“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” ~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku opened not too long ago, but apparently it’s already become a “must-see” stop for locals and visitors alike in Tokyo. Created by well-known Japanese avant-garde artist Sebastian Masuda, the mastermind behind the famous “cuteness-fashion” store 6% DokiDoki (see the video below), the candy-colored, monstrously darling café has become a top competitor for the title of Japanese Queen of Cuteness.
For just a 500 yen cover charge (a little under $5) visitors can spend 1 ½ hours inside just gawking at the overboard, overwhelmingly cute designs and décor inside. No purchase necessary. But you’ll buy something if you go in – it’s all just so…enticing.
I have to admit this establishment was Jody’s “find” online. I think she searched for something like “uniquely obscure places to eat” and this café of cuteness topped the list, every list, although maybe just behind a vampire themed – and staffed – restaurant. It was her birthday, I mean actually her birth day, so we had to have a party, right? What better place than one with a larger-than-life birthday cake turned merry-go-round? I’m not sure what’s coming out of those lips on the top, though. And that’s just the start of the cute oddities that, like the Robot Restaurant (see Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto for more on our visit to that iconic Tokyo venue), can only truly be produced and experienced in Japan.
We went on a late afternoon, and were pleasantly surprised to only have one small group (of Americans) ahead of us waiting to get inside. I have read reviews of people waiting well over an hour…. There is a waiting lobby, crazily decorated, but that’s just a hint, just a small taste (pun intended!!) of what’s to come. The café’s monster mascot, “Mr. Ten Thousand Chopsticks,” or just “Choppy” for short, is first seen here. The entrance to the café is through doors shaped like his tongue. As the staff warned us, we were about to enter the belly of the beast!
The hostess will take your name and ask you what “area” of the café you’d like to sit in. Not knowing much, and quickly reviewing a video screen with a named picture of each area, we picked the “Mushroom Disco,” an odd choice since we are both NOT fans of mushrooms…of any kind. In a disco, however? HELL YES!
When your table is ready, double doors open and you are greeted by one of the five resident “Monster Girls”! All I can say is WOW. This is where the weird journey down the rabbit hole really begins…. Keep in mind that this café is square in the middle of Tokyo’s Harajuku district, which is well-known as Japan’s mecca for zany fashion and alternative youthful culture. Seriously, there is such a thing as “Harajuku Lifestyle,” and the “Monster Girls” are prime examples. From the café’s own website, Harajuku is described as “a colorful and crazy town that has been creating its own original culture by engulfing the world’s most trendiest fashions and cultures.” One of Japan’s most famous pop and fashion icons of the moment, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, was in fact a repeat customer of DokiDoki, and a close collaborator with Masuda.
The shop is hosted by five of these so-called “Monster Girls” in all their hallucinatory glory —name Sweet Baby, Selfish Dolly, Happy Candy, Sexy Nasty, and Moody Crazy, names hopefully divorced from their ideas of customer service. These young girls are carefully selected, embodying the eye-popping lavishness of the café’s very essence. Their characters where developed by Masuda himself to reflect the different personalities of the café, and to help promote the idea of Japanese Harajuku “cute culture” abroad. We only had three attending to the café during our visit; I would image all five are present during rush times. It’s hard to tell if they role-play their character per their name; there is very little English spoken here, so we didn’t have much interaction other than various photo ops. They do walk the floor and stop and chat with most everyone. Oh, and it’s hard to figure out who’s who, unless you have the cheat photo from their website!
There are four main seating areas splayed throughout the interior. The “Mushroom Disco” includes larger-than-life, neon-colored shrooms of all types, surrounded by alien vegetation, which makes for quite a psychedelic-drug induced dining experience. According to the shop’s website, this area is “a big forest with its ceiling covered with poisonous colorful mushrooms and space plants. There is also a secret room for gossip ladies further inside!” I’m not sure how “disco” fits the motif, but hey, it’s Japan, and it’s CUTE (kawaii!!!). And gossip is always fun. For ladies apparently.
Then there is the “Milk Stand,” a corner of the café where massive heads of giant rabbits, sheep, and unicorn adorned with large non-descript creepy unfeeling lights for eyes drink milk from tubes emanating from oversized baby bottles hanging from everywhere the ceiling. I honestly am at a loss here; this is unlike any nursery I’ve ever seen. The website describes it this way: “It’s a crazy baby room where the animals drink their milk.” Okay….
