This past weekend Mark and Cy set out for their boys’ ski weekend. That meant a second girls’ weekend in a row for Tessa and me! We haven’t ventured into Tokyo as much as I’d like, so I planned an outing to some pop culture sites in the Harajuku and Shibuya neighborhoods.
Our first stop was the Kawaii Monster Cafe, one of the many theme restaurants scattered around Tokyo. The cafe’s decor looks straight out of Willy Wonka: bright colors, bubbly shapes, and wacky elements like giant lips and cows drinking from baby bottles. The menu continues the colorful theme with an eye-popping amount of food coloring in most of the dishes. I told Tessa about the food coloring and she was not too thrilled about the prospect.
Tessa: “Remember the last time I ate red velvet cake, and for days….”
Me, cutting her off: “OK! No need to get too scatological.”
I almost ate there several months ago on a site seeing trip with a group of moms from the school. I heard about the heavy-handed use of food coloring and felt somewhat ambivalent about eating there. If the group wanted to eat there then I would too, just for the experience. Several of the other group members saw the menu and immediately declared, “Absolutely not”–so we ate elsewhere. I wasn’t too sad about missing out that first time. I suspected that Monster Cafe was the kind of place I’d only visit once or twice, and I’d rather go there with a child to rack up some Cool Mom points.
So back to our visit! You can’t have a Monster Cafe without monsters, and there were several bopping around. I wouldn’t call their appearance particularly monster-like, but they definitely had some major colors going on. They also put on periodic Monster Shows which consisted of little more than striking poses on a rotating psychedelic merry go round.
For dinner we steered clear of the food colored offerings and opted for a mixed grill instead. A gift-wrapped bundle of paper held a mixture of meats and veggies cooked in teriyaki sauce. It was overpriced and unremarkable–but good enough. Tessa enjoyed it and ate well.
We decided to skip the rainbow colored desserts at Monster Cafe and hit one of our new favorites instead: a crepe shop on the street. Tessa considered the many crepe options but went for bubble tea.
After dinner we started roaming Takeshita Dori, the main drag of the Harajuku shopping district. Harajuku culture started during the post-WWII occupation of Japan by American forces, when Harajuku was populated by Americans and the shops that catered to them. Curious Japanese teens started shopping there as well, and various styles of Japanese street fashion took off. We found a cute dress for Tessa and a sweater for me on the sale racks in one of the shops, a nice memento of our visit.
After Harajuku we made one more stop before heading home: Shibuya Crossing. Shibuya Crossing is a scramble intersection, where pedestrians in all directions cross at once. It’s often described as the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing, with as many as 2500 people crossing at each light change. Here’s a quick video of our visit. The best views are from above, but we started to lose steam and stayed at street level. Maybe on a future visit we’ll venture up!
We also checked in at the Hachiko statue, a popular spot for meeting friends. The statue memorializes a dog who met his owner at Shibuya station every afternoon as he (the owner, not the dog) returned home from work. Hachiko continued this vigil for nine years after the owner passed away. Japanese schoolchildren learn the story and there have been several movies made, including an American version starring Richard Gere. It’s on Netflix and a great choice if you feel like sobbing ugly, gulping tears for two hours straight!