Ultramodern meets traditional in Tokyo, Japan’s pulsating capital city with nearly 14 million people walking among the neon-lit skyscrapers and ancient temples. The food here, of course, is worthy of its stars—Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world. Standing out, then, is no easy task and some eateries have taken a different approach to lure in diners that are looking for something newfangled, nay wild. Below are restaurants that will make you shake your head, questioning your decision to visit, yet be the indelible experience that you will think—and talk—about ad nauseam.
From horror shows to cat cafes to robot restaurants to food that is delivered in every color of the rainbow, you’ll be captivated by these inimitable themed creations in Tokyo.
Robots Have Invaded
Visiting Kabukichō, a red-light entertainment district that houses love hotels, night clubs and the famed Shinjuku Golden Gai—rows of popular tiny bars that squeeze a few patrons in at a time, is like taking a trip down the wonderland rabbit hole.
In the heart of this zone, sits Robot Restaurant, a riotous thematic show where flashy robotic behemoths fight each other with lasers, dance-offs and music-playing bikini-clad women. You’ll file down the multi-colored mirrored stairs, into the basement, where stadium seating surrounds a huge arena. Monster after monster enters the arena and brawls while you nosh on Japanese fare and fumble with chopsticks. Nobody comes here for the food—the bento boxes aren’t the best Tokyo has to offer, and you’ll likely want to hit up a noodle shop afterward—but the bright-lights-big-city show is definitely unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed.
The Art and Appeal of Cute
Long before Gwen Stefani made cash off of rolling about with her Harajuku Girls, operating as her backup dancers and entourage during her solo record career, the Harajuku district in Tokyo has been famous for its street fashion and Kawaii—the culture of cuteness. Takeshita-Dori is the heart of this teen-driven society and it’s here that you can buy Instagram-worthy street food like gigantic rainbow-colored cotton candy and curled tunnel potatoes on a stick.
The Kawaii Monster Café is a brilliant amalgamation of everything this colorful ward has to offer. Designed with eccentric wall-to-wall thematic art, this café is surprising and peculiar. There’s a room with colossal baby bottles suspended from the ceiling, feeding milk to huge goat and rabbit heads; a disco-themed area with mushrooms lining the walls; and giant red lips that face a stack of macrons. At the helm of this acid-like trip, are the Monster Girls, named “Baby”, “Dolly”, “Candy”, “Nasty”, and “Crazy”—all with their own social media profiles. After you eat your rainbow-colored noodles and neon-hued sweets topped with pink whipped cream, you can step on the floor-to-ceiling cake-shaped merry-go-round and pay to have your picture taken with the costume-clad characters.
Surreal Supper: Scare Your Socks Off
If you’ve ever wanted to eat in fear, and have a feeling of being trapped in a prison, then Tokyo’s horror-themed The Lock Up is for you. You’ll be escorted through this izakaya, a Japanese bar that serves noshes to accompany alcoholic drinks, by a freakish prison guard. You’ll drink out of beakers with floating eyeballs, eat food that looks like it’s splattered with blood, hear screaming from neighboring tables, and wait—with eyes wide open and a strong beating heart—for a masked server to jump out of the darkness to scare you. All in all, this place is more fun than scary, and its silliness sets it apart from other restaurants in Tokyo.
Tokyo has inspired a world-wide phenomenon that has been replicated in other large international cities across the globe: cat cafes. It’s not difficult to find a cat café—or an owl or hedgehog café, for that matter—as they are sprinkled all over Tokyo. You’ll pay a fee to enter, purchase your coffee or tea at either an espresso bar or via vending machine, and then cuddle cute cats to your heart’s content. Most of the cafes have baskets of enrichment toys (feathers, balls attached to sticks, toy mice, etc.) so you can connect with a little furball. Or, sit in a comfy chair and bring your laptop or book and enjoy being in an animal-friendly space. You’ll also have the chance to interact with other tourists as well as locals and have a bit of a reprieve from sightseeing and walking around the city—it will be a welcome break.
Monta, in the Taito neighborhood, is located on a top floor with views of rooftops and twinkling lights. Order espresso, tea, beer, pastas, pizza, or pastries here and see Bengal, Ragdoll, Abyssinian, Somali and Russian Blue breeds of felines. The ambiance is relaxing and quiet, an ideal environment for these furry creatures.
Back to School
Going back to school is easy with Rokunen Yonkumi, an elementary school-themed restaurant in downtown Shibuya. Order a Japanese School Classroom Lunch and eat at a metal four-legged desk, complete with school books, crayons and drawing paper. Nostalgia weights heavy here, with backpacks and chalkboards lining the walls, a huge analog clock ticking on the wall, world flags hanging from the ceiling and teachers instead of servers bringing you a drink.