Are you looking to experience the zaniest, most psychedelic side of Harajuku? Are you a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu fan? If so, head on over to the Kawaii Monster Cafe for a riotously colorful time. Attend a themed night to maximize the psychedelia.
The Sweets-Go-Round at Kawaii Monster Cafe. - image © Florentyna Leow
Everyone’s heard of the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. But Harajuku has its own equally self-aware, attention-grabbing experiential space, and that’s the Kawaii Monster Cafe.
One of the dining spaces at the Kawaii Monster Cafe during the lead-up to Halloween. - image © Florentyna Leow
How does one begin to describe this cafe? Imagine Harajuku pop icon Kyary Pamyu Pamyu staging a takeover of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and you’ll get the gist. It is rather like walking into one of her music videos. The entire space is Harajuku’s famous ‘guro-kawaii’ or 'grotesque-cute’ aesthetic brought to life by designer Sebastian Masuda. The motifs and decor straddle the border between the macabre and the adorable.
The entrance to the Kawaii Monster Cafe. - image © Florentyna Leow
For instance: one is greeted at the entrance by slowly-spinning, huge, bulbous eyeballs that jut out from the walls, along with candy-colored dribbles and patterned tentacles that look just like intestinal villi. Which is not very surprising, considering that the cafe is apparently located in the belly of a fictional monster, Mr. Ten Thousand Chopsticks. Why ten thousand? Well, why 8 million Shinto gods? Nobody really knows, and that’s okay. The Kawaii Monster Cafe is unabashedly commercial Harajuku in a nutshell - perfect for an Instagram-friendly era. Epileptics need not apply.
A spiky plastic plant. - image © Florentyna Leow
The Kawaii Monster Cafe really is a cafe first and foremost - at least during the day. Like any other restaurant, you’ll order whatever you want from a menu. The only difference here is that there is a lot of visual overload accompanying your meal. Like half-melted prancing unicorns. Or striped tentacles sprouting from the floor. Or carnivorous, labial-looking plants next to toxic mushrooms. Bright colours every direction you turn.
Fortunately, Japan is very strict about drugs and psychedelics. Entering this space while high and anxious would make for a spectacularly awful trip. Of course, you could probably simulate the same effect after a few cocktails at the cafe.
Mr. Ten Thousand Chopsticks. - image © Florentyna Leow
While you can try your luck and simply turn up for lunch or dinner, there are several reasons to make an advance reservation online. One is that you’ll be guaranteed a table - which is less of an issue on weekday lunches when it’s hardly crowded, but far more useful if you want to go for dinner.
A poster for their ‘Oiran’ night, taking place on Tuesdays. - image © Florentyna Leow
Furthermore, if you want to attend one of the hugely popular themed nights - ranging from burlesque performances on Thursdays to pop culture showcases on Wednesdays - guaranteeing your spot here is the smart thing to do.
Here’s a list of GoVoyagin’s offerings:
- Reservation for Kawaii Monster Cafe
- Reservation for Kawaii Monster Cafe Burlesque (20+ only)
- Reservation for Kawaii Monster Cafe Tokyo Pop Culture Night
- Reservation for Kawaii Monster Cafe Oiran
You can make a reservation only, or you can opt for set menus that come with drinks and dessert. There’s even an all-you-can-drink option. If you want full flexibility over your experience, go for a reservation-only ticket and order as many colourful treats as your heart desires.
On the day of your reservation, just turn up around a few minutes before the appointed time. Have your confirmation email ready on your phone in case they ask to see it. Usually, they will just ask you for your name before crossing it off a list. That’s it!
Another dining space in the cafe. Lips feature heavily. - image © Florentyna Leow
Things to Remember Before You Go
- There’s a cover charge. When you make a reservation, you’ll be charged JPY540, tax-inclusive. This is the cover charge, but once you’ve paid this, you’ll only pay for your food and drinks on the day.
- There’s a minimum order. Everyone has to order at least one drink and one food. It’s all part of the experience.
- Don’t expect too much from the food. While the food at the Kawaii Monster Cafe is surprisingly decent for a place focused primarily on the aesthetics (some might say lack thereof), it’s no gourmet paradise. The food is, accordingly, more expensive than average for what it is. If you’re here for the decor, just have a light drink and dessert, and save your stomach for something better in the neighborhood.
- Bring your cameras! Exploring the cafe and taking photos is highly encouraged. There’s even free WiFi, presumably so you can livestream your experience here. Selfie sticks are not technically allowed, but the staff didn’t seem to mind that there were a few people with (heavily shortened) sticks. Just be considerate of other diners.
Pumpkins for Halloween. - image © Florentyna Leow
Inside the Cafe
The Kawaii Monster Cafe isn’t very big, and it can be explored within a few minutes. The first thing you notice when you walk in is the riot of colours, blinking lights, and patterns, as well as the loud, thumping pop music. Easy on the eyes, it is not. Whether or not it’s a kid-friendly space depends very much on your child’s temperament. Some of the children there were fascinated by all the colors, shapes, and textures; another toddler I saw seemed traumatized by all the visual stimulus. Bring kids here at your own risk.
There are four distinct zones and a centerpiece, which we’ll introduce in turn.
The Sweets-Go-Round. - image © Florentyna Leow
This is exactly what it sounds like: a slowly revolving tiered cake heavy with frosting and studded through with twinkling gems. Why is there a banana? Why a rabbit that looks like it borrowed DNA from Pikachu? Why a melting sheep - or is that a unicorn? Is the top hat a reference to the Mad Hatter? Who knows. Take some photos. If you’re there for one of the themed shows, this is where the performers will be. Sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
Colourful mushrooms. - image © Florentyna Leow
Ingest any of these toxic Fauvist mushrooms for an instantaneous death. Jokes aside, these toadstools tower over individual booths which comfortably seat up to 4 diners.
