the same fashion. Again, not to be confused or even affiliated with maid and butler cafés.
And remember, never “yuck” someone else’s “yum.”
SO. With all of this hullabaloo over maid cafés with cute girls (and guys, which Chou Anime also featured) serving you delicious desserts with cheerful smiles on their faces, singing your favorite anime theme song, and engaging you in Pokémon battles, a very brave woman by the name of Oneka Samet, with a love of Japan’s culture, subcultures, anime, manga, and the Maid Café scene, made the bold move of opening up a fully functioning Maid Café in none other than Detroit, Michigan, for the people who would be willing to travel all over (in between anime con seasons) just to see this amazing café.
A Maid Café in AMERICA.
Just to give you an indication of just how freaking huge this became, it was not only featured on Fox News, but the video went viral WORLDWIDE, even reaching Tokyo, Japan itself. It was met with mostly positive reviews and excitement from those over in Japan who supported the idea of a black-run Maid Café. Chou Anime was the hottest thing in Detroit during its time, and many flocked from all over just to see this little piece of Japan that had made its home in Detroit.
And, even though Chou Anime is no longer in business, the most popular maid there, hands down, was a lovely little lady of seventeen who goes by the name of Ami Nyan (ami is Japanese for the word “friend,” and “nyan” is the sound a cat makes in Japan). She is a budding songstress, mangaka (a person who draws and writes manga). a huge otaku, and, is serious one of the cutest girls I have ever laid eyes upon. When Chou Anime went viral worldwide, many in Japan and across the world found her the most adorable girl to ever hit the interwebs, and I was more than excited when she offered me this interview detailing her days, her daily life, and what’s been happening since Chou Anime.
Ladies and gentlemen, one of the most famous “maids” in the world, Ami Nyan:
KS: Ami, if people around the world know you for one thing, and one thing alone, it’s that you became the face of the (unfortunately) now closed Chou Anime Café, located in Detroit, Michigan. What can you tell me about Chou Anime Café?
AN: Personally, I loved the experience! I first got into Japanese “otaku”/Akibakei culture when I was about eleven or twelve years old. That’s when I first fell in love with maid cafés, the idea of another form of existence, one where the stressed, meek, and mundane alike could come and feel utter relaxation – I was happy that I would be able to provide that for people. Though Chou Anime was a bit different. The situation with this café was quite foreign. Many of the customers and co-workers alike maybe weren’t aware of Akibakei culture like me and had other interests (Visual Kei, Lolita, Shounen, etc…) I tried to harness some moe in the cafe and bring some of the Akiba spirit, but I think it was definitely more of an American appeal! Which is a given, because it is in Michigan. I appreciated the amalgamation of cultures that we fostered and the work ethic the owner, Oneka Samet had.
KS: How did you get hired?
AN: I remember this so distinctly! I got a message on Facebook from Mrs. Samet, asking me about applying a month before, but somehow it hadn’t got to me. That weekend, friends told me about the application. I would say many girls in the Michigan anime community applied. With that being said, I was discouraged. The age requirement was eighteen, and I was barely fifteen at the time. I was determined, so I called the manager to ask if my age was okay. She told me to send in an application either way! I had waitressing experience, had taken private Japanese lessons for years, and really loved maid cafés. I think they saw my passion in the interviews and appreciated that. I feel that the staff of Chou Anime really meshed well together. I’ve made many friends from it, coworkers and goshujinsama (customers) alike!
KS: What was working at Chou Anime like?
AN: Well, I must admit I was a bit disappointed at times…most of the goshujinsama loved Shounen anime, and I’m personally a huge fan of Scifi and Seinen. I wished I could’ve connected with them better. It was a nice experience, and I got to meet so many different types of people who came in and out! Young, old, fans, and wanderers! It was truly a unique experience.
KS: What were your duties as one of the top maids?
AN: Well, I was never a top maid. Kei, my good friend, was actually head maid. Due to living some ways from the café, I mainly just worked weekends. Though I always felt as a maid, my number one duty was to make my goshujinsama and ohimesama feel at home. I think for maids, no matter if they’re in a convention café, a pop-up event in Gamers Akihabara or they work at MaiDreamin’, they should always put the goshujinsama (male customer, “master”) and ohimesama (hime means “Princess,” and it’s the title that refers to female customers) first, within reasonable means. I felt my main duty was be their “protector of smiles and guardian of hope” (as my old catch phrase went!) Essentially, make everyone leave with a smile.
