New travel inspiration: AFAR magazine

Greg Sullivan and Joseph Diaz, the founders of AFAR magazine, saw a need for a magazine that focused on “experiential travel that helps people experience every destination as local residents do.” So they started their new travel magazine to fill that niche.

When major glossies are closing down at an alarming rate, starting up a new magazine – with an online community, tv partnerships, and books in the works – is a bold move. But, if the first issue of AFAR is any indication of what’s to come, it’s one that will enrich the travel community as the company grows.

The goal of AFAR is to encourage authentic travel that avoids superficial, mass-consumed, beaten path tourism and digs deeper into a local cuture in all aspects of the trip, from where you stay to what you eat to how you can make a difference in a local community. AFAR hits that middle ground between offering details that you can use (a calendar section lists events around the world and each feature has the typical “if you go” logistical info), facts that educate (a piece on the culture of maid cafes in Japan was fascinating) and stories that inspire (a feature on Berber culture in Morocco only fueled my desire to go there).

The premier issue also contained an interview with a long-term traveler, information on ocean-cleanup vacations, a profile of the rock music scene in China, and a closing essay by Tim Cahill. The editors also promise to continue this issue’s “Spin the Globe” section, in which they send one writer on a spontaneous journey. This issue’s destination was Caracas, and while the article didn’t offer much in the way of “where to stay, what to do” information, it did offer a very intriguing, honest portrait of the city. For foodies, there was also a feature detailing how one writer learned to make bread from a French master baker.

The writing is solid, the photos are beautiful, and in keeping with the editors’ statement that “life is about more than how much we consume”, the magazine isn’t cluttered with ads (though, ironically, many of the ads are for luxury products). At $19.95 for 6 issues (the magazine will be published bi-monthly), I recommend subscribing. You can get a taste of what you’re in for if you do, or just satiate your thirst for travel inspiration in between issues, on the AFAR blog.

Big in Japan: Everything You Wanted to Know About Maid Cafes

“Have you guys checked out that new café on the corner? You know the one I’m talking about. Yeah, the one where the hot girls dress up in maid costumes, bow to your every request and constantly demean themselves for your pleasure.”

Although this snippet of conversation might be out of place in America, it would fit right at home here in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. The official otaku (?????????) or geek capital of Japan, Akihabara is where the world’s first maid cafes appeared back in 2000.

What’s a maid café you ask? Good question.

A maid café or meido-kafe (??????????????????) is a theme restaurant or bar where the staff dresses up in French maid costumes and treats the customers as masters in their own homes. While sipping your café and relaxing with your friends, a beautiful woman in an elegant costume will personally attend to each and every one of your needs.

It gets better.

The standard uniform is an elegant French maid costume, but in Akihabara it’s possible to find several variations on this traditional garb. From elegant silk and lace lingerie to maid outfits augmented with anime-style bunny or cat ears, Akihabara’s maid cafes cater to every conceivable fantasy.

Although exemplary customer service is typical of Japan, maid cafés take special care to pamper patrons beyond belief. When a customer enters the café, the maids typically greet them by saying okaerinasaimasen goshujinsama (お帰りなさいませ、ご主人様), which roughly translates to ‘Welcome home my exalted master!

It gets even better.

The maids continue to play the role of a house servant, and will do such deferential tasks as kneeling while taking orders, complimenting customers on their drink selections and bowing their head to the floor upon request. In fact, at some of the more upscale maid cafes, you can even have your ears cleaned, your glasses adjusted and your hands and feet massaged for a small fee.

In the last year or so, even more bizarre variations on the maid cafe concept have sprung up in Akihabara. For instance, it’s now possible to find younger sister cafes, where the staff greet customers upon arrival by saying okaeri oniichan (お帰りお兄ちゃん), which roughly translates to ‘Welcome home older brother!

Although this may sound bizarre to Western ears, relaxing in maid cafes has become something of a staple for the legions of geeks that call Akihabara their home. In fact, in the past few years, maid café culture has spread to other cities in Japan, and a few have even popped up in neighboring Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

Sure, maid cafes are a bit fetishistic, but truth be told, they’re a lot of fun!

I mean hey, everyone needs a little pampering once in awhile, right?

** Special thanks to Flickr users Oimax and Wirbelwind **