Maid culture gets warm welcome in Mexico

Maid culture gets warm welcome in Mexico
Takamasa Sakurai and Hitomi after a lecture at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

I'm in Mexico City now. I've visited just over 140 cities across the world for my cultural diplomacy activities that started in December 2007.

To continue any activity for long, we need partners. In my case, at first, they were mainly diplomats as I was a kind of adviser to the Foreign Ministry.

However, I also began working more and more with the organizers of otaku events in my destination cities, as well as Japanese artists and creators.

The former group of people joined me in founding the International Otaku Expo Association (IOEA), about which I wrote in my last column. I'll write a bit about the latter group this time.

I believe learning about what elements of Japanese culture are popular overseas greatly influences daily activities of Japanese artists. I don't mean they should do things aiming to have them favourably accepted overseas.

People overseas would never expect Japanese artists to do that, either.

My point is that when they are overseas, these artists can personally feel what essence of Japanese culture is highly evaluated by its overseas fans. The essence is this: "Japan can create things that cannot be found anywhere else."

So I hope creators of any genre of Japanese culture who are interested in my activities will go overseas with me as much as possible. I've also made efforts in thinking and acting to make such chances for them as a producer.

This time, Hitomi, a waitress at @home cafe, a maid cafe in Tokyo's Akihabara district, joined me in Mexico City. She decided to go there at the last minute.

I was initially supposed to hold a programme jointly with the Japanese Embassy in Mexico and give a lecture at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and at J'Fest, one of the IOEA member events.

I invited Hitomi, a leader of both maid culture and Akihabara culture who is very famous at home and abroad, to my lectures as I thought she could convey their essence to the audience more effectively. Hitomi is very enthusiastic about cultural diplomacy activities, too.

I'm writing this story during a break after my question and answer session at an audio and video vocational school and a lecture at UNAM. A lecture at J'Fest will start in a few hours.

The lecture at UNAM was packed with about 500 students, with many people standing. Around the end of the lecture, I invited Hitomi to the stage and with her spoke to the audience about why maid cafes have become one of the icons of Japan's pop culture and why they attract foreign visitors.

In a nutshell, these cafes seriously entertain their customers by providing them with an experience which is completely different from their daily lives.

The more information the Internet provides to every corner of the world, the more important the behind-the-scene efforts people make at maid cafes or idol concerts become.

This time, I met many local young women who adore Hitomi. Meeting with them must have meant a lot to Hitomi, too.

Even though I want more like-minded people to join me and even though many people want to do it, the number of people and the chances to do so are limited, actually.

To do so, they need to have time off from their daily work and travel great distances overseas. Even if it lasts just a few days, it can't be accomplished without the will and desire of these people and people around them.

Of course, timing counts, too. These things happen according to a kind of fate, I think.

A popular Japanese maid took days off from work and visited Mexico to talk about the maid culture personally. I fully appreciate her contribution to widening the gateway to Japan.

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