In this two-part series, Fanimaid veteran Jessica Fong takes Around Akiba into the maid scene in the USA.
FanimeCon is a beloved annual tradition
For anime lovers in the Bay Area, attending FanimeCon is a beloved annual tradition where they can enjoy cosplaying and attending events with other fans. For me, it means something special – it’s the one time of the year when I’m able to be with my Fanimaid family.
— wittyの専門はバック on ICE (@yomimaid) May 28, 2013
I started working at Fanimaid Cafe in 2013. It was my first time at such a big convention and I had very little idea what to expect – I didn’t even realize that I was supposed to book a hotel room early if I wanted to have any chance of staying close to the center of the action. Thankfully, one of the other maids kindly offered to split her room with me despite already having roommates. It was the sort of sweet, welcoming attitude I would be surrounded by every time I came back to volunteer at the cafe.
Like most maid cafe enthusiasts, many of my fellow Fanimaids (including myself) first encountered the concept through anime like Densha Otoko and Kaichō wa Maid-Sama. Other maids, like staff member Izumi (33), actually saw the cafe in action at Fanime first and learned on the job after they had auditioned for a spot in it.
“I had a friend who encouraged me to go audition with her after I had expressed interest in volunteering for the convention,” she explains. “There were probably 20+ girls when I [auditioned] at the Hilton, but somehow [I] was selected to join the 2012 cohort.” Izumi’s long and ongoing career as a key member of staff is a perfect example of the strong bonds that make up the foundation of the cafe’s community.
The challenges that come with being involved in the cafe begin during the audition. Though it’s a short process, comprised mostly of a quick interview with the cafe heads, learning the required Japanese phrases and remembering the often complicated etiquette of the cafe can be daunting.
The physical strain of being a maid is no joke
Then there’s the actual struggle of working shifts during the convention. These shifts are five hours long, causing us to miss out on other events. The physical strain of entertaining guests nonstop is no joke. Some of us have trouble chatting with patrons and keeping a cheerful atmosphere going due to our own social anxiety.
— FanimeCon (@FanimeCon) May 26, 2014
Yet the nurturing, sisterly atmosphere of the cafe helps bring us all out of our shells. Though we only see each other a few times a year, we stay connected through social media and activities like gaming together on Discord. When things get overwhelming during our shifts, we know we have trusted sisters we can turn to for aid.
Even long-retired founding members still come back annually without fail to offer advice and to help current maids. “For a lot of us, we only see each other for Fanimaid Cafe once a year, and it never ceases to astound me how we can continue to maintain our friendships based on these limited encounters,” enthuses veteran maid Ayumi. “There’s definitely something magical about it.”
Staff member Tiffany comments, “It makes me so happy when I see girls working their hardest and we get praised. [And] I love seeing the performances come together and seeing people in the audience enjoy it as well. I also love making new friends and seeing ones that I don’t get to see often.’”
Fanimaid Cafe started out as a way to introduce American anime fans to Akihabara culture and moe-kei. It’s succeeded on every front and gone on to grow into a loving, expansive community of supportive women. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of it all.