Only in Japan: gaming restaurants for all your nerdy appetites

Have you ever found yourself wondering what that cute little ball of pink called Kirby tastes like? As delicious and sweet as you might’ve hoped apparently.

Yoga flame!” bellowed the waitress as she struck him with an invisible fireball. His attempt at recreating a slow-motion death cry made for awkward viewing, save for the 8-bit game soundtrack in the background.

Over a PA system, the manager then peppered the bizarre scene with a victory declaration in rapid-fire Japanese.

Enamoured locals held back nothing in praise, as the Western ‘Otaku’ (video game culture fetishists) struggled to process the last sixty seconds.

One such Otaku, video game blogger ‘SuperBunnyHop’ said: “At any given time these dweeby-looking waiters will suddenly switch on video game mode and go ham with it, it’s ridiculous.”

Herein lies a growing side of Tokyo’s dining scene – video game themed restaurants that take the notion of fandom quite seriously. Too seriously.

This is the Capcom Bar, where menu choices are element based ‘powers’, and drinks come in alcohol-laced syringes with a ‘T-Virus’ inscription.

Brain_Cake_-_Capcom_Bar
Don’t act like you wouldn’t try it

For the more conventionally minded there’s always ‘Dragon Fire Nachos’. Or maybe you’d prefer an old-fashioned moisture-activated LED in your ‘Demon Juice’?

Prices are roughly 5,000 Yen per meal, which is a lot for a city that typically charges only 500 Yen for lunch downtown – approximately 3.50 euro.

Contrasting the mostly positive reviews on Tripadvisor, SuperBunnyHop wrote it off as a gimmick: “They put an emphasis on the looks of the food rather than how it tastes.”

Collaborative consumerism

Themed restaurants are nothing new, but the Japanese sensationalism behind the niche is unique.

‘Seisaku iinkai’ , or production committees, are a regular feature of Japanese business collaboration for the purposes of promotion, risk sharing, and mutual profit. Companies split the rights to produce anime, manga, toys, video games, or whatever their trade is.

The fuel is the infamous ‘kawaii’ aesthetic – Japan’s obsession with all things cute and colourful – and comprehensive publicity is the result.

A natural ally in this marketing tsunami is the insane merchandising that plagues the gift shops.

If you can recall the dumbest piece of plastic that ever fell out of your Christmas cracker, these guys have thought of it and slapped a camp-looking manga face with purple lightning bolts on it.

Plastic zombie-themed candles, every stuffed everything you can imagine, and even a Pikachu shoe horn lives here. “Gotta catch ‘em all?”

But now cuteness capitalism has taken to an even more lucrative avenue: pop-up restaurants.

The marketing principle here is to create artificial demand by constantly reminding people that the venue is “Closing soon! Don’t miss out!”

KirbyCafe3_thumb
Forget mindfulness and CBT, shameless marketing is the path to inner peace

Queues from the A.M book out ‘The Kirby Café’ to devour traditional Hyoshi rice dishes with Nintendo characters’ faces on top, served with star shaped cucumbers, and ‘Dream Fountain Sparkling Cocktails’.

Engadget writer Matt Smith wrote: “The Kirby pancakes were the highlight of my visit. A substantial layer of cream, flavoured and coloured with raspberry puree, laid on top of two thick, fluffy pancakes, decorated with raspberry sauce and berries.”

Locals might deride those gullible gaijin (‘outsiders’) on their Japan pilgrimage, but one can see the off-beat appeal. Nerd Mecca’s coffers await her faithful Otaku in earnest.

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