What It's Like Inside Tokyo's Wildly Popular Bizarre-Themed Cafes

From princesses to robot wars, Tokyo's weird dining experience is like no other.

ByABC News
January 16, 2015, 12:57 PM

— -- For those seeking a truly bizarre dining experience, Tokyo is calling.

Several hundred wildly popular themed cafes have cropped up around Japan, catering to just about any fantasy you can imagine. There are the now-famous cat cafés, like Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California, as well as in Los Angeles and New York, but there are also vampire cafés, Disco Jesus cafés, even bondage cafés and a sexy cabaret robot dance party café -- just to name a few.

“There are bunny cafés, dog cafés,” said fashion and travel blogger La Carmina. “I went to the owl café pretty recently where you can pet owls and have them sit on your head.”

“Do you want to be a princess? Then go to the princess café,” she continued. “Do you want to pretend you're in jail being attacked by monsters? Well, there's a café for you.”

La Carmina literally wrote the book on Japan’s weirdest theme cafés, titled “Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo.” In it, she chronicles her journey through the country's bounty of strange cafes.

“To me it's where you get immersed in the fantasy experience,” she said. “You get to escape your humdrum life.”

There’s nothing humdrum about a Tokyo neighborhood locals call “Electric Town,” where the theme café first started. It's a haven for gamers and anime lovers and home to the country's very first theme cafe, where giggly young women dress as French maids and perform magic tricks over syrupy sweet food.

But make no mistake, this is not a children’s restaurant. When "Nightline" visited one of the city's many maid cafes recently, we found several grown men in suits who seemed to be enjoying themselves a little too much.

However, La Carmina, the theme cafe expert, said “nothing seedy” happens at maid cafés.

“A lot of the people who go to maid cafés, they grew up in the anime and manga-culture, where you have characters wearing French maid outfits,” she said. “You see these cute girls wearing these outfits and the maid café is sort of the setting come to life.”

One of the male patrons, a German student studying abroad, said he wasn’t “into this stuff,” that it was “cuteness overload.” La Carmina said there’s a word to describe those overwhelming feelings. “Moay,” she said. “That's a term that you'll often see in Japanese anime where when a guy has a crush on this girl, you can see the hearts coming out of his eyes. It's, you know, from anime, and that's moay.”

It can be a bizarre experience, and the cafés only get weirder.

On the other side of the city, another popular theme café called The Robot Restaurant puts on what it claims is the weirdest show on earth. But nothing can adequately prepare someone for the utterly surreal, cacophonous, psychedelic cabaret, complete with Christmas bunny strippers, fem-bots and sci-fi robot war.

The mind behind it all is a former dancer who said she designed the show, with its non-existent plot and scantily clad female cast to cater to middle-aged salary men who want to relive a greatest hits of all their boyhood fantasies: robots, war and sex.

And why not? Several Tokyo-inspired themed dining haunts are already thriving in the United States. Besides the cat cafes, there's a maid cafe in New York and even a cuddle cafe in Portland where patrons can pay to be spooned by actual, certified cuddlers. With all this early success, maybe Americans are finally ready for the full-throttle wonder of Tokyo's weirdest themed dining experiences.Your text to link...