When I think of the businesses hit hard by COVID, my mind tends to go to a few of the obvious places: small businesses, the performing arts, the travel industry. Then there are the niche businesses. In Tokyo there are quite a few, and since 2020 many have closed, some temporarily, some for good, most due to the lack of the tourists and visitors they cater to.
Today adds one more place to the list of casualties as the doors close on one of the most iconic restaurants within Harajuku: The Kawaii Monster Cafe.
photo via matadornetwork.com
Opened in 2015 and established by Sebastian Masuda, The Kawaii Monster Cafe centered around the concept of Tokyo as a monster, swallowing every new trend in its path, always expanding and creating a “new Tokyo that no one has seen”. In other words, once you step through the doors you enter the literal candy land filled belly of the beast-a super cute or "kawaii" fuzzy purple beast named Choppy.
It was loud, it was overwhelming, and it was the most fun. The stomach was divided into several different areas (or rooms), each with opposing yet exciting designs.
In the center you'd find the Sweets-go-Round-which is exactly what you think it would be. During the pre-COVID days, you would see the Monster Girls dance and pose on it, sometimes with Chompy, often with children, but on Thursday nights it would become adults only and the dancing would become a burlesque show! I'm sorry to say I missed out on this one.
Behold the Mushroom Disco-a nod to the psychedelic trip that is Alice in Wonderland.
Beside it was the Milk Stand, a reflective and strange little corner with animal heads hooked to baby bottles.
In yet another area was the Mel-Tea Room, a room with a much more playful, light feel. It was super cute with its cupcake theme! Seated in cakes and teacups, you could enjoy your food and drinks while ice cream dripped down the walls.
The final area was called Bar Experiment, which was, well, a bar connected to the DJ booth. It was hidden behind the giant tentacles of a glowing neon jellyfish. It was the absolute coolest area, another surreal space, and perfect for trying some of the cocktails (though I took mine at the table while I was eating).
Part of the whole experience at Kawaii Monster Cafe wasn't for the literal eye candy, though. It was for the crazy food and drinks. As you might imagine, they were intended to be whimsical and wild-just what any Tokyo monster (and visitor) would want to eat.
Any guesses as to what this is?
It's black curry with colorful rice, cheese sauce, and quail eggs! The colors were so vibrant-just like the cake and parfait. The cocktail, on the other hand, was actually pretty tame with a playful mixing of fruit and veggie juices.
But no trip would be complete with out a hammed up picture with our masked-up hostesses.
I was being...kawaii? Truthfully, I don't know, I just did what I was asked. It was a fun moment, but a bittersweet one. I went intentionally on a weekday since it wouldn't be busy, and point of fact there were only two other people there-a mother with her young daughter celebrating her birthday, on the complete opposite side of the restaurant.
It's the end of an era for one of Tokyo's most famous (or infamous) locations, and I'm thankful I was able to go one last time. Special thanks to all who made it so special, and apologies to my Facebook friends who commented that they wanted to go. My hope is that once the pandemic ends it will re-open!