31 Crazy Tokyo Experiences
Evolving post – more to come!
We came to Japan for the specific goal of diving into the country’s legendary craziness. We had visions of pouty Lolitas posing in front of multi-story video screens, robots performing the Nutcracker, warehouse-scale electronic sushi emporiums, and Gozilla peeking over a skyscraper down upon the city’s legendary street culture. Did we find it? Absolutely, it’s everything we ever dreamt of and more.
Over time, we have been building the ultimate list of quirky, crazy, weird, wild and wonderful activities, a sort of must-do menu of fun and kitschy Tokyo delights. Hai, dozo!
Watch a Pink Hello Kitty Noh Performance
It’s ancient, it’s traditional… it’s Hello Kitty?! Keep your eyes peeled in Yoyogi Park and Harajuku for one of the weirdest street performances in the city, a modern take on the traditional art of Noh with a few gloriously kitschy twists. Completely decked out in pink, Hello Kitty on his cheek and shoulder, crying flowers and rhinestones, this is six centuries of Japanese art in one costume. Lead picture.
Buy a bonnet for your cat
Yes, a thousand articles have been written about Japan’s vending machines, and we have read most of them. But it still caught us totally off guard when we spotted a machine that sold cat bonnets and dog hats. Literally anything you can imagine – deodorant, sushi, kegs of beer, dildos, umbrellas, pizza, transformers, Smarts – is being sold in vending machines. Go, discover, and report back in our comment section.
Eat the world’s craziest crepes
“I’ll have the crepe with strawberries, whipped cream, red bean, green tea ice cream, and cheesecake, please.” Yes, that was actually my order. They loaded everything onto the crepe, smooshed it all together and rolled the entire thing into a cone. Delicious. We guarantee you that no place on earth makes weirder/better crepes than Japan.
Enjoy a traditional rickshaw ride in Asakusa
…or at least watch the sexy rickshaw guys work the streets. Away from the high-tech uptown, you’ll see plenty of small hand-pulled rickshaws in historic Asakusa. And you can’t miss the young men outside the Senso-ji Temple, all dressed traditionally in tight pants and split-toe zori shoes fighting for your attention.
Experience Tokyo’s famous electro cabaret
Japamazons in rainbow-colored mullets, fembots, samurai cyborgs, and disco Kabuki dancers are just a few of the crazy characters that make Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant so unique. The ultra-kitschy space spectacle is nothing you have ever seen before. Believe me!
Go shoe shopping
Seriously, where else can you find platforms with teddy bears or kitty cats. Oh, so cute! Need some Pokemon pumps… you got it. Gundam or Yoda sneakers… got it. Sexy steel stilettos for your next yakuza event… got it. I am sure that EVEN Italy can’t match the shoe awesomeness of Tokyo.
Stroll down Godzilla Street
Tokyo just wouldn’t be Tokyo without Japan’s favorite lizard. Luckily, you can head down to Godzilla Street in Shinjuku to snap a shot of him peeking out from behind the Toho Cinemas. Fire not included.
Mutate your face
There are entire floors of machines specifically catering to Japanese women, which allow them to mutate their face into strange shapes with huge distorted anime eyes. Or they can alter their full body, transforming their figure into the Japanese version of Barbie with huge boobs and stick thin legs. Yes, now you too can turn your body dysmorphia into a wallet-sized photo.
Watch the legendary Rockabillies
The leather and jeans-clad Rockabillies of Yoyogi Park are the best example of what makes Tokyo so Tokyo. This city is all about awesome subcultures and retro tongue-in-cheek chic. Like an armee of Elvis impersonators, the rockabillies rock ‘n’ roll every Sunday at the southeastern corner of the park.
Pay $10 for an individually packaged grape the size of an egg
I know what you are thinking right now: Where can I find a $10 individually packaged grape the size of a chicken egg? Well, we found a nice selection in the fruit section on the food floor of the Isetan department store in Shinjuku during one of our Tokyo food tours. Yes, we make it a point to scan the fruit section of virtually every department store we encounter in Tokyo. What we find (as well as the prices) would blow your mind!
