Maybe you’re familiar with the popular video game and anime franchise Yokai Watch. It’s a series that combines the addictive qualities of Pokemon with the traditional ghostly lore of Japanese yokai monster stories.
But maybe you didn’t realize the “real OG,” if you will, when it comes to cutesy renditions of traditional Japanese ghosts is the manga and anime franchise GeGeGe no Kitaro. Going strong since the 1960s, Kitaro is a beloved series in Japan that tells the tale of a ghostly boy fighting for peace between humans and ghouls, like a Japanese ghost-flavored X-Men.
The series is especially cherished in the author’s hometown in Tottori, but Kitaro mania extends as far as Tokyo proper, where a Kitaro-themed cafe exists. Of course, our ghost-obsessed Japanese writer felt compelled to make a pilgrimage recently.
The cafe in question is located in Tokyo’s Chofu area, a suburb best known for its soccer stadium. Kitaro Chaya – lit. Kitaro Cafe – is done up to look like a traditional Japanese home, the likes of which are often the setting for various Japanese ghost stories.
Fittingly, most of the dishes served at Kitaro Chaya recall major characters and themes from the beloved yokai manga. The most popular of the dishes, according to our Japanese writer, is the Ittan Momen Chaya Sundae – an ice cream parfait packed with a Kitaro-printed cookie and a sliver of gelatin with red eyes that resembles the series’ Ittan Momen character.
Next up for our reporter was the Kabe au Lait Jelly, a coffee gelatin dessert with ice cream. The name might strike some as confusing, at first – surely they mean cafe au lait, right? But it turns out the coffee gelatin cubes are meant to resemble the not-at-all-fearsome yokai Nuri Kabe. This monster is literally a ghostly wall that blocks the path of hapless travelers, although the bumbling creature will apparently yield the way for in-the-know yokai enthusiasts when they tap on the bottom left side of the apparition.
The GeGeGe Latte kind of speaks for itself: a rich, milky latte topped with latte art of the series protagonist, Kitaro.
Another dish – a matcha latte – resembles the hot bath the series protagonists’ ghoul father bathes in. The character, you see, is a tiny, anthropomorphized eyeball that tends to hang out in tea cups. Fittingly, the tea comes with a manju cake shaped like the character, with an accompanying manju shaped like another of the series’ characters.
Our reporter’s highest recommendation came in the form of the Nuri Kabe Miso Oden, a savory gelatin on a stick shaped like the stylized nuri kabe that appears in the manga series. The sticks appear to come with a sweet chili sauce on the side for dipping. Foreigners may have a hard time swallowing the chewy, gelatinous konyaku – made from the molded shavings of the bizarre Devil’s Tongue plant – but many find the savory, low-calorie Japanese staple pretty tasty after getting used to the strange texture.
If you’re not familiar with the GeGeGe no Kitaro series, it’s certainly worth a trip out to see what all the fuss is about. Many of the ghostly creatures featured in the series are pulled from Japanese horror lore – an immensely interesting mix of genuinely scary ghouls and bizarre, non-threatening ghosts that are mostly played for comedic effect. Kitaro Chaya’s extensive, ghost-themed menu provides a great, and tasty, introduction for yokai beginners!