KS: How did people react to finding out that you worked in a maid café?
AN: This was a tough thing…I had been keeping my interests a secret from most people at school. Some people knew I liked J-pop and would laugh at my YouTube videos, but that never really bothered me – this situation was different. A friend discussed in class about my job to other students and teachers. Eventually, the entire school found out! It was really embarrassing. Not that working in a maid café is bad, but it’s their perspectives that are.
They had watched CNN’s report on Maid Cafés inside of @Home Cafe in Akiba. Immediately, the Japanese stereotypes of “completely submissive” or “perversion” were attached. Art teachers cheered me on, while my father (a former principal), teachers, and classmates looked at me strangely. We went on a school trip to Europe, and while there, friends always playfully teased me, “Excited for your stripper job?!” and things like that.
For someone prudish and shy like me, that type of attention was terrible, haha! We even stumbled upon a lingerie shop in Rome (somehow, my group ended up in the red light district), and inside they had a Sailor Moon-type garment. That started the taunting again! It was humiliating. My mom and Nana though, already familiar with the concepts of the Maid Café, supported me wholeheartedly! They even bought me my signature pink My Melody coin purse I wore to store tips in!
KS: How did you react when you found out that Chou Anime had gone viral, and that people all the way in Japan and other parts of the world were getting excited over the idea of a black maid café?
AN: I don’t like it being called a “black” maid cafe. Initially, I wished there was more diversity in the cafe. It’s not like I have some vendetta my own kind or something, but I feel that these types of things should always be diverse. I go to the most diverse high school in the state, so I sort of expected the same from a workplace. I feel that the lack of diversity also attributed to the bullying a lot of maids received. I looked at the comments Chou anime had on a variety of sites. American: Detroit Free Press, Crunchy Roll, Sankaku Complex, 4chan; and Japanese: 2ch Futaba Channel, Yahoo News Japan, etc.
The comments all had their fair share of both nastiness and supportive comments. Personally, I didn’t know how to feel! My life-long dream is to become an idol, so this type of exposure (Sunday Japon Variety Show!) was so sudden! The café got e-mails from Taiwan to Moscow to Hokkaido all in support. I already had my own following on twitter in Japan, but it surely expanded after this. I received fanmail from a man who saw me on TV there! An old neighbor of mine who moved back to Chiba told me how surprised she was to see me, and a follower of mine even recorded the TV program on his camera and sent it to me! I was taken a bit back. The attention was nice and fun, but very surprising!
KS: What was it like dealing with all of the sudden fame? Seeing your face headlining news columns on ABC, CNN, and other news sites?
AN: Like I mentioned, I didn’t know how to deal with it! My YouTube video views went viral. It was a bit scary, but I grew to love it. I think it also toughened me a bit.
KS: Of course, I was there when some of the negativity hit the roof; how did you deal with both the popularity, and yes, even the unfortunate negative comments?
AN: Most of the negativity came from American sites. There was surely some on 2ch, but definitely not as much as on Sankaku Complex and 4chan.
I often browse both sites! /jp/ especially from 4chan, so sometimes I happened to stumble upon threads about us. Personally, I almost never got negative comments, but some comments that were overtly graphic or sexual made me a bit embarrassed. Or the occasional “try hard” or even a Japanese woman who dubbed me the term “burriko! (ditz, airhead, baby)” on Yahoo!Japan.
I can’t say though for the other maids. I felt so terrible and disgusted…even disappointed at how racist the anime community could be. There was even one day where I almost called into work because I was too upset about what they said about my co-workers. Even though it didn’t directly say anything about me, it hurt! Eventually, my mother discouraged me from looking at any articles.
KS: Would you like to see Chou Anime open back up?
AN: I’d love it more than anything. But the city of Detroit is in a heap of trouble…I’ve been listening to the news, and Detroit has a financial adviser. People are telling the citizens “Stock up on water, food, etc…” or “We’re expecting riots.” Sadly, I’m glad Chou Anime isn’t open to see this. Even though our location was probably the most safest in the city, I would die inside if a goshujinsama got lost in the wrong neighborhood trying to find us and was caught in crossfire.
