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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Maid in Japan

From Kyōdō News 共同通信社, via Japan Today ("Osaka 'maid cafe' waitresses fly to Taiwan to attract tourists" http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/osaka-maid-cafe-women-fly-to-taiwan-to-attract-tourists):

"A group of seven 'maid cafe' メイドカフェ waitresses wearing miniskirts and aprons left Ōsaka 大阪 for Taiwan on Friday in a bid to attract tourists to the largest business area in western Japan. 'We’ll sing and dance our best to promote Japanese pop culture,' Manae Miura, 18, told a send-off event at Kansai International Airport 関西国際空港 as representative of the eight-woman delegation. The 'maids' are from cafes in Ōsaka’s Nippombashi 日本橋 district, home of Japanese pop culture in the city. The delegation will take part in a big event featuring animated films and comics as well as an exchange event at a maid cafe in Taiwan, where maid cafes have recently become popular, during their stay through Sunday."

Two things are evident from this short article. One is that the Japanese have awoken to the possibilities of promoting their popular culture as a way of enticing visitors to the country. For far too long, Japanese tourist literature was all about geisha 芸妓, the tea ceremony 茶道, Mt. Fuji 富士山 and so on. Now efforts are being made to highlight what young people the world over have known for quite some time. Of course, things like manga 日本の漫画, anime アニメ and J-POP are no more indicative of the "Real Japan" than the traditional things such as Kabuki 歌舞伎, but mass-market tourism everywhere is based on stereotypical perceptions of places and people, so if it takes young women in maid outfits and short skirts to bring in some much-needed tourist yen, so be it.

The other thing about this story is that it highlights how things that are old news in Japan are still (or are just becoming) hot topics in Taiwan. A good example is cosplay コスプレ, which long ago receded from the mainstream in Japan (and in many instances, sank into the depths of "image clubs" イメージクラブ). In Taiwan, however, cosplay is still going strong, evidence of which can be easily found in enthusiastic entries on various blogs kept by resident Westerners. Is it the turn of maid cafes now?

Welcome to Taiwan, where yesterday's Japanese fashions will become popular here tomorrow!

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