In the most recent chapter of “only in Japan,” the Kawaii Monster Café (KMC) has become the latest themed joint to land in Harajuku-town.
Text and pictures by Natalie Jacobsen
KMC opened its jaws in late 2015, becoming an instant hit in trending food and dreamy eateries. The restaurant is ready to transport people off of the drab sidewalks and crowded, smoky izakayas and into the magical “heart” of Harajuku fashion. Desperate to capture and bring to life the “kawaii culture” rampant in more youthful Tokyo streets, KMC won’t disappoint those who are prepared for, and expect, over-the-top cuteness.
For those woefully unprepared for the emotional turmoil, KMC is likely to be an outright nightmare: if you hold any reservations against or disdain for Takeshita-dori altogether, or bubble-gum characters, pastel colors, or a pseudo psychedelic experience, keep on walking right by.
In its defense, KMC has a lot going for it. Finding out that it was designed last year by Japan’s currently most exuberant pop idol, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a lot of the artistic direction choices make sense. The electronic music that blares in the background, the giant rotating cake, melting ice cream cones on the ceiling, oversized red lips on the walls, and rainbow-tiled bathroom align to her personality nicely. Partnered with Shinjuku’s tourist-favorite Robot Restaurant, the KMC complements visitors’ brief whirlwind trips through the city, feeding into the image many living abroad hold of Tokyo.
Climbing the stairs to the fourth floor of YM Square Building, directly across from La Foret, guests are welcomed by a wide, purple-mouthed monster, baring teeth over the doorway. Stepping inside, the flashes of spinning lights, merry-go-round of cherries and ponies, cupcake booths, and swirling floors are enough to make anyone’s eyes bug out. A staff member, dressed like they’re a middle schooler at a Perfume concert, takes you to a teacup seat and hands you a cake-framed iPad menu.
Every hour a short, interactive show is held. Staff dance on the merry-go-round cake, riding the ponies to a much-louder techno song. They encourage audiences to clap along, though half-heartedly. Two “stars” of the show, dressed in rainbow furs and fishnet tights, pull a select few on stage. Staying true to Japan, a photo-op comes at the end. Yet, it’s clear some guests would’ve preferred to have been allowed to stay at their seats and keep eating, skipping the performance altogether.
Ultimately, the biggest – and perhaps only – flaw is the lack of absolute dedication of the staff. At the Robot Restaurant, the staff and performers have thrown themselves into the production, bringing audiences to their feet while owning their roles. Those at KMC have yet to fully accept their positions, lacking confidence in seizing this chance to be their own animated, and larger-than-life character. They’re budding, but haven’t blossomed, keeping guests feeling more reserved than they should feel inside something as other-worldly as KMC.
It’s likely that Kawaii Monster Café will be around for a long time, thanks to the spike in tourism and driving interest on taking crash courses in all things Tokyo. Whether or not locals will decide to frequent the café to fill out the point cards needed for a dessert coupon, though, remains to be seen.