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Cat Cafe. Photo: termie, Feature photo: lucasmascaro.

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.

Maid Cafés

Servers at work. Photo by Foxeo.

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

Gundam Café

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

Christon Café

Décor at Christon. Photo by SolGrundy.

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

Cat Cafés

What not to do. Photo by Lydiat.

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

A waitress at Alcatraz. Photo by mskogly.

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

Lock Up

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

Vampire Café

A black cat at the Vampire Café. Photo by HAMACHI!

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

Dry ice leaking out of the lid of a dish at Ninja.
Photo: masochismtango.

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

Community Connection

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.

Restaurants


 

About The Author

Mary Richardson

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/.

  • Heather Carreiro

    Wow – some of these are pretty strange! Cat cafe, no thanks. I’d be sneezing the entire time…

    • Mary Richardson

      Heather,
      My husband is allergic to cats too and doesn’t like them, so I’ve gone to a local cat cafe in Okinawa three times by myself. It’s an interesting concept that seems to work… the one here is full of people looking for cuddle time (men too!).

    • http://onceatraveler.com Turner

      They have a few in Korea too.

  • http://ourtastytravels.com Erin

    As a Disney fanatic and writer, one of my first trips to Tokyo included a stop at Alice in Wonderland. We loved it — Japan definitely has the upper hand on theme restaurants. Taiwan tries, but only a couple come close to what you find in Japan (Modern Toilet being one). We also have the cat cafes here, but since I am highly allergic to them, not even going to risk it.

    Interesting note about mostly women at Alice in Wonderland — when we’ve been there, it’s primarily couples or large groups with a slightly higher ratio of men. We’re usually dining out during the week which may make a difference too.

  • http://sleepinginthemountains.blogspot.com Tim Patterson

    No pan shabu shabu!

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  • http://agitatethegravel.wordpress.com grashina

    this is so interesting. i was just in tokyo myself but didnt have enough time to explore much. how did you find out about all these places? have you been to all of them yourself?

    • Liam

      FYI: Been to Christon in Shibuya and it’s closed. They’ve replaced it with this really crappy, overpriced jazz bar – kept none of the decorations.

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  • http://www.worldcurioustraveler.wordpress.com Mary R

    Grashina,
    I’ve been to the cat cafe, Ninja, and Alice in Wonderland. The Lock Up is on my list for the next time I visit Tokyo, and maybe School Lunch Duty.

    To find out about them, I browse Tokyo restaurant listings and go on recommendations from other people.

    Hope you make it to one or two next time you’re in that area! They are really fun!

  • http://www.shoottokyo.com ShootTokyo

    Nice article. I have past most of these places and never knew what they were. Interesting… I might need to go into a few of them.

  • http://samispoon.blogspot.com/ Sami

    Ive been to a Maid Cafe and the Lock up! Love themed resturaunts and cafes theyre so much fun :D

  • Ry

    you live in japan? amazing! i’m more of a design/architecture person so i like to photograph and check out buildings and streetscapes when i travel! i’ve been to tokyo and to one of the maid cafes! Thanks for the writeup on the rest of the strange restaurants Mary! 

    hope you would check out my article here as well: Designing Tokyo’s Cityscape 
    http://www.sojourns.com.sg/blog/asia/designing-tokyos-cityscape/

    and let me know what you think! :) 

  • http://www.facebook.com/fransimo Fran Simó
  • David

    haha nice story. I also wrote about japanese cafes and bars. Have look at http://www.reisegutscheine-online.net

  • Sam Gulick

    Can’t wait to try some of these someday.

  • Ervin Lawrence

    Check out the Japan Mobile Maps website for these and other restaurants and places to see and do in Japan. http://www.enjoyingjapan.com/mobilemaps/

  • Pat Sayer Fusco

    Okay. End f the evening. Try these on for size.

  • Art Maser

    All most unusual restaurants in the world together on a Google map : http://bit.ly/lCbjPy.

  • Precious Chattel

    The cat one isn’t really weird in my opinion. I adore cats and would love to sit with one while I’m eating.

  • Sthefanie Karvig

    I definitely have to visit all of these. Sounds like some fun nights are ahead of me :D

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