“Bar Experiment” is another area, and reserved for adults (mostly). The motif here is ocean, but maybe a darker side of the deep sea, including a somewhat sinister black lit flickering jellyfish engulfing the countertop bar. It’s a bit more sophisticated and offers silly drinks that have a rather adult silly effect. The café says this: “The bar counter is surrounded by mysterious glowing jellyfish and is the experiment room for lurking adults in the deep sea….”
Finally, there is the “Mel-Tea Room,” a more open and spacious area of sweets-on-parade where “ants will lead the way through the sugar signs and will take you to a tea party with melting ice cream, chocolate and macarons.” How can this level of Alice in Wonderful-esque bizarreness possibly be resisted? Regardless of where you’re sat, walk around and experience all the other areas, each with a crazy twist of their own.
The café centers on an actual revolving merry-go-round in the shape of an extravagantly decorated cake, appropriately dubbed the “Sweets-Go-Round,” which serves symbolically to capture the very essence of any visit. Obviously the perfect place for a photo, and Jody’s birthday cake for 2016! “This cake shaped merry-go-round going round and round is the symbol of KAWAII MONSTER CAFE and also a photo spot.”
Don’t expect your typical diner fare. The food is certainly as cutesy and colorful as the eye-popping décor, and varied to an acceptable extent. The menus themselves are absolutely adorable touch-screen cakes, easy to navigate and with screens provided in English.
Jody opted for the totally fun pastel-colored pasta (“Rainbow Palette Pasta”) cleverly arranged on a painter’s palette and flanked with swishes of differently flavored sauces which appear as paint. I selected the special that day, a monster burger of curry, chicken and pork with fries. Literally, shaped and decorated as a monster!
The food was okay; Jody like hers, and mine was not bad, but our meals came out at least 20 minutes apart, and mine was not very hot. And I had to ask a couple of times about getting my meal. There are other varied and whimsical selections, all of which are heavily dosed with food colors certainly not found in nature, but be prepared to pay for this level of cuteness. Apparently being so cute is not cheap. The fact is, I’m pretty sure people don’t come here for the food.
We ordered some adult beverages as well. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions are offered of each drink, the booze served in mock test-tubes. While we can’t recall Jody’s kawaii-cute fruit-based concoction, mine was listed as “Druggy Cocktail (Experiment).” I poured and mixed my two test tubes with a measure of foreboding, not knowing exactly what to expect. The drinks were fairly good, but failed to deliver drugs (and their effect) on any measureable scale. Waiting for our food, we wandered wide-eyed and with mouths open around the café’s various zones.
There was a “show” after we finished our meal. Theatrical lights came on, the music and bass started pounding (ah, finally the disco!), and we all knew something was in store. Everyone gathered around the Sweet-go-Round, and the wait staff came out and started clapping. After building a good measure of suspense, the Monster Girls paraded about, boarded the carousal and started some type of “cute” performance!
After their couple of songs, there was an invitation to join the Monster Girls on the Sweets-Go-Round for pictures, but only after buying a 500 yen lollipop as your ticket. I attempted to encourage Jody up for a birthday photo, but I was the one who ended up hanging with the girls!
For dessert, I ordered a completely over-the-top ice cream sundae named nothing less than “Colorful Poison Parfait Extreme.” It was killer kawaii and certainly a monster to eat! I didn’t finish it.
Jody ordered the special, a new addition to the dessert menu with a much more pedestrian name of “Monster Cupcake.” It was less-than impressive, covered with what we thought was rather tasteless icing, but which turns out to be sweet potato paste. Only in Japan.
In the final analysis, if you are on the fence about what to do in Tokyo, GO TO THIS PLACE. Weird, campy, but fun, and have I said “cute!” yet? Hitting this and the Robot Restaurant in the same day is part of a Japanese Trifecta that probably can best be completed by unwinding in a cat café…. Remember, the Kawaii Monster Café not cheap, and the food and drinks are spectacular presented, but this is all about ambiance, and perhaps captures part of the very essence of what makes Japan…so Japanese!
Oh, and for my birthday girl armed with an active imagination aimed at battling a more mundane reality of the common birthday? Couldn’t have been better. Happy Birthday Celebration and blog #2 Jody! There’s still more to our celebration of Jody’s birthday in Tokyo. Stay tuned.
Kawaii Monster Cafe
Open Mondays to Saturdays for Lunch from 1130-1630 (LO 1600), and Dinner from 1800-2230 (LO 2200). On Sundays and Holidays, the café is open 1100-2000 (LO 1930). Reservations are NOT taken on weekends and holidays.
Cover: 500JPY / person
Address: YM square building 4F, 4-31-10, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo-to
Address (Japanese): 東京都渋谷区神宮前4丁目31‐10 YMスクエアビル4Ｆ