Calling Kawaii Monster Cafe the most bizarre place in Harajuku, Japan–a place known for eccentricity and sometimes outlandish fashion–is really saying something. Yet, that’s exactly what this themed restaurant is. In this restaurant review, we’ll take a peak inside Kawaii Monster Cafe, covering whether it’s worth your time and money, as well as how appropriate the experience is for families.
Originally, we opened this review with Hunter S. Thompson’s quote: “Psychedelics are almost irrelevant in a town where you can wander in a casino any time in the day or night and witness the crucifixion of a gorilla.” I felt set the tone for our review of Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku. On a normal day, this neighborhood of Tokyo could serve as the backdrop for one of Thompson’s stories, blurring the lines between the real and the imagined. (Oddly enough, this is now the second review about an experience in Tokyo that we’ve described as being akin to psychedelic drugs. Hmmm…)
Unlike Las Vegas, where an unwholesome vibe lurks in the shadows of the brightest neon, Harajuku is completely innocent. (Or perhaps there is something else beneath, given the whole Lolita vibe.) Its parallels are in the general oddities and vibrant scenes you’ll witness, rather than in anything seedy. On the surface, Harajuku is like Sesame Street on acid, minus the acid…
On the main drag of Takeshita Dori, what Harajuku is all about is evident. It’s the epicenter of Japan’s youth counter-culture, where young (and some old) people rebel against conformity with kaleidoscope of eclectic fashion. While there’s also a litany of boutique shopping and dining, the people are their styles are the main draw of Harajuku.
Despite my describing of this as a “counter-culture” where young people “rebel against conformity” there is an underlying kawaii-ness to it all. I’m not entirely sure if it’s because that’s what sells (it’s worth noting that Harajuku is heavily commercialized) or if it’s just a natural outgrowth of kawaii culture. Whatever the case may be, Harajuku is perfectly family friendly. It’s just not even remotely like what you’ll witness elsewhere in Tokyo.
Nowhere is this more evident than at Kawaii Monster Cafe, which takes all of the vibrance and eclectic styles of Harajuku and spews them into an environment that’s off the walls.
I keep wanting to compare it to an acid trip, but: 1) I’ve never dropped acid; and, 2) I cannot fathom an acid trip being this vivid and unrelenting.
The idea is that you’re stepping into the belly of a cute monster, and I guess this is what that would look like. In typical kawaii fashion, that monster has a name: Mr. Ten Thousand Chopsticks (“Choppy”).
He represents Harajuku which, according to the restaurant’s website, “is like a monster that swallows everything in its path and keeps expanding.” You can see concept art of Choppy in the restaurant (or on the website). He seems pretty chill.
Inside Choppy’s belly is Kawaii Monster Cafe, which is a themed restaurant (popular throughout Tokyo–not just Tokyo Disney Resort) that is designed by renowned artist Sebastian Masuda and produced by Diamond Dining, the company responsible for several of Tokyo’s most popular themed restaurants.
Kawaii Monster Cafe is relatively new; between that and its style, it’s a big draw. Before our visit, we had heard of 60+ minute waits to be seated, so we intentionally opted to go here on a rainy day during off-hours. We had no wait whatsoever, and only half the tables inside were full. If you’re visiting on the weekend or during a busier tourist season, don’t be surprised to encounter a line.
Upon walking up the cute monster’s tongue and entering through his mouth, you encounter Kawaii Monster Cafe’s centerpiece: a large cake-shaped merry-go-round, called the Sweets-Go-Round.
Every so often, all of the servers/performers jump on the Sweets-Go-Round and do a high energy show. We recommend getting up from your table as soon as the show starts; everyone else will, but it takes a couple of minutes to pique the curiosity of most patrons, so you’ll have a better view if you just jump up right away.
Guests are not allowed to climb aboard it, but can take photos and pose in front of it. One of the great pluses of Kawaii Monster Cafe is that there are no restrictions on photography (at least none that I saw or noticed). This is not the norm for themed restaurants (or really, any restaurants) in Japan, so go wild.
Beyond the Sweets-Go-Round, Kawaii Monster Cafe is divided into four distinctly-themed areas: Mushroom Disco, Milk Stand, Bar Experiment and Mel-Tea Room.
These rooms more or less speak for themselves…
Kawaii Monster Cafe has a cover charge of 500 yen per person, but this is (somewhat oddly?) based upon the capacity of your table. In other words, they’ll ask where you want to sit, and if you specify a booth that can seat 6 people, you will be charged for 6 people regardless of whether there are 2 or 6 in your party.
On the plus side, the booths for 6 have a better view of the Sweets-Go-Round, but on the downside, this cover charge is not explained very well, so you might pay more than you bargain.
Normally, I hate cover charges, but this is largely because they are usually in place at places I don’t really want to go, but am dragged to somewhat against my will (e.g. dance clubs).
In this case, I wanted to go to Kawaii Monster Cafe, but had no real desire to eat a full meal of food. We had heard from multiple friends that the food is overpriced and unexceptional at Kawaii Monster Cafe, so beyond a couple of Instagram-worthy desserts, we had little interest in eating here.
The modest cover charge allowed us to visit the restaurant without feeling guilty about not ordering a full meal. Our desserts were still overpriced and only so-so in quality, but at least they looked cool. I would’ve been pretty disappointed had we shelled out for a full, mediocre meal at Kawaii Monster Cafe. Instead, we just did desserts, and had ramen at an exceptional, inexpensive stall just down the block. It was really the best of both worlds. I was satisfied with our full experience at Kawaii Monster Cafe given what we paid, and we were still ‘able’ to enjoy a meal that was actually good somewhere else. The atmosphere at Kawaii Monster Cafe spectacular, which made it completely worth the money. On this basis, I’d highly recommend Kawaii Monster Cafe as a point of interest while in Japan, but not so much as an actual restaurant.
Does the Kawaii Monster Cafe intrigue you? Would you dine in one of these rooms, or do you think this is not exactly an “ideal” environment to enjoy a meal? Any other thoughts on this restaurant and its ambiance? If you’ve been–or been to Harajuku in general–I’d love to hear what you think!