A pink unicorn drinking from a glowing milk bottle. - image © Florentyna Leow
This is by far the creepiest part of the cafe, with menacing, nightmarish renditions of traditionally cute animals hanging from the ceiling above your booths, drinking from baby milk bottles. I’m hard-pressed to explain exactly why this is so viscerally disturbing, but there you have it - this is kimo-kawaii in a nutshell.
A bar underneath the jellyfish. - image © Florentyna Leow
Slide past and under the glowing jellyfish tentacles into a counter seat in this deep sea world. Watch the bartenders whip up their vivid, creamy, alcoholic cocktails in front of you. It’s an experience bar none.
The Mel-Tea Room. - image © Florentyna Leow
An ultra-cute, pastel-sweet space with a hint of the macabre. Half-melted ice cream cones and stacks of French macarons adorn the walls and ceiling, alongside forks stabbing strawberries and a seductive set of cherry lips. It’s enough sugar to make you wince. One can imagine Kyary Pamyu Pamyu having tea here, with eyeballs flying around her head.
Each bathroom stall is a different colour! - image © Florentyna Leow
Bonus Section: Bathrooms
If you’re hoping for a quiet escape in the bathrooms, think again. It’s just as colourful in there, though oddly tasteful compared to the visual cacophony outside. I can’t speak for the men’s bathroom, but there are several fun details in the women’s bathroom: glittering candy tiles, a mouthwash dispenser next to the sinks, pink toilet paper. They even provide free sanitary napkins if needed during period emergencies - just ask the staff.
A mini-dessert comes with your main and drink, if you order the Standard Menu. - image © Florentyna Leow
Eating at the Kawaii Monster Cafe
Do you remember the live-action Peter Pan sequel Hook, where Robin Williams imagines an entire banquet - and suddenly the table before him is heaving with multicolored dishes that look like they've been sculpted out of Play-Doh? That’s exactly what some of the food here looks like - most of it is fit for a frenzied Fauvist food fight.
A bilingual menu. - image © Florentyna Leow
If you do choose to make a reservation only - which is JPY540 through GoVoyagin - you’ll be free to order from their entire selection of pastel-colored, radioactive-looking cocktails and confections. These have names like "Colorful Poison Cake (Chemical)" and "Colorful Poison Parfet (Extreme!)" However, if you choose one of the set menus, you’ll have a limited number of options to choose from.
The set menu. - image © Florentyna Leow
The JPY3,000 Standard Menu, for instance, allows you to choose a main and a drink. A small dessert is included.
The Fruity Heavenly drink. - image © Florentyna Leow
Visually speaking, a drink in a mason jug and striped straw is about as hipster as you can get. The Fruity Heavenly is otherwise unremarkable, consisting as it does of soda water filled with sliced fruits. It is probably the most vibrant option in this cafe that’s won't give you a head-throbbing sugar rush right after the first sip.
Teriyaki chicken rice bowl. - image © Florentyna Leow
Their teriyaki chicken bowl makes for a surprisingly decent lunch. It’s difficult to go wrong with a rice bowl like this. If you really need a culinary ‘gram at the Kawaii Monster Cafe, order the ‘colorful rainbow pasta.’
A small scoop of soft serve ice cream scattered with rainbow sprinkles, pictured above, rounds off your meal. It is fittingly milky and sugary and tasted a little sickly. You may like it much better than I did.
Half-melted ice cream cones in the Mel-Tea Room zone. - image © Florentyna Leow
Is it worth it?
This place isn’t representative of Japan or Japanese culture, but it is indicative of a particular aesthetic in Harajuku - one that is, in its own way, very ‘Japanese.’ It’s an interesting insight into the ‘guro-kawaii’ or ‘kimo-kawaii’ (grotesque-cute or disgusting-cute) aesthetics popularized by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and enjoyable when taken for what it is. Most Japanese patrons find it as fascinating and trippy as tourists do.
Whether this place is worth your time depends on how much you like these kinds of spaces. It’s not about the food, but it sure is about the photos. If you do want to visit the Kawaii Monster Cafe, it may be worth visiting on one of their themed nights to maximize the fun, psychedelic experience.
Take the escalator up at YM Square. - image © Florentyna Leow
How to Get There
Take Exit 5 at Meijijingumae-Harajuku Station. Once you’re above ground, walk towards the main crossing. Laforet will be on your left, the mirrored entrance of Tokyu Plaza across the street). Cross the road and turn left at Tokyu Plaza. In a minute or two, you’ll reach YM Square. There’s a crepe stand on the ground floor facing the road, which makes this building easy to identify. Take the escalators to the 4th floor. The Kawaii Monster Cafe will be right in front of you when you alight from the escalators.
Kawaii Monster Cafe HARAJUKU
4F YM Square, 4-31-10, Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 〒150-0001
渋谷区神宮前4丁目31‐10 YMスクエア 4F
Mon-Sat: 11:30am - 4:30pm (L.O. 4:00pm), 6:00pm - 10:30pm (L.O. 10:00pm)
Sun: 11:00am - 8:00pm (L.O. 7:30pm)
Reservations with GoVoyagin recommended.
Subway: 3-minute walk from Exit 5 of Meijijingumae-Harajuku Station on the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin and Chiyoda Lines. Or, a 6-minute walk from Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line.
Near To Here:
Kawaii Monster Cafe is located in Tokyo's Harajuku And Aoyama district. See our complete list of things to do in Tokyo's Harajuku And Aoyama district, including places to eat, nightlife and places to stay.
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