Friday, November 26, 2010

Old maid cafe

Nov 26, 2010


Girls make way for matriarchs to celebrate old age in greying Japan

TOKYO: Japan's famed 'maid cafes' featuring coy young girls serving tea in frilly aprons and bonnets have been given a new twist - a cafe of unsmiling, grim-faced grannies celebrating old age in a fast-greying nation.

Tokyo's Ikebukuro district now boasts Cafe Rottenmeier, named after the disciplinary housekeeper in the hit 1970s animation series Heidi, Girl Of The Alps.

It has been drawing some 500 customers daily during weekends this month.

Patrons are greeted with a terse 'welcome home' by an unsmiling Fraulein Rottenmeier lookalike before being scolded for slouching in chairs or not removing their coats in the cafe's warm and cosy interior.

There are 30 'Rottenmeiers' who work shifts, including students, office workers and retired real-life grannies, as part of the Festival/Tokyo contemporary arts gathering being held until Sunday.
Although the 'grannies' range in age from 24 to 77 - with the younger matriarchs sporting heavy make-up to look old - the woman behind the concept said she is making a statement on accepting an ageing society.

'Many people think one must be young to do certain things. It's an unnatural obsession,' said 43-year-old artist Miwa Yanagi.

Especially in a country that is rapidly greying, with one of the world's lowest birth rates of 1.37 children a woman taking a dwindling population even lower, helping to deflate an already sagging economy.

The average age of Japan's farmers, for example, is 66.

But Ms Yanagi sees the nation's elders as a cause for celebration.

'Japan is the world's greatest nation of grannies,' she said, in a reference to the nation's average life expectancy of over 86 for women, the world's highest.

Yet despite this, Japan 'worships young women', Ms Yanagi said. 'It loves young women, as you can see in maid cafes or images of women in subculture. Why can't there be a grannies' cafe?'
The grannies, selected from some 50 applicants through an audition, are enjoying being old as much as clients seem to be enjoying being disciplined, said Ms Naomi Akamatsu, a 42-year-old actress wearing fake wrinkles.

'Young boys and girls nowadays long to be scolded,' she said of the concept, which Ms Yanagi says demonstrates the need for strong elders in a nation of small, two-generation families.

Questions about the erosion of social bonds in Japan were raised earlier this year following a nationwide survey which found that more than 230,000 registered centenarians were missing.
Japan launched the search after a string of grisly discoveries - including a mummified man in his bed and an old woman's remains in a backpack - sparked alarm over the fate of many of the elderly.

The cases also triggered a wave of soul-searching over elderly people living in isolation.

But while the cafe remains a light- hearted meditation on Japanese society, it is also a celebration of the Heidi legend.

Many of its customers were children when the Heidi anime first enchanted audiences on Japanese television in 1974.

The popular series, based on the 19th-century novel by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, illustrates Heidi's days in the Swiss Alps with Fraulein Rottenmeier keeping a strict watch.

Young patrons such as Ms Yui Tokunaga, 23, turn up just to see the older, hardline contrast with Japan's famous maid cafes, which usually feature young girls in skimpy outfits, bowing and kneeling as they stir drinks.

'I associate the image of maids with being cute, but here it's fun to see them not being so,' she said.

Madam Kayo Ishikawa, 66, a grandmother of three who started acting after she retired, enjoys being an unsmiling, dour Rottenmeier and appreciates the spirit of the fictitious character despite her age.

'I think she is a woman who devoted herself to her job... I have the impression that she is a woman who earns money by herself and provides for herself,' she said.

Ms Yanagi, the artist, said it was great that 'elderly women are ready to take on new challenges'.
And while she is too young to be a grandmother now, Ms Yanagi said she is ready to embrace the challenges of old age when they arrive.

'I'm looking forward to it,' she said.


No comments: