Boba fantasy land or boba fail? We find out if this bubble tea pop-up is really as bad as its reviews.
The craze for bubble tea took a while to arrive in Japan, but now that it has, it’s really taken a hold of of the country, with tapioca ramen, tapioca beer, and official Pokémon tapioca drinks appearing on the landscape, attracting hordes of boba lovers.
Now, riding on the bubble-filled wave of tapioca popularity is a brand new pop-up called “Tokyo Tapioca Land“. Its arrival on the scene caught everyone’s attention following last month’s announcement that it would be opening for a limited time in Harajuku this summer.
However, since its 13 August opening, it’s been attracting some less-than-positive reviews from disappointed visitors who were hoping for a tapioca dreamworld, so we sent our resident foodie Mr Sato along to the pop-up to give us his opinion of the space. He hopped online to purchase a 1,200 yen (US$11.29) ticket in advance, and found that a 10 a.m. slot in two days’ time was available.
Mr Sato used a service called “passmarket”, which requires a Yahoo ID password, in order to purchase tickets.
The advance ticket promises preferred entry, meaning less time in line, and seeing as the event was booked for two solid days, Mr Sato was happy to avoid the prospect of having to wait at the end of a long queue for his bubble tea experience.
Tokyo Tapioca Land is located in a newly built shopping area called “jing”, which is about a two-minute walk from JR Harajuku station, and directly accessible from Tokyo Metro’s Meiji Jingu-mae Station.
▼ JR Harajuku Station.
Mr Sato decided to take the train to Harajuku Station, and after a short walk, it didn’t take him long to find Tapioca Land.
At first glance, he was surprised to see that it appeared to be located in an unfinished building, with nothing else inside except the highly anticipated Tapioca Land.
Upon entering, Mr Sato saw a queue of boba lovers patiently waiting to enter. He headed to the end of the line and said a silent prayer to the boba gods for the line to move quickly.
While he was waiting, he began to understand the reviews he’d read online, which described the space as something you’d see at a school festival. Sure, it was sparse, and the boba balloons may have looked better against a low, colourful ceiling rather than a high, exposed one, but Mr Sato wasn’t here for the decorative frills – he was here for the tapioca, so he decided to reserve judgement until he’d had a taste of the bubble tea.
After a 20-minute wait in line, Mr Sato was in! Tapioca Land appeared before his eyes like…a supermarket food court, or perhaps a pop-up event space at a department store.
Any expectation that this would be a tapioca theme park or a boba bliss wonderland quickly dissipated, prompting Mr Sato to wonder if the problem with the bad reviews was due to the name. Perhaps instead of calling this “Tapioca Land” they should have named it “Tapioca Park“?
Now that he was here, though, Mr Sato became less concerned with the styling of the event space and more interested in trying the bubble teas. After all, the cost of admission comes with a free welcome drink, and there were four varieties to choose from when he arrived.
When Tapioca Land first opened, the welcome drinks came without straws, but when Mr Sato visited, each cup came with its own straw.
▼ And inside each drink were three boba balls.
While he enjoyed his welcome drink, Mr Sato took a moment to look at the space again. It was spread out across one floor, and was the size of a small gymnasium. There weren’t enough chairs and tables for all visitors, so it was hard for Mr Sato to really enjoy the bubble tea whilst standing. Looking around him, he saw boba balloon art…
▼ Boba balls in shopping carts…
▼ And a seemingly out-of-place display dedicated to spicy ramen.
As he looked around, nothing really screamed “tapioca” to him other than the drinks. In fact, after a while, Mr Sato forgot what type of “land” he was meant to be in.
It was then that he remembered this was Tapioca Land, and that meant he’d better try some of the tapioca stalls that had been set up for the event. So he headed over to one of the four stalls to make a purchase, only to find that the one he’d chosen to make a purchase from was still setting up.
Shaking his head at the scene, he now had to choose from one of the three remaining boba specialists for his tapioca tasting.
The admission fee doesn’t cover the cost of these full-size tapioca offerings, so you’ll have to choose wisely if you’re like Mr Sato and only have enough yen for one beverage.
Mr Sato handed over some money and received a good-looking bubble tea in return. He took a sip and sighed. It was a great bubble tea, but this is Harajuku, which is already home to a number of bubble tea specialty shops. Is it worth paying an entrance fee of 1,200 yen to purchase bubble tea here? He sucked on his straw as he pondered this very question.
The answer to Mr Sato’s ponderous question became clear after he finished his drink and made his way out of the venue past the merchandise stand. This stand was selling Tokyo Tapioca Land branded goods, which included a stainless steel straw set, a clear bottle, a keychain, and…
▼ Two black tin badges, which cost 300 yen.
So is a visit to Tapioca Land worth 1,200 yen? If you’re new to bubble teas, then maybe not. If you’re a diehard boba fan who’s willing to dial your expectations down a few notches, and realise that this is simply a pop-up dedicated to bubble tea, then maybe. If you love buying merchandise that’s exclusive and unavailable anywhere else, then yes, that will probably make it worth the price of the ticket.
▼ Yes, Mr Sato bought those tin badges, and yes, he knows he’s a schmuck.
So, bubble tea fans, decide for yourselves if Tapioca Land is something you don’t want to miss out on. It’ll only be open until 16 September, after which time we’re hoping a much dreamier, wonderous Tapioca Land will open in the near future. You know, the type that has interactive displays, colourful lights, and game corners…like the Japanese museum dedicated to poo.
Theme park information
Tokyo Tapioca Land / 東京タピオカランド
Address: Tokyo-to Shibuya-ku Jingumae 6-35-6
Open: August 13 to September 16
August hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. (last order 6:45)
September hours: 1 p.m.-7 p.m. (weekdays), 10 a.m.-7 p.m. (weekends) (last order 6:45)
Entrance Fee: 1,200 yen adults; Children elementary age and younger free