In December 2020, Harajuku’s iconic Kawaii Monster Cafe announced its closure at the end of January 2021. It would be another pandemic loss to the alternative fashion scene in Harajuku. We visited it for the first and last time to say goodbye.
The Kawaii Monster Cafe was legendary. It was a popular vacation destination for lovers of Japanese fashion and art. Kawaii Monster Cafe is the product of Sebastian Masuda of 6%DOKIDOKI and popular restaurant holdings group DD Holdings which owns other popular themed cafes such as the Alice in Wonderland cafes (Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Osaka), both vampire cafes (Christon Cafe and Vampire Cafe), a pirate themed restaurant, and many many more other themed and regular restaurants.
Kawaii Monster Cafe was the product of the international explosion of kawaii culture and the desire to export and exploit the kawaii boom that hit the mainstream after Kyary Pyamu Pyamu’s popularity peaked. Though oddly enough, it first opened in 2015 when kawaii subcultures were declining domestically. The cafe was obviously marketed towards foreign tourists. After almost a year without any inbound tourists due to travel restrictions, it is not surprising to see the cafe closing its doors.
At the time of the announcement, I lived in Japan for 5 years and never had more than a fleeting interest in visiting this cafe. It’s not that I don’t love themed cafes; I do. I love themed cafes, normal cafes, pop-up cafes, all of them. For several reasons, I never had any personal interest in visiting Kawaii Monster Cafe. I heard things like the food wasn’t too great, there was a cover charge on top of already expensive food, the performances were awkward, the list goes on and on. When I heard it was closing, I immediately thought that I have to go actually experience it myself before it’s gone.
With all of this in mind, I masked up and went with a friend on a slow weekday to pay my respects.
Sebastian Masuda produced the Kawaii Monster Cafe and his artistic values really show in the design. The cafe was located on the fourth floor of the building and immediately walking inside, an explosion of colors welcomes visitors in. The concept of kawaii monster combines cute elements with somewhat grotesque themes. At the entrance to the restaurant, you were told that you were entering the stomach of Kawaii Monster Cafe’s mascot, Chompy. The cafe interior consisted of several different themed sections. Some rooms were decorated with bright neon colors, some were cuter, and some were just weird (in the artistic sense, of course).
Most of the decorations were made out of amusement park-like material with vibrant colors and unique designs. In order to keep guests socially distanced, the cafe sat everyone in the only section that had high walled booths. There were rules about sitting in other sections you weren’t assigned to in order to make sure you weren’t disturbing other guests, but photography and video were permitted in all sections.
They also made a point of saying that while you were walking around taking pictures, you would need to keep your mask on. I really appreciated the rules and efforts to make the trip enjoyable and safe.
As I anticipated, the lighting made it a little difficult to take photos. The cafe was actually rather huge. I can’t imagine what it was like during peak hours.
I wish I could comment on the music, but thankfully whatever music they were playing fit in with the atmosphere well enough that it was not distracting enough for me to notice. For me, when I am at a restaurant with a friend I think it’s important to be able to listen to them.
The staff were extremely friendly. I am not sure if it was social distancing protocols or if there was a change in how they operate, but we had heard that during your visit the “Kawaii Monster Girls” would come out and dance on the cake, while encouraging you to join them. To me, this sounded like a bit of a nightmare. I’m not sure if they might have moved the performance to their night time cafe or removed this concept all together. Either way, it made me happy to not worry about being pressured into dancing for strangers.
We actually only saw one of the Monster Girls while we were there. Everyone else was just normal staff. They were very nice and extremely helpful. My friend is a vegetarian and when we asked about vegetarian options, they told us what menu items were vegetarian and what could be made vegetarian.
One of the complaints we heard from previous visitors was that the food was overpriced and did not taste good. We had both heard that from two completely unrelated sources, but both had visited in the cafe’s early days.
Since they were closing, they only had their ARIGATO MENU, a menu served for the final month of operation. The most shocking thing for the both us was how fine the food tasted.
Classic Kawaii Monster Cafe Colorful Rainbow Pasta
My friend ordered a vegetarian Colorful Rainbow Pasta and a strawberry coffee shake. The Colorful Rainbow Pasta is one of their signature dishes that has been on their menu since the cafe’s beginning. The dish was a peperoncino pasta consisting of a mix of multi-colored pasta strands accompanied by different colored sauces.
Since my friend is vegetarian, they did not give her all of the different colorful sauce swipes. In Japan, sometimes the meanings of vegetarian and vegan get confused, so I don’t think they realized she could eat them. The cafe also removed the bacon.
