One of the questions a lot of people ask me when they find out I’m in Tokyo is “Where is the AKB48 Cafe?”. This cafe which just opened in 2011 is an officially endorsed theme cafe based around the hugely popular (in Asia anyway) girl band, AKB48 which is named after the area in which they perform on a daily basis, Akihabara and consists of 64 girls aged between their teens and early twenties.
AKB48 is an absolute phenomenon in Japan and has broken all sorts of sales records since their debut. While they’re popular with young Japanese girls they’re also largely marketed towards mature aged men with some rather controversial campaigns such as this one where male fans get to make virtual babies with them.
This combination of cuteness and sexuality has earned them some fans among Japanophiles in the West though most people seem to see them as an example of a part of the country’s culture that stands in sharp contrast to the more traditional green tea, temples and shrines that Japan is known for yet at the same time still being equally “Japanese”.
This embodiment of “Modern Day Japan” is what makes the AKB48 Cafe & Shop such a popular tourist destination for people visiting Tokyo as it gives people an opportunity to see some of the quirkiness that fans hear about back home.
On my trip to Akihabara I had actually been planning to write an article on the new Gundam Cafe (based on the popular anime series) and had been looking forward to it for a while. Unfortunately, the moment I entered the cafe I saw that it had a smoking section (which basically makes the entire place smoking) so was forced to leave. I have a very strict 100% smoke free policy for the cafes I write about for 25 Cafes and just couldn’t make an exception no matter how interesting the Gundam Cafe looked.
Luckily the AKB48 Cafe & Shop was literally right next door and was a 100% no smoking cafe so they gained a customer and the Gundam Cafe lost one.
Being an adult male I initially felt a bit self-conscious walking into a cafe based on a girl group and staffed by young waitresses dressed very much to appeal to their mature aged male fans. Imagine my surprise though when I was welcomed by a super relaxed waitress who casually welcomed me at the door and directed me to a free seat. She handed me an English & Japanese menu and gave me all the time I needed to choose what I wanted. While she didn’t speak any English she tried her best to explain how the drink bar and dessert sets worked.
Normally in Tokyo, waitresses fall over themselves trying to be as over the top polite as they can be but the whole atmosphere here was actually quite Western and chilled and I realised that even the way the waitresses were talking to each other while away from customers was quite casual. Still professional but just not that super politeness that you see in most other businesses. It was really refreshing.
Something else that surprised me was the diversity in the other customers. There were the occasional middle aged hard core male fans but there were also a lot of business women who had come for their lunch break, young couples on dates and even small groups of guys just catching up over a coffee. It really was eye opening seeing how diverse AKB48′s fans are though of course maybe they weren’t fans and were simply looking for a smoke free cafe in Tokyo.
I ordered a loco moco (Hawaiian dish which features a beef patty on rice with a poached egg) which wasn’t bad at all as well as a chocolate roll cake (with a candy sakura/cherry blossom petal on top!) and a coffee which came as part of the drink bar which gives you unlimited refills of your chosen beverage.
All of the food was served very quickly (literally within a few minutes of ordering) and was priced quite reasonably with the whole lot costing around 1500 yen.
The entire place was very clean and professional with a cool retro 1950s-60s vibe and a heavy dose of AKB48 member autographs on almost everything with several large tvs showing footage from their many concerts and specials. The whole look is really fun and that fun carries over… into the toilets.
I’m sure you’ve heard about those talking Japanese toilets, well the AKB48 Cafe & Shop has taken it a step further with members of the group recording messages for you that play once activated by a motion sensor… in the toilet cubicle.
Now you too can play a rock, scissor, paper game while on the toilet then hide your activities with a Japanese “Here we go!” recording followed by a waterfall sound effect!
Back outside in the cafe, while the music was playing very loudly (think university dorm level) it was still quite relaxing. Having said that I’m not sure if I’d come here to read a book or study though I would recommend it if you’re in the area and definitely if you’re visiting Tokyo and want to experience some of the quirky modern Japan that is becoming more well know abroad.
To say I wasn’t a fan of AKB48 before I came here would be a big understatement but after spending an hour here I definitely see the group’s members and their fans in a whole new light. It really surprised me.
Train Line: Keihin Tohoku, Yamanote, Chuo, Sobu, Hibiya Lines and Tsukuba Express.
Features: 100% smoke free
Menu Language: Japanese and English
Address: 〒101-0028 東京都千代田区神田花岡町1-1
1-1 Kanda, Hanaokacho, Chiyoda Ku, Tokyo 101-0028
Map: View on GoogleMaps
Directions: Due to the complex layout of Akihabara Station, the AKB48 Cafe & Shop can be very difficult to find depending on what train line you arrive on. The absolute easiest way is to find your way to the main JR Station Electric Town Exit regardless of where you come from. Once here, head out of the right side of the station and you should see the cafe immediately next to the station.