Experience Harajuku’s famous ‘culture of cute’ at Tokyo’s Kawaii Monster Cafe
By HANA KUSUMOTO | Stars and Stripes | Published: August 30, 2018
Japan is famous for its culture of cuteness — better known as kawaii — embodied by popular characters like Hello Kitty or unique fashion subcultures such as Lolita and Decora. In Tokyo, the undisputed epicenter of kawaii culture can be found on the streets of Harajuku, a neighborhood long known for its status as the place where Japan’s offbeat fashion trends come to life.
Capitalizing on Harajuku’s status as the kawaii capital of the world is Kawaii Monster Cafe — a colorful, zany place that’s half restaurant, half cabaret, and completely representative of the “Cool Japan” aesthetic that continues to draw tourists to the streets of Harajuku.
Featuring designs by Sebastian Masuda, an art director most famous for his collaborations with J-Pop artist Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the cafe’s concept is focused on all things brightly colored and cute — so expect an abundance of rainbows, glitter, oversized creatures and other fantastical elements.
Despite its whimsical vibe, Kawaii Monster Cafe is located on the fourth floor of a completely nondescript building off the main road that bisects Harajuku. But, upon opening the cafe’s doors, customers are transported into a psychedelic wonderland where they are immediately greeted by Mr. Ten-Thousand Chopsticks — Choppy, for short — the cafe’s blue-eyed, purple monster mascot. Choppy also serves as the cafe’s dining room, which means customers walk across his tongue before emerging into his whimsically decorated belly and taking their seats.
Besides the waiters and waitresses, there are performers called “Monster Girls” — each sporting colorful outfits and creative makeup looks with individual themes, such as a baby or a doll, all inspired by Harajuku street style. The Monster Girls are very friendly, especially to children, and willingly pose with customers for photos. Guests are also free to walk around and take photographs in the cafe.
During my visit, our Monster Girl hostess seated my 7-year-old daughter and I in the Mushroom Disco section, which was filled with illuminated fiberglass mushroom pillars. The section, with its purple polka dot walls and metallic leaves hanging from the ceiling, made it feel like we were dining in a magical Technicolor forest.
The cafe is a popular Tokyo attraction, and most of its patrons are foreign tourists who sometimes must wait for several hours to snag a seat. The staff said the restaurant is busiest around 1 p.m. when many visitors come for lunch. Luckily, we were seated without any wait and the cafe was only moderately busy.
The cafe’s other seating areas feature equally bizarre decor, such as cow heads with glowing eyes sucking on oversized milk bottles, or giant macarons of different colors. At the bar, jellyfish-like legs form a sparkling canopy over the mirrored bar top.
At the center of the dining room is a large cake-shaped merry-go-round, which serves as the stage for the regular dances, performed three times daily, and evening cabaret show put on by the Monster Girls.
While the nighttime cabaret is advertised as more adult-oriented, the daytime performances are appropriate for visitors of all ages. Photographs are allowed during the performances — and the Monster Girls might even allow you to stand on the giant revolving platform for a social media-worthy snapshot.
Kawaii Monster Cafe’s aesthetic doesn’t stop at the interior design — it also heavily influences the cafe’s food menu. The Colorful Rainbow Pasta (1,300 yen, or about $11.70) delivers exactly what it promises: rainbow spaghetti with a variety of different colorful sauces served on a plate designed to resemble a painter’s palette. For dessert, diners can indulge in the Colorful Poison Cake, which can be ordered in sizes ranging from cupcake form (850 yen) all the way up to a full cake (2,800 yen).
My daughter and I opted for Pink Cat Food (950 yen) — colorful cereal topped with vanilla ice cream and cotton candy presented in our very own cat food bowl. While the dish tasted just fine, I lost my appetite halfway through, as I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating food that looked like cat food.
We also ordered the Non-Druggy Cocktail, which tastes similar to orange soda and requires customers to pour two test tubes filled with orange and red liquid into a glass of soda. According to our waitress, successfully mixing the drink requires pouring the test tubes in slowly so the colors don’t mix. Another unique beverage on offer is the Blue-toned Shake Hip Shake, which tastes like surprisingly like popcorn.
Kawaii Monster Cafe truly brings the style and whimsy of Harajuku and kawaii culture together under one roof. Its trippy decor, while overwhelming at times, provides a fun and unique environment that visitors of all ages can enjoy. While designed to draw in tourists, it’s also someplace that locals, especially those with young children, can definitely find appealing as well. My daughter and I will be making a trip back to Choppy’s stomach to catch the dance performance by the Monster Girls and maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to dance on the cake-shaped merry-go-round ourselves.
Kawaii Monster Cafe
Location: YM Square 4th Floor, 4-31-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Directions: A 1-minute walk from Exit 5 of Tokyo Metro Chiyoda line’s Meiji Jingumae station or a 5-minute walk from the Omotesando exit of JR Yamanote line’s Harajuku station. YM Square 4th Floor, 4-31-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Open Monday-Saturday from 11:30-4:30 p.m. (last order at 4 p.m.) for lunch and 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m. (last order at 10 p.m.) for dinner and open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (last order at 7:30 p.m.) on Sundays and Japanese holidays.
Food prices range from around 700 yen to 2,800 yen.
Costs: In addition to a 500-yen admission fee, guests are required to order one drink and one food item per person. Admission is 500 yen per person for 4 years and older. Admission is free at lunchtime for 3 years and younger. Food prices range from around 700 yen to 2,800 yen.
Information: Online: kawaiimonster.jp