New VTuber Bar Opens First Location in Tokyo

New VTuber Bar Opens First Location in Tokyo

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VTuber Bar
Pictures: Graphs / PIXTA(ピクスタ); Canva
Would you go out to drink with your favorite VTuber (virtual YouTuber)? We paid a visit to a new bar in Tokyo's Ikebukuro - and asked an expert on Japan's night life what it bodes for the future.

Japan is home to many interesting in-person experiences for geeks of all varieties. Now, a new bar aims to blend the real with the virtual by putting up-and-coming VTubers (virtual YouTubers) behind a bar counter. How well does the gimmick work? And what does this bode for the future? I checked it out for myself – and asked someone deeply familiar with Japanese nightlife what she thinks.

VTuber bar in Osaka brings virtual experience to real life

For those who aren’t up on the latest trends, VTubers are YouTubers who star in videos as a fictional animated model. The phenomenon is inspired by creations such as Hatsune Miku and other virtual idols.

Kizuna Ai, regarded by many as the original VTuber, launched in 2016. Since then, YouTube has seen an explosion – both in Japan and abroad – of people trying their hand at VTubing, with more 2D and 3D modeling software emerging to support their creative efforts.

The company Peindre Games, a VTuber management firm, is now taking these virtual idols into the real world. It opened its first VLiver Lab in Osaka just this year in March. Based on technology developed by a researcher from Panasonic, the bar uses a transparent projection screen to project an image. A VTuber connects remotely to the bar with their VTuber model and engages with fans. The VTuber takes orders and relays them to a human staff member, who brings drinks and helps you settle your tab at the end.

VLiverLab - VTuber bar in Osaka
The company doesn’t allow inside photography but this shot from their X account gives you an idea of how the VTuber setup works.

The new Ikebukuro location

VLiverLab is similar to multiple “real-world” bars in Japan. It comes across as a mix between a concept cafe (where servers dress in a specific theme) and a girl’s bar (where bartenders provide drinks while making small talk).

Economically, it operates just like a concept cafe or girl’s bar. You pay a small seating fee for every hour you’re there. On top of that, you need to order at least one drink per hour. You can also buy a staff member a drink (cast drink; キャストドリンク or kyasu-dori), buy a cheki (a Polaroid photo with your favorite cast member), or buy an expensive bottle of champagne to really show your affection.

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Based on its success with its Osaka location, VLiverLab recently opened a new store in Ikebukuro, a short walk from Ikebukuro Station. A rotating cast of VTubers takes turns tending bar, with fans coming in to spend some “face” time with their faves.

The costs align with what you’d expect from a con cafe. An hour is around ¥1100, or ¥1500 for every 30 minutes on the all-you-can-drink plan, which includes unlimited orders of all drinks 900 yen or less. They also have snacks and a number of non-alcoholic options for non-drinkers like myself.

VTuber Bar: How’s the experience?

VLiver Lab - entrance
VLiver Lab was a little hard to find – but worth the expedition.

Ikebukuro’s not far from my neck of the woods – and I need more excuses to get out a couple nights a week anyhow. So I made the trek to the store, located on the 2nd floor of the FS Building at Ikebukuro 3-59-9.

At first, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. The building is about 12 minutes from Ikebukuro Station, away from the shopping district. There’s no signage outside indicating the bar’s existence.

I went up to the 2nd floor, where I saw the door above. I rang the bell once as instructed but didn’t get an answer. Five minutes after a second ring, someone from Xing Lang, the danso (男装, women dressed as men) con cafe bar next door, came and seated me.

Otosaki Arin at VLiver Lab bar in Ikebukuro
VTuber Otosaki Arin working late into the night at VLiver Lab. (Picture: VLiver Lab Engineer’s X account)

The VTuber for the evening was Otosaki Arin, who’s been working the VTuber game since 2022. I drank with two other people who were both dedicated fans – one of whom has gone to the Osaka location specifically to see Otosaki. Our conversations were fully in Japanese, an experience that may differ depending on the evening’s VTuber. (At the end of my hour, Otosaki said, “Thank you for coming!” – and then quipped in Japanese, “…and that’s the extent of my English.”)

Great VTuber, slow service

The venue was small, seating about five people at the counter (very comfortably) and four more at a table off to the side. One of Otosaki’s fans told me the Osaka venue is larger, supporting screens for up to three separate VTubers.

As for Otosaki herself, she was delightful – a good, humorous conversationalist who knows how to entertain. As someone who doesn’t follow VTubers religiously, I could see how people can quickly become fans.

When I checked out, it took a staff member from Xing Lang around 10 minutes to get over and cash me out. Despite the delays caused by this personnel sharing scheme, it was a positive experience I’d be happy to repeat.

Will this catch on?

How does VLiver Lab fit into the other nightlife offerings available in Japan? Does it have the potential to take off and become big?

“It excites me for many different reasons,” says June Lovejoy, a voice actor and cosplayer who runs Lovejoy Tours, a guide to the sexier side of Tokyo nightlife. “It adds a new layer of fantasy and fiction to areas that can be bland or even intimidating for many people. Additionally, it allows people who weren’t previously able to be a host at bars to interact with others, opening the opportunity for more social interactions. Finally, it adds a layer of novelty to nightlife, as you can now interact with practically anything. Talking cat girl? Talking cat boy? Just a talking cat? Those are all on the table now.”

Lovejoy also said the concept can help people who are inherently shy open up. “For them, talking face-to-face with a person physically in front of them can be daunting, so this offers a great alternative. It’s a fantastic way for a new group of people to enjoy a novel way of socializing.”

How does this concept fit in with venues such as girl’s bars and con cafes? Will it cut into them in any way?

“I don’t see this as encroaching on any existing businesses,” she said. “I think the clientele is different, and having these virtual-style bars would only allow people who typically felt nightlife was out of reach to finally feel the appeal of going out and enjoying a night with others.”

VTubers cafes and the benefit of the illusion

“One strong appeal of kyaba, girl’s bars, host clubs, etc., is that many clients feel they have a ‘chance,’ and the interactions they’re having are ‘real,'” she continued. “However, clients going to a virtual bar (if they are of sound mind) go into the interaction knowing that who they’re interacting with is a fictional, virtual character. That’s the appeal for most fans of VTubers. They typically don’t want that illusion demolished and enjoy the interaction because it’s virtual, not in spite of it.”

However, bars like the VLiver Lab VTuber cafe – just like maid cafes, con cafes, and girl’s bars – come with what for many tourists may be a steep admission price: knowing Japanese. While you may be able to get by in some places

Lovejoy doesn’t see VTuber bars changing this dynamic. “With a virtual interaction, you can’t rely as much on gestures, atmosphere, mood, eye contact, facial expressions, social cues, etc., as you can in a physical interaction with a real-life person in front of you. Being able to communicate in the same language becomes imperative to have a good experience for not only the customer but the host as well.”

You can read more from June about the sexier side of Tokyo on Tokyo Love District or book a nightlife or LGBTQ-friendly tour from Lovejoy Tours. For more general touring needs, contact us at Unseen Japan Tours.

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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