Monday, 3 February 2020

Is the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku worth visiting?

Do you love the vibrancy and fun of Harajuku’s decora fashion? Is cute colourful food your thing? Not afraid to embrace the ridiculous every now and again? The Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku really is a cafe and show experience like no other. Read on to find out if it’s worth a visit for you.

Kawaii Monster Cafe Shibuya

I’d toyed with a visit to the Kawaii Monster Cafe the last few times we’d been in Tokyo, on one hand suspecting I’d love the cuteness and fun and on the other wondering if I wasn’t exactly the target audience. And what that audience might actually be. Well, there’s only one way to know for sure so this year when we were in Shibuya, one of our favourite parts of Tokyo we booked in for lunch and a show.

So what is the backstory to the Tokyo Monster Cafe?

As you ride the escalators up to the entrance of the Kawaii Monster Cafe there’s really no clue of what is coming. You exchange your booking voucher, show your code or buy your ticket from the desk … and then you walk through the monster’s mouth. You are now in the belly of the beast! Yep, you’re inside Mr Ten Thousand Chopsticks, aka Mr Choppy’s tummy.

And what a bizarre place it is. A total sensory overload, dark and light, colour, sound, laughter and fun and a little bit of crazy. It really is where the essence of Harajuku decora life meets Alice in Wonderland, presided over by Willy Wonka on a somewhat bizarre trip.

Four zones to explore

Once you walk through the monster’s mouth and into the cafe the experience is fully immersive until the moment you leave. Don’t stay in your seat you want to wander around and take it all in as each of the areas has a unique style and personality.

There are 4 zones to explore but where will you sit?

  • The mushroom disco
  • The milk stand
  • The bar experiment, or
  • The Mel-tea (melty) room

The mushroom disco

Mushroom disco area at Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku Japan

This is where we were seated for our visit. We lucked into a booth beneath the forest of giant mushrooms and directly in front of the stage which was perfect for being able to see all the comings, goings and entertainment from our seats.

This section strongly evoked scenes from the early adventures of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but there was no sign of the Cheshire Cat up there, I did take a good look around just in case.

On the afternoon we were there a tv crew arrived around the same time so we were spared the honour of being called onto the stage to audition our best monster skills. Actually, I wouldn’t have minded, it’s not like anyone but Drew knew me there and he already knows I’m a little odd but I think he handled the rejection very well.

The milk stand

Inside the milky bar section of the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku, Tokyo

Next up is the milk stand and this space is dominated by multi-coloured rabbits, unicorns and sheep that sip from giant baby bottles dripping milk from a ceiling that is crazy paved in mirrored tiles.

Take your seat in a colourfully iced cake booth, or one of the tables scattered around, they’ve created an interesting balance of being involved in the show from every seat but also a degree of seclusion within the individual nooks.

The monsters walk around the floor, pose, take meal orders, have photos with visitors and keep everyone entertained throughout the cafe but for the main show, unless you are in one of the front booths, you may need to get up and move into the open area to see fully what is happening on the merry-go-round stage.

The bar experiment

Bar experience area in Harajuku Monster Cafe

Enclosed in the tentacles of a giant fluorescent squid is the main bar where they mix all manner of interesting concoctions. Perhaps at night, this is a more popular spot but during the day drinks are ordered from and delivered to the tables. There are choices of alcoholic or not served at all sessions.

The Mel-Tea room

Mel-tea room at Monster Cafe

If tea parties and high tea are your thing, then the Mel-Tea room might be right up your alley. This is very cutesy and would have been my second choice for where to sit. Mel-Tea is a light, bright and open area with a couple of booths but mostly table and chair seating.

This one is perfect if you’ve managed to get a group of girls together for a visit. It’s also every little girl’s tea party dream but I think maybe it was those giant macaroons hanging from the ceiling that was luring me in.

And what about the food?

I have to be honest and say I didn’t go with high expectations of the food, it’s an experience first and the meal while an essential part of that, was never going to be a culinary highlight of our trip. While the cafe has a cover charge, you are also required to purchase food and a drink item for each person. Some tickets already have that built into the package.

The food surprised me and was actually pretty good, of course, it had added colouring, that’s part of the experience but it was hot when it should be, the ingredients were fresh and the presentation fits the experience.

It wasn’t gourmet but it was a lot better than I had anticipated after reading a few reviews about sugar overload. The menu clearly separates the sweet menu items and I think you can expect if you order something named ‘melty pancakes pink sweets heart’ or ‘Parfait EXTREME’ it won’t be keto-friendly.

Clourful food at Monster Cafe

We were after more of a snack than a full meal as breakfast had been quite substantial so we ordered the fries with the 5 different rainbow coloured and flavoured sauces. It was a large serve of shoestring fries served hot and crispy. The sauce flavours were distinctive enough to identify them easily but they were not intense.

To balance things up we went with the ‘candy salad which contained no candy but many colours and types of lettuce, capsicum and cherry tomatoes which together provided the colour and it was topped with bocconcini and a pink dressing.

Everything on the menu has an outrageous name keeping with the theme and a large photo. What arrived at our table was pretty much exactly as pictured in the photo so it gives a fair idea but if you have very specific dietary requirements this would be difficult to navigate even with the English speaking waitress monsters.

The drinks menu was what I was looking forward to most and had saved my sugar quota for. I tossed around the various options that came with test tubes to mix my own but we ended up ordering one fruity and one matcha concoction, very pretty and sweet but I was anticipating a dressed up milkshake and that’s exactly what I got.

A fully immersive experience

If you’re thinking of hiding out in the sanctuary of the bathrooms for a few minutes to calm your sensory overload you’ll need to think again. They’re a tutti-fruity candy-themed creation that feels like it may have been pulled directly from Willy Wonkas chocolate factory.

Of course, there are all the bathroom essentials too with the familiar ultra-modern multi-functional toilets you’ll find all around Japan. There’s even a mouth wash dispenser on the wall when you want to freshen up.

Is the Kawaii Monster Cafe suitable for kids?

While the kawaii culture is as cute and colourful as a children’s fairytale there is a more adult and sometimes darker side to Harajuku and some parents may be unsure about the suitability of the cafe for a family trip.

From what we saw on our afternoon visit there was no cause for concern at all, younger children were right into it and there’s nothing to create any awkward questions from the teenagers either. The performers interact really well with all ages and the little kids were dancing along with the music and having a great time.

I would stress here that we went intentionally to a daytime session, some of the evening sessions aren’t suitable for, or open to, a younger audience so check that at the time when you make a booking.

In conclusion – do we recommend Harajuku’s Kawaii Monster Cafe?

All up we had a fun afternoon, lots of laughs and got our quota of Harajuku cuteness. To get the best of it I think you’ve got to be willing to let yourself be a bit silly, laugh at yourself and take it for what it is.

I’m pleased we went, it did encapsulate that kawaii aspect of Harajuku really well while being clearly targeted at tourists to the city. It’s not somewhere to do a deep dive on the Harajuku culture and it’s not the local haunt of the Decora girls in their downtime but it is a couple of hours immersion in KAWAII and a good laugh.

For me, I can say I really did enjoy it, I’m pleased we managed to fit it into our trip but it’s one of those places I’d go just the once, not somewhere I’ll return the next time I’m in Tokyo.

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Colourful drinks with performs on stage in the background at Kawaii Monster Cafe
Performers on stage at Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku

What about you? Have you spent time in Harajuku or been to the Kawaii Monster Cafe? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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