Chocolate Banana Shake
The chocolate banana shake is self explanatory. The shake was pretty good, but it had a slight artificial banana flavor to it and not a lot of chocolate in the shake. It was also topped with half of a chocolate covered banana on it which is generous!
Colorful Pop Burger
The Colorful Pop Burger was, as I would describe it, fine. It’s a hamburger made to resemble a frog with a side of mix of french fries and waffle fries. The bread was a little stale, but it was also green and sometimes food coloring does weird stuff to food. The frog shape was really cute and I had been really worried that it would be difficult to eat. No problems encountered while consuming the burger and it tasted fine.
For some reason, there were unseasoned tapioca pearls on the french fries. I think they were supposed to be flies that the frog was eating. It was a somewhat questionable food design choice, but definitely fit the monster vibes. When’s the last time you saw a burger with a face?
Classic Kawaii Monster Cafe Colorful Poison Parfait Extreme!
Another one of their signature dishes, the Colorful Poison Parfait Extreme! was something truly special. Some would agree with the namesake and call it extreme. Just looking at it, you could already feel the sugar rush incoming. I understand why it costed 2,400 yen because it was definitely made for two people to eat.
On the very top, there were four different mini scoops of ice cream in strawberry, mint chocolate, orange, and vanilla flavors. Behind the big strawberry scoop, there was a piece of cake that was like a rolled cheesecake.
The most shocking thing was that the whipped creams around the side were all different flavors. From right to left they were raspberry (red), grape (purple), blue Hawaiian (blue), ??? (green), orange (orange), and strawberry (red).
The toppings sat on a layer of cornflakes. Under the cornflakes, there was a creamy vanilla custard with fresh strawberries and kiwi slices. The bottom layer was a raspberry puree.
The parfait was by far the best thing we ordered. It had so many different flavors and its design was truly unique. I wish I could have tried more food because the dessert was so interesting. In terms of food, I think that the wildness of the parfait really speaks to what you’d expect from a kawaii monster experience. It was totally worth the price.
As I mentioned before, the cafe, like many other themed cafes in Japan, is known for being expensive. We each had to pay a 500 yen cover charge, buy a drink, and buy a meal. All in all, we spent about 4,100 yen a person. We both agreed that it was fair and not actually that expensive for the whole experience. My friend and I both spend a lot time in themed cafes, so we already expected this kind of pricing. For reference, when I previously visited the Pokemon Cafe near Tokyo, my meal (drink, food, and dessert) was just above 4,100 yen. I think by having a cover charge and a food and drink requirement, it made the cafe feel more expensive.
Certainly if you go to a normal cafe you can get many of these things for a much cheaper price, but with none of the quirky design. I think the Colorful Poison Parfait Extreme! was the most unique tasting item and the one that was something you can’t find elsewhere.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Like many tourist destinations, when you finish eating, you exit through the gift shop. The gift shop also blasted a colorful experience to the senses. The room contained purple and green walls and weird monsters.
Because the cafe was due to close in about a week, everything in the gift shop was 50% off! I did not buy anything, but my friend got some of their Kawaii Monster x Hello Kitty collaboration stickers.
After you left the gift shop, one last image of Chompy thanked you for your visit.
As I stated before, Kawaii Monster Cafe closing its doors is not a surprise, but I feel a bittersweet sadness about it. In a way, while it was a tourist trap at best, its closure shows how little interest there is in the vibrant kawaii culture of the Heisei era. It was another “weird Japan” landmark, but in a way it was a mausoleum to the past. The decorations were a little dusty, but in the end we were shocked at how much we enjoyed our visit.
Why were our expectations so low? We both had completely unrelated friends in unrelated groups who visited the cafe when it first opened and said it was not a good experience. Why did our friends not enjoy their experiences? Well, that one I can’t answer. I assumed that a part of it was that they all went when the cafe had first opened and the issues were still being worked out. It seems like they’ve made a lot of improvements since our friends initially visited.
My biggest takeaway is that I should not judge cafes based on other people’s experiences. Maybe I should give all those other cafes and restaurants I’ve heard bad reviews for a try for myself. I’m looking at you Gundam Cafe.
Kawaii Monster Cafe officially closed its doors on January 31, 2021. Here’s to you Kawaii Monster Cafe, you sure were something. While the cafe is closed now, Sebastian Masuda hinted that it’s not the end of the project.
If you’d like to relive the memories or experience the FOMO, the cafe’s social media channels are still online (for now). The website went offline in April, but can still be seen through Wayback Machine. Leftover gift shop items are available for purchase on 6%DOKIDOKI’s webshop.