Girls dressed in French maid outfits running craft classes on soldering, of all things, might seem like something out of Japanese anime.
But this is Akihabara, Tokyo's "Electric Town," and home to all things anime and "otaku," meaning geeks.
The workshops are the brainchild of electronics parts retailer Wakamatsu Tsusho Co.
Akihabara has long been home to many electronics parts shops. But nowadays, it also serves as "ground zero" for otaku culture and attracts thousands of enthusiasts of anime, videogames, cosplay and other pop culture trends.
Wakamatsu came up with the idea of craft classes run by waitresses in maid costumes to revive interest in the science behind electronic gadgets.
The company, established 36 years ago, hosted a free craft session in March at Akihabara Network & Embedded Technology Center, Akiba NET-kan, in the Sotokanda area of Chiyoda Ward.
In addition to Wakamatsu Tsusho workers and specialists close to Japan's leading semiconductor manufacturer, Renesas Electronics Corp., it included Erika Kurosaki and Shion Arimura from Togenkyo maid cafe as instructors to offer tips on soldering.
Twelve people, ranging from a 6-year-old girl, who is set to attend elementary school this spring, to a 62-year-old man, joined the session. After they were given basic tips on soldering, they worked on a heart-shaped circuit board to complete an LED flasher that plays music.
The workshop was put together by Atsuhiko Kogure, head of the planning and development division of Wakamatsu Tsusho.
Kogure, 43, said he had been worried about dwindling interest in science and wanted to provide a forum where people from all walks of life could get in touch with electronics technology.
To make best use of Akihabara, he came up with the idea of "maid instructors" in the hope of casting a wider net of interest.
His project began in summer 2010. Initially, Kogure employed promotional models and had them dressed in maid outfits. He trained them so they could serve as full-fledged instructors before the opening class.
But then Kogure encountered maid waitresses from Togenkyo at an event. He was so impressed with their dedication and professionalism that he contacted them and proposed that they join him in his endeavor.
Their collaboration started last September.
"Waitresses from maid cafes treat participants with the best of intentions," Kogure said. "They are very thorough when it comes to enjoying things together (with students)."
Waitresses are required to attend four-hour daily training sessions for about a week before they are set lose to teach. They make their debut as instructors only after they have acquired basic skills, such as soldering properly and knowing the names of various parts and understanding the characteristics of positive and negative electrical polarities.
"With the 'moe' industry making a foray into the area that has traditionally thrived in Electric Town, we thought that those involved in the (traditional) business did not have a very good impression of us," said Kurosaki, the manager of Togenkyo maid cafe.
"Moe" is a slang word that refers to having strong feelings for a certain thing, such as anime, video game or other imaginative works.
That was all the more reason she was surprised to be asked to help in the workshop, she said. As the class continues its sessions, the number of families and other customers who visit the Togenkyo cafe is increasing, she added.
Riding the wave of popularity of the workshops, it was decided to hold a seminar in the fall focusing on Android apps.
Togenkyo waitresses will serve as instructors to teach beginners basic tips on how to use apps developed for the Android operating system for smartphones and other handheld devices.
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