There’s a certain image of Japan—Tokyo in particular—that’s full of crazy neon lights and robots and girls in mad costumes. Most of the time those stereotypes aren’t true (think temples, shrines, peaceful countryside, etc.) but sometimes, they just 100% are. I welcome you to the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku. Rival to the Robot Restaurant in pure insanity, it is a visual overload which borders on maniacal. With stunning surroundings, bizarre food and entrancing performances, take a step into the mouth of the Chopstick Monster and enter the psychedelic nightmare that is the stomach of Harajuku.
It may sound as if I have been driven entirely insane by my experience, and although it pushed the limits, I can assure you this all makes perfect sense. The Kawaii Monster Cafe is centered around the concept of Tokyo as a monster, swallowing every new trend in its path, ever expanding and creating a “new Tokyo that no one has seen”. This results in an overload of colour, a clashing of concepts and designs, and a stunning overall effect. Designed by artist Sebastian Matsuda, the cafe is completed to a ridiculously high standard, and is theoretically located within the stomach of Mr Ten Thousand Chopsticks, the embodiment of the aforementioned monster.
Comprised of four zones, there is some exploring to be done between drinks (this is fully encouraged) and although it isn’t massive, each area is so trippy, it feels like you could easily get lost. This feeling increases with the drinks, needless to say.
The room is centered around the impressive Sweets-Go-Round, which includes the bonus of a Pikachu-creature back from the dead as well as unicorns amongst the general sundae-toppings.
To one side of this fairground-nightmare is the Mushroom Disco, which is weirdly exactly what it says on the tin. Deeply reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, oversized mushrooms tower over you and encase you in booths. If you don’t get a booth and are seated in the larger area, fear not, you actually have the best view of the room.
Right across from you is the Milk Stand, which is pretty bizarre, featuring large animal heads all hooked up to milk bottles. I would describe it more, but to be honest, I’m not sure how to, aside from saying I loved it.
Off in another section and with an entirely different feel is the lighter Mel-Tea Room, which is as cutesy and pretty as a cupcake-themed room in Harajuku can get. Which is very. Seated in cakes and teacups, you can enjoy the different puddings as icing drips down the walls, and human-sized forks stab head-sized strawberries. If that seems a little macabre, I can only apologize and blame the unnerving sinister undertones which permeate the cafe, lending it an eerie atmosphere.
Alongside the Mel-Tea Room is the final area—Bar Experiment—which is housed among the giant tentacles of a glowing neon jellyfish. With suave bar-men and a deep-sea/space-like feel, this is the coolest of the zones, and is perfect for trying some of the cocktails. Now, before I go any further, a word of warning: the cocktails are good, but don’t get carried away. Not only is the cafe insane, the toilets offer no respite. With thousands of colored balls under glass sinks and brightly colored doors, this is not a place to have your head spinning. Not to sound like your mum before a night out, but it would probably become some kind of torturous horror-film-esque nightmare, and no one needs that.
The menu at the Harajuku Kawaii Monster Cafe
Between expeditions into the unknown, there is food to be eaten, stared at and prodded with suspicion. It is actually fairly decent and not just a re-packaged offering with a weak nod to the theme. The cafe goes all out on most dishes, with color and flavor combinations true to the general madness of the surroundings—including chocolate chicken and rainbow painter spaghetti.
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The iPad-menu is packaged in an extravagant cake-cover and has a wide seelction, including brightly coloured sushi, salads and extravagant parfaits Willie Wonka himself would be proud of. The prices start around ¥710 for salad, chocolate chicken goes for ¥850, makizushi with bright sauces for ¥1,150 and that rainbow pasta costs ¥1,300. You can try a piece of “colorful poison cake” for ¥850, or share a “colorful poison parfait” for ¥2,300, which features all kinds of strange flavours and no shortage of colors either.
In the evenings they add more dinner-worthy platters to be shared among groups of 2-8 people, but still have the day menu items for the same prices too.
You choose from bizarre cocktail creations like the “mad scientist”, or go for a mocktail like the “experiment” or “eyeball”. There are also traditional drinks like plum wine, whiskey and shochu, as well as some less-risky cocktail options like a matcha pina colada. Prices range from ¥700 to ¥1,300, with sake being at the higher end. Alcohol is available in the evening, with soft drinks and mocktails served during the lunch period.
Performances at the Kawaii Monster Cafe
This is the highlight and is certainly strange. With eccentric characters, for want of a better word, taking position on the Sweets-Go-Round, the lights go down and things get intense. Techno music is pumped out and the posing begins. There isn’t so much of a performance as there is a lot of standing and strutting with occasional clapping, but somehow, in the setting, it works. Cirque du Soleil it is not, but no one seems to care—they get small children up and they somehow don’t freak out, and everyone has a great time. Afterwards, you can take your picture with the models looking intense behind you and admire their outfits to your heart’s content (and even wait for the next show, as they happen every 40 minutes).
A bit of burlesque … and more
If you attend the Kawaii Monster Cafe on a Thursday evening between 8pm and midnight, you’ll catch the burlesque performance—which is not very family-friendly (you have to be 20 and up to get in). Entrance is hiked up to ¥2,000, but includes a drink—and you can opt for the all-you-can-drink menu for ¥1,500.
The Fall-in-the-Stomach Monster Card system
This is where it can look a little complicated, but it’s okay once you get your head around it. The first time you visit, each person is required to pay a ¥500 seating charge. Before you leave, you receive your first Fall-in-the-Stomach Monster card: Pearl Pink, so it’s sort of like becoming a member. This card means that next time, you and your party avoid the seating fee at lunch time.
There are four stamps on the back, one for each zone, and if you visit a different one on each subsequent visit, you get an exclusive gift and a promotion. This system continues as follows:
Card 2: Mystic Purple—you receive a special menu and after five visits you are upgraded to …
Card 3: Champagne Gold—few details, but a ¥3,000 cover charge is required for up to six people, which is intriguing. Next is …
Card 4: Emerald Secret—again, few details except the somewhat ominous promise that you can enjoy “secret privileges just for you”. Who knows what that entails, but I have heard rumors of a giant cat-themed room …
The first three cards are only valid for one year, and all four are non-replaceable, so hold onto them if you decide to become a hardcore regular.
If you fancy taking a step into a dream-world mash-up of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and Alice’s Wonderland, to drink with the jellyfsh and eat cake in a teacup whilst you take in as much of your surroundings as your brain can handle, Mr Ten Thousand Chopsticks is waiting for you. Just try not to hate the rest of the world for being so boring when you leave the Harajuku Kawaii Monster Cafe.
Ed’s note: While reservations are not strictly required, they’re recommended to avoid disappointment—especially if you’re planning on going in a group in the evening. The cafe was quiet when we went, but this is Tokyo—so things can get busy fast!
This post was first published in February, 2016. Last updated in July, 2018.
|Name:||Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku|
|Pricing info:||From 750 yen upwards + 500 yen seating charge for the first visit and at dinner (waived for lunch)|
|Address:||YM square building 4F, 4-31-10, Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo|
|Business hours:||Mon - Sat: 11.30am - 4.30pm and 6pm - 11.30pm, Sundays and Holidays: 11am - 8pm|
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