Tokyo’s concept restaurant, café and bar scene is fiercely competitive as shops look for unique, distinguishing themes to help them stand out. It can be something simple like making the establishment look like a private library, or as elaborate as having waitresses dress up as cyberpunk maids and pretend that they are robot cats from the year 2045. The Maho ni Kakerarete (meaning “Enchanted”) bar in Ikebukuro falls somewhere in the middle of all of that. It’s a crossdressing bar where boys magically become girls.
“The idea behind the bar is that it’s staffed by boys who have fallen under a spell that makes them look like girls on the outside,” explains a crossdressing employee of Maho ni Kakerarete. Outside of his work hours, the person that we talked to lives and dresses as a man. But during his shifts, he puts on a maid costume, changes his voice slightly and entertains guests as “the bright and energetic Saki, who loves the Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World anime and the game Fortnite!”
Even so, Saki and all the other performers at the bar are always upfront about their identities. Underneath their make-up and cute clothes, they are men. In fact, that’s what draws people to Maho ni Kakerarete, especially the female clientele.
“I’d say that about 80 percent of our guests are women,” Saki explains. “We definitely get more girls than boys here. Ikebukuro is a hotspot for geek culture such as anime and cosplay, so a lot of those girls are also geeks. I think they are just fascinated with the idea of boys being transformed into cute girls.”
What Does One Do at a Crossdressing Bar?
“We discuss our favorite anime and games, play boardgames and so on. But guests also talk about what’s troubling them. Our goal is to help them have the best time possible and that’s mainly done through conversations,” adds Saki.
— ✡まほうにかけられて🔯 (@mahokakebm) August 25, 2021
The staff also take commemorative photos with the guests, have drinks with them, perform simple magic tricks, do a little fortune-telling, draw pictures and generally amuse them. It’s not too far from the concept of maid cafés.
“Guests can buy the mystery Boy and Girl drinks for us,” Saki says. “If we drink the Girl one, we become a little more girly. If we drink the Boy one, we do things like lower our voices a little and briefly change our personalities to become more manly. Our guests really enjoy this transformation.”
The Appeal of Crossdressing and Gender-bending in Culture
Gender-bending is a huge part of Japan’s “otaku” geek culture, from cosplay to entire plots of comic books and anime being centered around the idea, like Ranma 1/2 for example.
— Right Stuf Anime (@rightstufanime) April 16, 2021
There’s another reason why female geeks might be drawn to crossdressers like Saki: they just aren’t used to talking to boys.
“I think it’s easier to talk to a boy when he’s dressed as a girl,” Saki told us. “When we wear these costumes, I guess our guests feel more at ease and it’s good practice for talking to men.” Of course, it helps that Saki himself is a proud geek and can nerd out with the best of them. He helps the bar patrons open up and ultimately that’s why most people come to Maho ni Kakerarete in the first place: to talk.
Visit Maho ni Kakerarete
You can visit the bar to experience it all for yourself. It’s ¥1,800 for a one-hour stay, which also includes a drink and a snack. Other plans are also available, as are hot meals, including waffles decorated by the staff with chocolate drawings or omelets over fried rice decorated with ketchup. Some of the staff speak English and will even offer words of encouragement if you’re thinking about trying crossdressing.
“I became interested in crossdressing the first time I set foot in Maho ni Kakerarete as a regular guest,” says Saki reminiscing. “At the time, I liked going to maid cafés and when I visited the bar, I guess the people there saw something in me they liked and offered me a job. So don’t be afraid to try it out. There’s nothing embarrassing about crossdressing, as long as it makes you happy. And in the end, showing off a beaming, smiling face is when you’re at your cutest.”