As soon as you enter the room in this guesthouse in Tokyo’s Azabujuban district, you’re bombarded with a flurry of quirky otaku cuteness; a genre otherwise known as ‘moe-kei’. From the bed sheets, to the walls, and even splayed across the ceiling is a whole array of busty anime girls in all their cutesy glory.
This is a recent otaku phenomenon called ‘itabeya’, which when directly translated goes something along the lines of ‘hurt room’. But don’t worry, it’s not quite as Fifty Shades of Grey as it sounds. Meaning “so cute it hurts”, this décor style is fast becoming a type of art throughout Japan.
One company quick to pick up on the trend is Akihabara venture, SO-ZO. An interior manufacturer creating ‘moe-kei’ curtains, sheets and anything else you can think of, the president is a graduate of the prestigious Waseda University’s Engineering Department – a Chinese exchange student named Ou Zen. His reason for starting up the company? “I love made-in-Japan products. I wanted to learn about Japanese craftsmanship and manufacturing”, he says with an earnest looking face, although it’s pretty clear his inner-otaku had bigger reasons. “When I was living in Shanghai, I watched Dragonball Z and Doraemon every single day. After coming to Japan, I became obsessed with moe-kei and otaku culture, and even now I still love cosplaying and attending expos”.
SO-ZO has been decking out rooms in ‘itabeya’ fashion throughout the capital, with clients mainly consisting of hotels, guesthouses and holiday apartments, with the occasional private residence thrown in. Tokyo’s tourism business is obviously quick to grab an opportunity to enhance the otaku tourist’s experience. Along with the recent deregulation in rules regarding room sharing, tourists to Japan are becoming pickier about where they choose to stay, with many indulging in extra quirky services only available in Japan. The ‘itabeya’ trend has come at the right time.
Mr. Ou’s interiors include direct designs by the infamous Camelot president Hiroyuki Takahashi – a combination made in otaku heaven. Depending on the area and scale, ‘itabeya’ renovations can be done for as little as ¥10,000 (US$90). It’s a quirky idea, but one that may just kick off – next time you’re in Tokyo, why not check it out?