[From September Issue 2012]
“Yes, my princess,” comes the sonorous response from the foreign butler as soon as you ring the bell. Placing a tiara on your head, a butler will then bring you an aromatic cup of tea and a delicious slice of cake. The BUTLERS CAFE in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, which opened in 2006, is still quite popular.
For two hours during the day and two and a half hours during the evening, they mostly serve a clientele who have made reservations in advance. Most evenings and weekends are fully booked. The price of a meal starts from 1,100 yen. Foreign English-speaking men who are good looking enough to be models work here as butlers. Because they always put ladies first, they are naturals when it comes to interacting with women. They are carefully trained by the owner KAZU in matters of deportment, from the way they walk, down to the tiniest gestures.
Anime and otaku (geek) culture has become part of mainstream Japanese culture, and since 2005 “concept cafes” that have particular themes, such as maid cafes and railway cafes for railway fans, have been popping up in Akihabara and Shibuya. However, some of them shut up shop after being in vogue for only a short period of time.
Despite this climate, the BUTLERS CAFE now has 14,000 members, who acquired this status by visiting the cafe two times. Many people come a long way to visit the cafe. The cafe has also come to the attention of both the domestic and international media.
“Women have become so busy; along with being housewives and mothers, many more women are now holding down jobs. I wanted to make a place where such women can relax,” says YUKI, who co-owns the cafe, explaining how they started the business. Before opening the cafe, YUKI interviewed many Japanese women. The results showed her that serious, shy women secretly dreamt about being a princess and sought a relaxing place in which to realize this dream.
SUZUKI Natsuko, a first time visitor to the cafe says, “It was a dreamlike moment. The food was delicious, it’s a comfortable environment and the hospitality goes that bit further than normal service. Although I usually have few opportunities to speak English, I could enjoy a conversation at my level. Since it is more refined than English conversation cafes and friendlier than cafes in foreign-owned hotels, I spent a relaxed time there.”
Alejandro from Colombia, who is one of the butlers says, “The ladies are carrying around a lot of stress brought on by the monotony of their everyday routines. Here women become princesses. As a butler I pride myself on my minute attention to detail.”
YUKI says, “The way concept cafes are run can be easily swayed by changing trends. The reason we are able to run a stable business is that we have kept to the concept of being ‘a place where you can become a princess.’ That has not changed since we opened the cafe.”
Text: MUKAI Natsuko