According to Wikipedia, the first maid cafe (女僕咖啡店) opened in 2001 in Tokyo. But, do you know that Taiwanese people’s grandfathers might have already been to a maid cafe in the 1930s?
Maid Cafes in the 1930s
Taiwan, during the Japanese Rule-era, was influenced by Western “Modern” gender equality and free-love culture. While it was uncommon for women to work during that time, many “cafes” (珈琲店) appeared and hired many young ladies as maid servants (女給 (じょきゅう, jokyu)).
The first maid cafe called “Cafe. Lion” opened on December 1st, 1912, at Taipei’s now 228 Peace Memorial Park. Supported by the government, it attracted many businessmen and political figures, particularly with its new maid service.
Unlike cafes today, these cafes served not only coffee, but also hot dishes and alcoholic beverages. But most important of all, the maids in the cafes determined the success or failure of the business.
Just like today’s maid cafes, the maids at that time were responsible for greeting the customers, serving food, and chatting with them.
A Turning Point of Taiwan’s Female Rights
In the 1930s a woman was seldom able to work and support herself. The maid role in these cafes offered such opportunity.
Similar to today’s independent contractors, the maids at the cafes were free agents and could arbitrarily choose whatever cafes they wanted to work for. There were no forced contracts, no style restrictions, and newly wed maids could decide if they wanted to continue working or not.
Short-live Maid Cafes in 1930s
Of course, just like any fad and the illusion of love offered by the maids, the maid cafes culture last only about 10 years. They were replaced by “tea shops” (喫茶店) that offered better price and without the ugly feuds between the maids that resulted in bad reputation in the community!