After three years of not taking any real vacations, my wife and I decided that come hell or high water we were going to go somewhere cool by the end of 2022. Thankfully, Japan removed their tourism restrictions in October so we were all systems go for our planned timeline of late November. What I didn’t know at the time, and actually didn’t find out until about three days before we left, is that Games Workshop was about to open a new Warhammer Café in Tokyo. My wife, kind soul that she is, had previously asked me if I “wanted to do a Warhammer” while we were in Japan, so when I learned about it I eagerly told her we had to add it to our itinerary. We were spending a good chunk of time in Tokyo, so it wouldn’t be hard to fit it in. Despite not being particularly interested in Warhammer herself and having to hear me ramble about it somewhat frequently, she was very excited for me and immediately agreed we should go.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Warhammer Cafés, this is the third one Games Workshop has opened. It joins a location in Grapevine, Texas that opened in 2018 and one in Monrovia, California that opened in 2021. The appeal of these cafés boils down to a few key differences between them and your classic Warhammer store: they’re bigger, they’ve got lots of cool props and art from the various Games Workshop settings scattered around, and they sell Forge World products and other exclusive merchandise that could previously only be acquired at Warhammer World or online (though some of those products are also starting to show up at Games Workshop official events such as the recent GW Opens). They also give GW a good place to hold marketing events like Black Library book signings, which I appreciate since it’s a big step forward for my bucket list item of having Aaron Dembski-Bowden sign my forehead using a Citadel paint of his choice. Plus they have food, I guess, but I’d wager that isn’t the primary draw for most folks.
The Tokyo location is situated squarely in the heart of Akihabara, Tokyo’s famous geek mecca that is widely considered to be Japan’s epicenter of all things games, anime, manga, electronics, and creepy tourists being Big Weird toward young women dressed in maid costumes who are just trying to serve you a drink and go about their workday.
Since visiting the newly opened café was something of a last minute addition to our itinerary, I didn’t end up going until later in the evening. While my wife very kindly offered to come with me, I could tell she was ready to curl up in the hotel bed and relax a bit so I went on my first and only solo excursion of our trip. Public transit in Japan is so good it’s quite frankly upsetting (speaking as an American) and the café is only a few minutes walk from Akihabara station, so it wasn’t long before I spotted a familiar sign jutting out from the row of buildings.
For the most part, the space itself just looked like a larger-than-usual Warhammer store. When I walked in, I was struck by an immediate sense of familiarity. Despite being over five thousand miles from home the particular atmosphere of a warhammer store (or really most game stores) was exactly the same. In addition to the staffers walking around doing a great job of balancing the competing pressures of “make sure everyone who needs help is getting it” and “don’t pester the customers” there was a customer sitting at a desk very intently painting some T’au models, another rifling through the 40k Chaos section looking for some model or another, and two people sitting at a table having what I can only describe as a friendly but heated argument. My Japanese extends just far enough to say “yes”, “no”, “thank you”, and “help I am an American who is lost and confused” so I was unable to follow their discussion, but I did catch the words “biotitan” and “warbringer”. Yup, just like home.
I also want to give a shout out to the employee who for no reason I could discern was wandering around the store softly but repeatedly saying “waaagh” to no one in particular. Give that guy a raise immediately. The only thing that was really missing was people playing games, though there were a few tables available to do so – but more on that later.
This being a limited time opportunity and all, I immediately started searching for exclusive merch. Having just been to the New Mexico Grand Narrative event and used up my Forge World budget for the foreseeable future I avoided that area, which seemed fairly well stocked though not all that extensive. I’m guessing this is due to floorplan constraints more than anything, since while the café is decent sized compared to most Warhammer stores I’ve been to, real estate in Tokyo isn’t cheap and they only had so much space to work with.
A helpful employee informed me that most of the ‘store exclusive’ stuff was over in one particular area, so I scoured that section and found a variety of pins, some really neat collectible coins, Space Marine Heroes mystery boxes, various boxed GW paraphernalia, and of course everyone’s favorite product – the Warhammer 40,000 range of scented candles. The same helpful employee tried briefly to sell me on the candles as an item that I wouldn’t find in most Warhammer stores, but was very understanding when I told him I really don’t want my living room to smell like anything you could reasonably put Slaanesh’s name on.
