Few cities are as exciting and dynamic as Tokyo. You can visit the multi-layered megacity every month for a decade and still discover something new to fall in love with, whether that be a charming rundown karaoke bar or a breathtaking blur of neon lights.
Put the travel guide of tourist hot spots away and take some time to get a little lost in translation with these offbeat things to do in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Tokyo has a reputation for unusual themed cafes, so it’s no surprise that the city’s adorable owl cafes have everyone all atwitter. Head to Akiba Owls in Akihabara to hang out with over 15 feathered friends for an hour. From massive barn owls to a tiny little guy called The Last Samurai, you can cuddle up with them and snag a free souvenir postcard to remember your time there.
If you are over trendy mixology, packed clubs and mediocre service, then you will love Golden Gai. This district is packed with tiny “micro bars,” each big enough for around 10 people maximum. There’s a welcoming, homey feeling to it all, with kind bar owners slipping you snacks as you sip on your sake. Everyone’s got a story in Golden Gai and the sardine-can proximity means striking up a conversation has never been easier.
There’s no need to temper your expectations: Japanese food is nothing short of incredible, but it can get a little wacky at times. Ramen lovers should head to Ichiran, an anti-social ramen chain where you order via vending machine and eat at a walled-off cubicle. For budget diners, hit the basements of department stores where you can dig into colorful bento boxes, fried chicken and bizarre soft drinks — these bountiful basement food markets are nicknamed depachika. For a more intimate, atmospheric experience, grab a beer and yakitori in Yurakucho, a street food alley that’s lined with teeny tiny izakayas bundled under the train tracks.
Vintage Americana is a big thing in Japan, and Koenji and Shimokitazawa are the hot spots to go for some thrift shopping in Tokyo. These two painfully hipster neighborhoods are littered with vintage stores stocking everything from Adidas sweatshirts to a cheeky bit of Chanel on the top shelf. Don your new threads and then head over to one of the nearby vinyl stores, artisan coffee and craft beer houses afterwards. You’ll fit right in.
There’s nothing in the world quite like Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant. Tucked away in the red light district, this unapologetically over-the-top show is a sucker punch of neon lights, fog machines and animated robots with barely a storyline holding it altogether. Do a bit of Googling beforehand to see if you can score a discount online as it’s a little bit on the pricey side at JPY6,000 ($456) per ticket, including a bento box. Don’t get overly excited about the bento box, either. You’re not there for the food!
Looking for a cheap place to stay the night? You can’t beat Tokyo’s capsule hotels. Aimed at traveling businessmen and backpackers, these little sleeping pods are stacked and packed ready for you to slide into. Bear in mind most of them are just for men, so ladies may have to search ahead for co-ed capsule hotels, where women have their own private area. Some old-school capsule hotels also have his-and-hers onsen areas, so you can relax with a steamy bath before bedtime. Don’t be shy! For a solid co-ed choice, check out Capsule Hotel Asakusa River Side where prices range from HK$150-450 a night.