M.O.E. Maid Coffee is located on Ruyi Li. A street name translated by my assistant as “dolls street”. A literal translation of “ruyi” could be “as one wishes” (adjective) or, in this case more likely, refer to an S-shaped ornamental object that was usually made of jade and used as a symbol of good luck. “Li” translates as “neighborhood”.
M.O.E. Maid Coffee, it is not only a café where female staff serves coffee, but also a place to play board games. Visitors are welcomed by a girl in maid clothes with greetings in Japanese.
The store owner is a 28-year-old young man, who introduces himself as “zhai”, a Chinese translation of Otaku (a Japanese term that refers to people with obsessive interests in anime and manga). According to my assistant, obviously more knowledgeable in the anime and manga sub-culture, he really complies with the character of an Otaku; he is very shy, uses few words and is obsessed with Japanese animation and related board games. Before opening his café, he used to work at an advertising agency for 2 years.
The business is very good he says and, although had has moved the location of his business three times since he started in 2009, he has a loyal group of customers – all of them anime fans – that come to play board games regularly.
The “Maid” is the biggest selling point of the store; lace scarf, black dress, white apron, knee stockings, with a slightly exaggerated “kawaii” (cute) makeup; all elements copied from the Japanese anime . Most of the dresses are tailor-made, sometimes bought by the girls themselves, for they are fans of Japanese anime and love the Cosplay (short for “costume play”; usually related to anime, video games or cartoons and very popular in Asia).
Zhai started his business in 2009 because of his love for the Japanese anime. “I got the idea of opening such a shop when I was still a student. I believed I knew the needs of the guests” .
“If people come here to play board games, they should, next to the price for coffee and snacks, pay a fee for the games: for 20 RMB per person they can play as long as they like. Apart from this, if you want a maid girl to play with you, you should pay another 26 RMB per hour. The girls will get a commission on the 26 RMB per hour. We have customers who will come specifically for a special girl.”
“There are about 8 to 9 waitresses in total, but only 2 or 3 at the same time, for all of them are part-time, and most of them are students. Their salary is 8 RMB per hour.”
When asked about the planning for the future, Zhai says: “It is not so clear, I just wish more people will like it here and come to relax themselves. Apart from board games, we host many activities, for example during the Christmas Day we will host a party with singers and, of course, Cosplay. “