Actually, I feel like I learned a lot from Chou Anime and graduating as a maid (my last day was also my sweet sixteen). Personally, I feel it was a great experience! When I graduate from being an idol, I want to open my own chain of maid cafés to spread moe culture and Akiba spirit worldwide!
KS: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
AN: I love the Touhou Project games, and I often spend time listening to doujinshi music as well. I’ve been performing with Piko Piko Detroit (who I met via Chou Anime café!), and all is going well. Actually this weekend, I have the lead role in a small film produced by one of the people affiliated there. I’ve always loved acting! I enjoy singing, dancing, blogging, playing games and hosting panels at conventions! Of course, I also love watching anime, reading manga, and collecting!
KS: How did you get into anime and manga?
AN: I remember being a very young girl and watching Ghost in Shell and HATING it. I had to be around five or so! Pokémon was also a huge fad back then, and my dad bought me many Pokémon things, but I just didn’t like it. I used to read Marvel comics a little in elementary school, and started loving the show Teen Titans, which has a light Japanese influence.
I found out about Harajuku subcultures when I was around eight years old via my idol back then, Gwen Stefani. That drew me into Japan, and before I knew it, I was looking up how to book a flight.
Then there was Avatar: The Last Airbender. In sixth grade, my best friend and I decided we were going to go to Japan and be idols (LOL) like our favorite group AKB48. So that’s how I first started taking Japanese lessons. To improve my Japanese, I looked up anime online and started streaming it! The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya grabbed my heart, and that’s how I started extensively getting into it. Eventually, I graudated to mangas like Genshiken, Kodomo no Jikan, Onani Master Kurosawa, Ressentiment, I am a Hero, etc, etc!
KS: Do you game? A little birdie told me you have a soft spot for dating sims with a female lead as opposed to the usual male lead (one of my own guilty pleasures). What got you into those games? Do you prefer the “clean” versions of the games, or the more…ahem…“not-so-clean” versions?
AN: As a kid, my parents taught me English skills using Reader Rabbit games. So computer games were like second nature for me. In the summer when there’s no school, I pick up MMORPGs. Lately, to destress, I’ve been playing quite a bit of PC danmaku (“barrage”) – like Touhou, for example.I started playing online sims…well, maybe around ten years old. I would stay up reaaallly late playing MMORPGs sometimes, and even started venturing to the sim side on Newgrounds.com…then of course, I picked up visual novels and eroge.
I play otome games (games with boys) on my iPhone at times! But I play eroge with girls too. I really love cute 2D girls, and it’s fun to play a game where I can fall in love with them. I prefer some with the “ero” part sometimes, but ultimately, I think a good story serves best!
KS: How long have you been cosplaying for?
AN: I tried my first cosplay at twelve. I cosplayed Mikuru Asahina in her Maid combat uniform from Haruhi Suzumiya. It was TERRIBLE. TERRIBLE! I’m still so embarrassed about it!
KS: What are your favorite cosplays?
AN: Right now, I’m currently working on a Mimi Usa from Kodomo no Jikan cosplay and Sakuya from the Touhou series. I think I’ll really enjoy these, because I love both characters! From former cosplays, I liked when I cosplayed Asa Shigure from Shuffle! as well. It’s fun to have short green hair!
KS: What do people say is the cutest thing about you, given you’re into the “moe” of anime and manga and cosplay?
AN: I honestly cannot say! I get compliments on my eyes a lot, but I think a lot of people like my naïvety as well. It’s a bit scary to be so naïve at times, but I feel people see their younger selves in me or they don’t feel threatened. Or perhaps I offer a little sister type of role to them and they would like to protect me? Honestly, I don’t know!
KS: What projects do you see upcoming in the future?
AN: Besides filming the short movie I’ll be in this weekend, I’m doing something for my blog! I’m comparing “otaku” culture respectively in Western and Japanese societies by interviewing a plethora of people. So far, we’ve announced that the writer and creator of Welcome to the NHK, Mr. Tatsuhiko Takimoto, will be one of the interviewees. Alongside, MoeTwinstyle/Ally & Sally, Manga writer Shogo Hashimoto, Japanese idol Sakison, Nagato Pyon, and others, including every day people in the community! You can go to my Facebook page for future announcements on it!
KS: And where can your friends and fans find more of you?
Thank you, Ami-chan! We wish the best of luck for you!