TOKYO HAS 160,000 restaurants, a cultural tradition of artistic food, and more Michelin stars than France. Mix Japan’s cultural elements of practicality, cutting-edge automation, ingenuity, Manga, Cosplay, and innovation with food, and some strange experiences are available.
From robot cafes to nostalgic school lunches, here’s a look at unusual dining spots in Tokyo. Note: There’s a fast turnover for businesses in the city, so try calling first, and book with one of the many hotels in Tokyo so you can hit up more than one of these.
Originating in 1998, Maid cafés can now be found all over Japan. Female servers dress in maid costumes like popular anime characters This trend is a thriving Japanese subculture called Cosplay, or costume performance art.
Patrons are mostly male otaku (or fans of comic books, manga, and video games). In addition to standard waitress duties, the maids perform rituals like calling the customer “master,” playing games, giving manicures, and crying when customers leave.
Home Café: Mitsuwa Building 4F-7F, Soto-Kanda 1-11-4, Chiyoda-ku
Tel. 03 5846 1616
Cure Maid Café: Gee Store 6F, Soto-Kanda 3-15-5, Chiyoda-ku
Tel. 03 3258 3161
Pash Café Nagomi: Zenitani 2F, Soto-Kanda 1-8-4, Chiyoda-ku
Tel. 03 5256 8001
Fans of the 1979 Japanese science fiction animation series line up for hours outside this new café devoted to all things Gundam.
Gundam Café features female servers wearing Gundam uniforms, vegetables carved like earth federation insignia, vintage Gundam robots on display, and even special toilet booths where a giant electronic eye watches patrons do their business.
1-1 Kandahanaoka-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Tel. 03 3251 0078
For people who fantasize about breaking into a Catholic Church and drinking sacramental wine, there’s Christon Café.
Here, musty European church meets trendy nightclub in the form of stained glass windows, paintings of Mary and Joseph, religious icons, and an elaborate cocktail menu. If you haven’t been to confession in awhile, you might ask to be seated in one of the wooden dining booths with velvet curtains.
Christian imagery abounds in the form of crucifix shaped menus, statues of Jesus, and candle lined altars. The concept is so popular that the restaurant has 4 locations across Japan.
Shinjuku Location: 8F Oriental Wave, 5-17-13 Shinjuku
Tel: 03 5287 2426
Shibuya location: 2-10-7 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku
Tel. 03 5728 2225
In recent years, cat cafés have proliferated in Japan. In Tokyo alone, there are 50 spots cat lovers can hang out with different breeds of felines and drink a cappuccino.
Because Japanese buildings often ban pet ownership, cafés featuring cats, dogs, and even rabbits fill the void for furry companionship. In some cat cafés, there’s a no touch policy, but in others customers sanitize thoroughly and then pet by the minute.
Neko Jalala: Akihabara, 2 minute walk from Suehirocho on the Tokyo Metro
Tel. 03 3258 2525
Cat Café Calico: 1-5-7- Kichijoji Minami Cho, Yuki Building 2F, Musashino-Shi
Tel. 0 422 29 8353
Alcatraz is a cross between The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Rocky Horror Picture Show, and one of Tokyo’s oldest themed nightspots.
There are handcuffs, chainsaws, cocktails poured through syringes, menu items like “Dead Chicken”, and servers who wear mental ward doctor and nurse’s uniforms. There’s lots of screaming and raucousness, so be prepared for a loud evening.
2F Harvest Bldg, 2-13-5 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku
Tel. 03 3770 7100
If mental ward dining doesn’t appeal to you, how about eating in a prison cell? Patrons of Lock Up can expect to be handcuffed and led to a jail cell where they will dine on food presented in chemistry lab equipment served by prison wardens.
There are secret doors, random blackouts, and raving prisoners in hockey masks. Throughout the night, there are also staged jailbreaks and you might just have to hide another prisoner in your cell.
33-1 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya Grand Tokyo Bldg. B2F
Tel. 03 5728 7731
Kyushokutoban, School Lunch Duty
It’s hard to imagine feeling nostalgic for school cafeteria lunches. But in Japan, people apparently do, which is why Kyushokutoban café is successful.
This café takes patrons back to days of recess and show-and-tell. The restaurant reenacts the Japanese tradition of fellow grade-school students serving lunch. Servers dressed in school uniforms plop food on silver metal lunch trays and hand over a bottle of milk.
The décor resembles a classroom with construction paper bulletin boards and small desks. Just like elementary school, except here you can drink beer.
Moto Asakusa 1-4-4, Taito-ku
Tel. 03 3847 0537
Not surprisingly, the color theme is red in this dramatic restaurant full of candelabras, broken mirrors, skulls, and a large centerpiece coffin.
Guests sit in private booths lined with thick velvet drapes and listen to baroque music. Servers wear French maid costumes or tuxedos. Food is presented in coffin shaped bowls with edible crucifixes and artistic garnishes of blood — I mean, ketchup.
6-7-6 Ginza La Paix Building 7F
Tel. 03 3289 5360
Alice in Wonderland
Though waitresses wear kinky Alice outfits at this restaurant, the patrons are mostly groups of women.
Customers are granted access through a large door, which opens like a page of a book, and led down a rabbit hole corridor adorned with passages from the story.
The restaurant is decorated with playing cards on the ceiling and floors, lamps made out of funky hats, and tea cup shaped booths. The menu is a miniature diorama to make you feel like a giant, and food items have edible mirrors, Cheshire cat faces, and notes that read, “Eat me!”
Taiyo Bldg, 5F, 8-8-5 Ginza, Chou-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Tel. 03 3574 6980
Ninja is one of the most popular theme restaurants in Tokyo, and you’ll need reservations well in advance to dine in dim light as trained assassins slink about.
Customers are led over drawbridges and down winding passages to an eating area resembling a 17th century Edo period village. The menu features cocktails with fad collagen additives and set meals up to $200 a person.
The meal includes entertainment in the form of an illusionist who visits your table and other surprises.
1F Akasaka Tokyu Plaza 2-14-3 Nagata-cho Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Tel. 03 5157 3936
Find out how to lend a hand to Japan at Matador Change’s How to Help Earthquake and Tsunami Victims in Japan.
To continue on a lighter note check out our Japan Focus Page.
We also have 11 Weird Japanese Foods.
And for more unusual and themed restaurants, check out Modern Toilet Restaurant – A Good Place To Let Yourself Go and In the Dark, Underwater, Graveside, and Up in the Air: 15 Wild Restaurants Around the World.
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Mary Richardson is a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia. She currently lives in Okinawa, Japan, where she is a tour guide and travel writer. Read her stories at worldcurioustraveler.wordpress.com/.
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