16 Unique, Weird and Wonderful Experiences You Can't-Miss in Tokyo
Japan has the reputation of being unique, quirky and sometimes even flat out weird. But not weird in a bad, but weird in a good way. These unique experiences which are synonymous with Tokyo are the reason some people make the trip out there. While I would always advise you pair your adventures in Japan with some traditional experiences as well, I do completely understand those who want to find all the most bizarre activities this country has to offer. Here are my favourite weird and wonderful places and adventures to can find in Tokyo!
#1. Spend a Night in a Space Age Capsule Hotels
Capsule Hotels are one of the most unique forms of accommodation and something really only available in Japan (although it's slowly starting to catch on elsewhere). Capsule hotels are not just a super cool thing to experience; they are also a great way to save some money! I find that they're a great place to stay the first night you arrive since you're bound to crash hard and there's no point shelling out for a luxury hotel you won't even really notice till you've had a good night's sleep. Capsule hotels are found all over the city and are great since most often they're in fantastic locations right outside train stations. Capsule hotels are divided into male and female floors where you'll get a single capsule all to yourself to sleep inside. While the capsule is little more than a person shaped rectangular cube, most are more spacious than you'd imagine and come with your own personal light, tv, bedding, place to plug in all your devices and even air conditioning. It feels like sleeping in a spaceship in your own little pod. Outside your capsule, you can use all the amenities in hotel. All of them are complete with spotless showers, places to sit and eat (always filled with lost of vending machines) and some even have massage chair floors where you can relax and read.
#2. Get Your Groove on at the Robot Restaurant
All across this blog, you'll read about my tips on avoiding tourist traps, but this is the one time I'll make an exception. The Robot Restaurant was perhaps something which was created for locals originally but has become an enormous tourist attraction over the years. But despite it's "touristy" status, it is still one of the most insane and awesome shows to see in Tokyo. I've actually been to see this show each and every time I’ve been to Tokyo and loved every minute of the cheesy, ridiculous, exciting and awe-inspiring show. It's larger than life, weird and wacky, there are explosions and space age battles. I remember when we first saw the show it felt like we were living inside some sort of fever dream, but in the best way possible! I honestly think it’s a hilariously fun time and it makes me smile from ear to ear. Skip the dinner and arrive early as the robot band inside the bar before the show is such a good time and you don’t want to miss it!
#3. Get Spooked By Godzilla
In amongst the neon jungle which is Shinjuku keep your eyes peeled for a monster poking his head out. Don't think it's the jet lag, that is indeed Godzilla himself towering above you. Hotel Gracery plays host to the beast, and if you want to see what it's like to be in Godzilla's head, you can visit the Bonjour cafe on the 8th floor. This cafe has a small menu but does offer a great view from outside Godzilla's head across Shinjuku. Godzilla is such an iconic part of Japanese entertainment and so seeing him in the “flesh” here in Shinjuku really makes you feel like you’re in Japan!
#4. Explore the Weird World of Love Hotels
If capsule hotels seem a little too claustrophobic for you, you can check out a "Love Hotel". These Love Hotels aren't for the faint of heart, but you will indeed get a once in a lifetime experience. All over Tokyo, and other parts of Japan, you'll see these type of hotels on various corners of the city. The rooms are rented by the hour, as well as per night so you can imagine what kind of clientele they are geared towards…But does that mean you can't go as a tourist to fulfil your curiosity? Absolutely not! These hotels aren't as seedy as you might be imagining. They're actually pretty incredible or at least incredibly weird. Each of the rooms is themed for a different interest, some have rotating beds, others are covered floor to ceiling in Hello Kitty paraphernalia, and others even have heart shaped jacuzzis! The reason these hotel rooms are so cutesy is that around 90% of love hotels in Japan are designed by women. Being developed by women means that women themselves are more likely to come inside instead of being weirded out by a sketchy looking hotel. Also, for this reason, the hotels are always super clean and extremely private. Some check-in desks are entirely run by touch screens, so you don't even need to interact with a real human on your way in! Definitely a unique experience.
#5. Act like a Kid Again at Tokyo DisneySea
One of my favourite parts of Tokyo is DisneySea, and while visiting what might on paper feel like an American theme park seems odd on a list of uniquely JAPANESE adventures, DisneySea is unlike any of their North American counterparts. The influence of Japan's creative culture is what made this park so wondrous. It is famously known as the best theme park in the world. Unlike Disneyland which has been replicated almost brick for brick all over the world (even in Japan), DisneySea is one of a kind. Here you'll be able to ride the most immersive and original rides in all of Disney and visit the seven ports, inspired by fictional and historical seaside locations. You can visit Ariel's Kingdom or Aladdin’s Castle. DisneySea is also home to Duffy the Bear, a character you’ll only find here in Tokyo!
