Not far from busy Shibuya Crossing and stylish Harajuku is a Butlers Cafe, tucked away on the 5th floor of an older building. A little hard to find, across from Shibuya’s Tokyu Hands, the Butlers Cafe is just a short elevator ride in an a building nestled next to Montbell. Follow the sign and you are sure to find this cafe.
Upon exiting the elevator, romance smacks you in the face. The Butlers Cafe is definitely geared towards women, and what women may (or may not) think is romantic. Lace and flowers cover everything. Victorian cherubs and swirly script are everywhere. It was a bit much for me, but maybe Japanese women love this stuff…. (?)
I was seated on my princess couch, which cost me an extra 500 yen, and was immediately greeted by my butler Eli. Eli was a Parisian man in his 20s who spoke to me in English. I was immediately surprised by this because I had assumed that I would have a Japanese butler – I have since found out that all of the Butlers are foreigners.
After being seated, the head butler, a Japanese man, visited my table to explain the rules to me: no photography unless approved by the staff, no touching the butlers, no approaching the butlers outside of the cafe, if I need something I am to ring a bell and they will fetch it for me, if I need to use the restroom one of them will walk me to the door, and they will call me “Princess” for the duration of my meal. I was a bit surprised by these rules, but then I realized that this was some kind of fantasy world for some Japanese women and rules needed to be set.
I ordered an extremely overpriced, but not untasty lunch and pot of tea. At least 2 menu items are required by all guests visiting the cafe. I was instructed that if I needed more tea that I should ring my bell and my butler would pour more tea for me. When my food arrived they had written my name in chocolate on the plate and brought a tiara for me to wear. The head butler insisted that I wear it for the rest of my visit and every time I took it off he encouraged me to put it back on.
After lunch I ordered dessert which was one of the times I was allowed to take photos. I tried to get as much of the room in the background as possible (photography of the decor was prohibited).
During my entire meal I was constantly talked to by not only my butler, Eli, but the other butler on staff as well. The conversations were all very staged and I heard them ask me the same questions they asked other “Princesses.” As I stated before, my butler was from Paris, but the other butler was American. When he came to my table we had a moment or two of unspoken, “This is so weird. We are both American, but here we are in Japan, and you are calling me My Princess.” At one point the American butler even broke character and chuckled.
While at the cafe I was asked to fill out a questionnaire providing information about myself, where I am from, how I heard about the cafe, why I visited, etc. One of the answers for why a person visits is “To practice English.” This would make sense given that the butlers only spoke English. Other reasons were, “To relax” and “To be treated like a princes.” There was not an option for, “This is so weird and I would only get to do this in Japan” so I had to choose one of the provided options.
Since photography was limited, I was forced to pay 1000 yen to take a picture with my butler, Eli. I happily obliged because I needed proof that I partook in this odd cafe. To my surprise, the cheesiness level was boosted up a notch when they offered to pick me up for the photo – “no thank you” was my obvious response. I received a hard copy of the photo with nauseatingly sweet note on the back.
I was escorted to the door and that was the end of my Butlers Cafe experience.
Would I go back? No. Do I regret it? No. It did give me the creeps, just a little, but it was well worth the visit. It was a total “only in Japan” experience which is why I went and I can now check it off my Japan bucket list!