My favorite items were the prints that were available, some of which I was told you can only get at Warhammer World and the three cafés, and one in particular you can apparently only get at the Tokyo café. There were also some “Warhammer Store and Café Tokyo” branded mugs, which I briefly considered getting for a friend or two before buying one for myself instead because quite frankly I went and they didn’t and sucks to be them. There were also a bunch of the larger scale Joytoy figures, which I’m a huge fan of but didn’t necessarily want to have to transport home since I didn’t have unlimited suitcase space and needed to reserve some to bring home a wide assortment of weird flavors of Kit Kats from my trip.
Now we come to what I’m sure you all really want to hear about. That’s right, the most important item of all – the “Wrath of Caliban” pistachio iced latte. I’m not a coffee person but I do love pistachios and it didn’t feel right to be there during grand opening week and not try the grand opening beverage. While they billed this as being Dark Angels themed (thus the name), I really don’t know who they’re trying to fool. This was a Nurgle drink if I’ve ever seen one. It sort of looked like someone put a great unclean one in a blender and poured it into a cup. That being said, I’m happy to report that the drink…kind of slapped? It was very light and didn’t have much of a coffee flavor, so it was almost like a very thin pistachio milkshake, and the bits of crushed pistachio they sprinkled on top added a nice texture difference in there. I was pleasantly surprised and I definitely got every ounce of that thing out of the cup before tossing it in the garbage.
At this point I had more or less exhausted what I had come there to do, so I decided to spend a few minutes walking around looking at the contents of the display cases. As you might expect, there were some beautifully painted models, mainly from the 30k and 40k ranges though there was a smattering of Lord of the Rings in there as well and even a bit of Necromunda. Though there were other models that were more technically impressive, my personal favorite was a farseer who was doing his level best to use a Wraithknight’s sword as a surfboard.
I did get to spend a few minutes chatting with the same helpful employee from earlier, whose name turned out to be Alex. Since I was there late in the day several days after the actual opening, I asked him how things had been going. He told me that on opening day (the previous Saturday) they had over 200 people in line when they opened and the line went around the block. Overall they had more than 700 people come through on that first day, which he was very happy about. He confided in me that they had just over 500 commemorative “when they’re gone, they’re gone” tote bags to give out to the first customers to come through and they had thought that would be plenty for day one and maybe last them through two days or even a bit more, but instead they ended up running out well before closing on day one. I asked him if anyone had been playing any games and he said there had been a few – mostly games of Warhammer Underworlds due to ease of transport, which makes sense given how dense of a metropolitan area it is and the fairly limited space available to actually play games in the café.
I could tell Alex was excited by how many people had been coming in, and with the effort GW has been putting in over the past several years to try to get more traction in the Japanese market it was great to hear that they had such a warm reception to the opening. After that I headed back to the hotel with my large bag of assorted warhammer merch I had acquired, which thankfully my wife was very understanding of (bless her). I think she was relieved to hear that some of it was gifts and we weren’t going to have to find places for all of it in our house, though.
Overall, I think the Tokyo Warhammer Café is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. While it is for the most part just a somewhat bigger Warhammer store, it’s a good one – and if my experience is any indication the staff there are great. I’m not sure how much of the exclusive merch beyond the Forge World stuff will stick around as some of it was definitely “once it’s gone, it’s gone”, but it will still be great for local Warhammer fans to have a slick location to go buy GW products, play games, do some painting, have arguments about biotitans with their fellow hobbyists, and maybe even drink a cup of nurgle juice masquerading as a Dark Angels beverage while supplies last. I’ll leave you with a few photos of my favorite models they had on display and my strong recommendation that if you happen to be in Tokyo, either visiting or as a local, you should stop by and check this place out. If you do, say hi to Alex for me – if for no other reason than he likely won’t remember me and it will be very confusing for him which would be kinda funny.
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