#6. Explore the Walled City inside Kawasaki Warehouse
I am a HUGE fan of the arcades in Japan! I have sunk way more money than I'm proud of trying to win stuffed Pokemon character. All arcades in Japan are worth checking out for a great night out but none are as weird as Kawasaki Warehouse. The warehouse arcade is located about 30-minutes outside the city but is well worth the trip. Inside what looks like an old, rusted-over building, you'll find the almost picture-perfect recreation of the gritty streets of Kowloon. Kowloon is the famous crime-filled, walled city of China that has for years been the inspiration for apocalyptic environments. Spread out multiple floors, this place made to look like a crumbling city, is actually an arcade. Set amongst the rotting walls, dirty clothing lines and shady retail signage are real arcade games which you can play in this haunting setting. Don’t worry, nothing is actually dirty, it’s just all for show! Every inch of this place is themed and decorated to ensure that eerier atmosphere permeates the entire place, even the men's bathroom is made to look like it's covered in filth (although the women's washroom was spared this treatment).
#7. Get Grossed out at the Parasite Museum
Located in the suburb of Meguro, you'll find one of the weirdest museums in the world. In this museum, you'll be introduced to the world of parasites, and trust me, after visiting you'll be wondering how many of them might be living inside you right now! The museum is the only one of its kind and a few minutes into the exhibits you might be able to imagine why. The museum has collected over 45,000 parasites, now displayed in jars along the walls. They even have an 8.8-meter long tapeworm which prove the resiliency of these parasites. While this might not be for everyone, the uniqueness of the subject matter is something to be amazed at, and for those of you with a strong stomach, you might be pretty surprised by these creatures. I actually found it pretty interesting and enjoyed the curator’s dedication to the subjects.
#8. Try Cream Puffs too Cute to Eat!
If you're looking for something a little more fun and carefree, make your way down to this dreamy little cafe which serves up some of the most delicious and perhaps, too good to eat, pastries. If you're a fan of anime, specifically Studio Ghibli, visiting the Shirohige's Cream Puff Factory is almost a requirement for your trip to Japan. This cafe is actually run by a Ghibli family member, and her creations are therefore deemed "official" Ghibli products. Walking up to the shop is like stepping into a Ghibli film, the street looks almost picture perfect just like the animes. Each of the cream puff is made to look like the popular character "Totoro" and is filled with either custard, chocolate or caramel banana. You can make reservations here, but if you feel like the reservations system online is too complicated without being able to speak or read Japanese you can also show up when they open and get in line to nab one of these delicious treats.
#9. Experience Cuteness Overload at a Maid Cafe
As soon as you get into Tokyo and start walking around the streets at night, you'll see right away dozens of maids on the road handing out flyers. If you've never heard of a 'Maid Cafe' before this sight might be a little strange and shocking, but the reality of these Maid Cafes are a lot less lurid than you might expect. In Japan, Maid Cafes are a popular type of restaurant where the waitresses dress up in cute maid costumes and act as a “servant” to their customers or “masters”. Although these cafes were originally introduced to the amusement of the men in Japan, these days they have become more of tourist attraction and therefore less salacious. Inside you'll be dotted on by a given maid, eat food in adorable shapes and designs, learn cutesy songs and even take a kawaii (cute) picture with your maid as a commemorative souvenir. It's weird, it's cute, it's worth checking out for a unique experience.
#10. Experience the Rainbow Explosion at Kawaii Monster Cafe
In the centre of Harajuku, the epicenter of Kawaii fashion and culture in Japan, you'll find the Kawaii Monster Cafe. This "cafe" is more of a theme park than a restaurant. As soon as you walk in the doors, it's sensory overload. Rainbow lights dance across the ceiling, tables are nestled away under spotted toadstools and in the centre of the room is a spinning carousel in the shape of a giant iced birthday cake! The waitresses are all dressed up as Strawberry Shortcake-like characters, each one themed to a certain kind of sweet treat. The food is just as wild, and while it is not “haute” cuisine, it is indeed a joy to behold. It's become a super popular joint, so reservations are recommended!
