Tokyo's Themed Cafes for Geeks
If there are images that come to mind only when a geek thinks of Tokyo, they might be Akihabara, Comiket, life-sized Gundams and themed cafes. Japan and especially Tokyo is full of these themed restaurants, ranging from simple coffee shops to full course meal restaurants. What kind of themes are there? There are princess cafes, with the most princessy décor you could ever imagine, and prison themed restaurants, where you dine in a jail cell. Even those of us geeks have a wide selection of guilty pleasures in the many anime, manga and video game themed cafes.
Maid cafes, while not precisely based upon an anime, are a apparently a quintessential element to Japan's otaku culture, and though they can be found all over Tokyo, they are especially prevalent in the geek-central Akihabara district. Rain or shine, girls dressed in maids are scattered along the streets, jumping, shrieking, and posing while they try to get their cafe's fliers in the hands of potential patrons. It seems to be a competitive industry, with outfits differing in color, style and cat ears, some cute and conservative, others more revealing. At the cafe, the maids delight in calling customers "Master" or "Mistress", turning kawaii (cute) into an art form. They draw kittens in your coffee and happy faces on your cake, they chant a prayer to make the food taste better, and for a fee you might be able to play a game or take a picture with the maid of your choice. Not into maids, or girls, for that matter? No problem! Japan also has butler cafes, the male version of the establishment with (probably) less cute giggling and more suave and gentlemanly etiquette. Though not as prevalent as its female equivalent, they aren't rare, either.
I attended the Biohazard Bar and Grill, Biohazard of course being the Japanese name for the famous Resident Evil zombie-shooting game series. It is a fairly new and limited-time establishment in the Shibuya district apparently meant to promote the newest game installment, and had already been renovated once, according to a friend who went just months before I did, to cut the scantily clad waitresses dancing to Spice Girls (thank God for that). This one was well decorated, with posters and "weapons" along the walls, and a case with a monster in the middle of the dining area. The waitresses dressed as S.T.A.R.S. members, complete with hats and guns, and the menu stayed true to the theme with monster type dishes and drinks "inspired by" the characters. Halfway through our meal, the lights went out and the waitresses told everyone there was an emergency, and the encased monster was attacking. We were all handed guns and told to shoot at the monster until we "won." Sure to delight gamers all around!
Another new cafe is Artnia, the Square Enix cafe (video). This one is in Shinjuku, appropriately next to the actual Square Enix headquarters, and proudly features Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest merchandise. Though small, this one has a more modern and classy atmosphere, and is divided into three parts: one, a cafe area, two, merchandise to buy, and three, a museum like "showroom" with figurines displayed in glass cases. The showroom also features a "Materia fountain" centerpiece from the world famous game Final Fantasy VII. This cafe seems to have replaced the old Square Enix shop, which was also in Shinjuku, and features the newest gear. The actual cafe menu is less themed than the Resident Evil cafe, but does have some gems as alcoholic beverages named after Final Fantasy VII items and "Summons", such as Materia drinks, Shiva, Ifrit, Elixirs, and Potions. There are also moogle themed desserts, and my personal favorites, ice cream parfaits inspired by the characters Cloud Strife and Aeris Gainsborough (Cloud is chocolate, Aeris is strawberry.) Fans of the seventh installment will be overjoyed, but there are not any items that reference any other game.
There are many more anime and video game themed cafes, though it should be noted not all of them exist for a very long time. They are often run only for a year or so as a promotional activity, but there are certainly some that endure the test of time. If you go to Tokyo, hitting them all can be a fun but tiring experience, so if you find yourself in need of a break, why not find one of the numerous cat cafes all around Tokyo?
Cat cafes are just as you might imagine, unless you're imagining eating cats, because no, they don't do that in Japan. You have to pay a small fee to enter the cafe, where you can play, feed or snuggle with the resident cats. It is a cat paradise, full of toys, hiding spots, and places to climb, and it's not too bad for people, either - you can order tea or coffee, sit on couches and even read books or manga in the small library that many feature. It is not uncommon to see people snoozing on the couches or floor (and the staff don't mind this, either, you pay when you leave and you're charged by the hour!) In Tokyo, many apartments don't allow pets, so for Japanese people this is the perfect establishment to get their feline fix without angering their landlords.
Be sure to research whatever it is that strikes your fancy before your trip to Japan, because chances are, there just might be a cafe for it!