#11. Dine on Sushi around a Conveyor Belt
While conveyor belt sushi restaurants have started popping up in other locations around the world, they got their start here in Japan, and if you've never visited one before then this is the best place to start! Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are all over Tokyo, and you really can't go wrong with any of them. If there is a lineup outside the door, that is always a good sign that it’s going to be delicious! Lines move quickly since diners usually don't spend an enormous amount of time here so don’t be afraid of waiting. Once you get inside, you'll be seated around an actual moving conveyor belt. On the belt are dozens of plates with pieces of sushi on top. Each of the plates is a different colour and/or pattern. Those colors or patterns denote the cost of the sushi. Just grab what you want and keep the empty plates as the plates are used to calculate your bill at the end of the meal. The sushi is cheap and delicious, and often you'll be more enticed into trying something new once you see it right there in front of you.
#12. Cheer, Scream and Sing-a-long at a Baseball Game
You're thinking, baseball? C'mon now we have that in North America too! That's not something we want to do when we're halfway across the world. Well, trust me, this isn't baseball as you know it. I mean sure, yes, the rules are the same, and in essence, the game itself is pretty similar, but it's the experience surrounding the game that is worth your time! Baseball games in Japan are like a huge party. Everyone sings a different anthem when each player comes to the plate. There are designated cheering sections where the entire group will stand, dance and cheer. Not only are there special themed foods you can buy in the stadium, you're also allowed to bring in ANY food or drink you want. That's right, you can even bring your own alcohol! Before you arrive at the stadium, there are dozens of street vendors selling freshly cooked yakisoba, sushi and more to take inside with you! It's so much fun, and you don't need to be able to speak Japanese to be able to follow the action!
#13. See a Professional Sumo Match
Sumo wrestling is Japan's national sport, and if you're visiting Tokyo during the season in which these matches take place, it's your duty as a traveller to make your way to see a game. Sumo is one of those things which seems not even to exist outside Japan. It's traditional roots, and cultural importance are so strong that it just never took off anywhere else. The matches are surprisingly exciting, and the crowd is so passionate that you'll find yourself cheering along with them even if you've never seen a game before or understand the rules. Tickets sometimes sell out during busy times of the year, so it's worth buying tickets in advance.
#14. Catch some Kabuki
Another very traditional things to do in Japan is to see a Kabuki performance. Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama known for its stylized performance and elaborate make-up. Despite the show being in Japanese, much like Opera, you can get a program where there will usually be a translation in English so you can understand a bit of the plot. But the expressions and performances are so strong and evocative that you'll really be able to follow along without it.
#15. Fish for your Dinner
Walking into Zauo restaurant, you'll think you've stepped onto a fishing boat. A giant wooden ship is installed over top of dozens of tanks of water. Guests stand excitedly with a fishing rod in hand on the edge of the boat, ready to nab their dinner. That's right, here at Zauo you eat what you catch! Be warned that if you catch something, you have to eat it, there's no throwing it back. But that's half the fun, just don't come in with a specific meal in mind, be open to try something new. Once you catch your fish, you get to choose how it's cooked and seasoned and then it will be served to you at your table. The cost is probably a little inflated compared to just a typical seafood restaurant but the novelty value is real, and it's definitely a memorable meal.
#16. Soak in the Healing Waters at Onsen
Odaiba Oedo Onsen is a combination between a traditional Japanese onsen spa and journey back in time. Designed to look like the Edo-period, this onsen is the perfect place to unwind after your long flight and enjoy a traditional Japanese experience. An 'onsen' is a Japanese hot spring and bathing facility where men and women are divided into two separate areas, and they can soak in a giant, naturally heated hot spring, completely in the nude. No bathing suits allowed (hence the gender separation)! You can use there small towels provided to cover your private parts but the atmosphere is so relaxed, and no one is looking, so it feels totally normal, and you'd be surprised how freeing it feels! The Odaiba Oedo Onsen also has a zen like garden where you’ll find a long foot bath. To use the outdoor foot bath and gardens you’ll put on your traditional Yukata you receive upon entry and can wander and enjoy the outdoors. This part of the spa is clothed, so both men and women are allowed to use it together. Onsens are such a special part of Japanese culture, and while it seems intimidated, its immensely calming and a must-do for anyone visiting Japan.
A Note about Animal Cafes
While I will readily admit that animal cafes look UBER adorable and are to be found on many lists of "things to do in Japan" I see them wildly conflicting. I visited one on my first trip to Japan, an owl cafe in Asakusa, which was well reviewed as to how they treated their animals, but after visiting I felt awful. I had gone for a weird experience, and while it was that, I just felt so sad for the animals. Even though I did see how loved they were for the carers, owls are nocturnal and to have them out during the day and trapped inside felt so cruel. Various other types of animal cafes suffer from the same kind of thing, and while I know, they feel like something you NEED to do while in Japan I would ask you to heavily consider the welfare of the animals before you think spending time there. There are so many other weird experiences you can get in Japan shouldn't be your primary destination.