Spend the night in a capsule hotel (a.k.a. pornographic coffin hotel)
It’s on every cool traveler’s must-do list when visiting Japan, spending a night in a Japanese capsule hotel. You can choose between an authentic capsule hotel designed for Japanese, or more tourist-oriented establishments. We made the mistake of going local. Although the facilities were great, what they don’t tell you is that capsule hotels are where all the Japanese salary men go to watch porn (very freaky porn) away from their wives. Not exactly a quiet night.
Devour a giant rainbow cotton candy
We couldn’t believe our eyes the first time we saw a giant rainbow cotton candy floating down the street in Harajuku. Whoa!!! Like a modern day Hansel and Glätzel (German pun intended), we followed the rainbow trail back to its source, the Totti Candy Factory. And just as in the fairytale, there was a witch lurking in the shadows, who screamed at me for blocking the entrance for .0001 seconds while I snapped a picture. Be warned, one of these fabulous sugar monsters will set you back $9!!!
Take a minute to stroll through Zojo-ji’s special shrine
On a more somber note, pay particular attention to the statuettes clad in red caps and bibs next time you visit a Buddhist temple. These so-called mizuko jizo are guardians of aborted, miscarried or stillborn babies. There’s a large shrine at the Zojo-ji Buddhist temple near Tokyo Tower where (mostly) women come to grieve.
Find the mysterious Eye of Shinjuku
To truly appreciate the scale of Shinjuku Station, we challenge you to locate the surreal Eye of Shinjuku. Head for the station and start asking passers-by about the mysterious piece of art. After winding your way through subterranean malls, department store food halls and endless rivers of people, the reward for your efforts is a local’s view of the station and – with luck and perseverance – a photo of the psychedelic eye itself.
“Enjoy” some twisted manga porn
Familiar with tentacle porn or gokkun (gulp) erotica? If your answer is “no”, you might want to head over to the many manga and anime porn shops in Akihabara and Ikebukuro. Of course, this is for anthropological purposes only. (Full disclosure: this recommendation is not for the ultra sensitive.)
Take a day trip to a theme park based on plants
What other country would have an entire theme park based on plants? Hitachi Seaside Park, located 130 km northeast of Tokyo, is world famous for its extraordinary floral events. We managed to catch one of their most amazing spectacles, the kochia fields transitioning from green to crimson. Insane, it felt like we were on another planet. Check out their floral event calendar and their bloom calendar to find out what’s next. Another great flowering event is the red spider lily bloom at Kinchakuda Park outside of Tokyo. It happens around the same time as the kochia, in late September/early October.
Hang out with the Harajuku Kids
Dive into the parallel universe known as Harajuku, the ultimate Tokyo destination for youth culture and fashion. This is Tokyo’s most colorful people watching location. The epicenter is Takeshita Doori, but branch out into the side streets to discover the most cutting edge trends.
Behold the giant Ghibli clock
Imagine our surprise when we randomly came across the Ni-Tele Really Big Clock (yes, that’s the official name). Located in front of the Nippon Television Tower in Shiodome, the cuckoo steampunk time piece was designed by the famous manga artist Hayao Miyazaki, founder of the Ghibli Museum. If you can’t get tickets for his amazing museum (tickets only online in advance), the Ghibli clock is one way to experience the artist’s quirky vision.
Have your head bitten by a good-luck lion
If you attend a Japanese festival or a temple event, keep your eyes peeled for a good-luck lion roaming the crowds. Letting the lion bite your head brings good fortune. As an added bonus, it’s especially fun to watch babies and toddlers screaming their lungs out as their parents stuff their heads into the lion’s mouth.
Look at yourself in the mirror(s)
Mirror, mirror on the wall… and ceiling… and basically everywhere. If you just need a place to kick back and take in your own beauty (or you love architecture), don’t miss the dazzling mirrored entrance at the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku. But if you are there for a quick selfie, you might have to fight off a few hundred fellow Instagrammers.
Hunt for exotic Kit Kats
KitKats are serious business in Japan. There are hundreds of specialized flavors from sake to rum raisin to green tea to wasabi. Hunting regional KitKat specialties has become something of a dedicated sport here. Google Japanese KitKats and you’ll discover tons of forum posts discussing the best locations to find them.
Learn that Japanese aren’t quite as straight(laced) as you think
Japan boasts the largest open gay scene in Asia. But it can be a bit bewildering to outsiders. This is a country where there is an entire industry of cartoon gay porn designed specifically for straight women! What?!
Soak up the local color
Get out on the street and find the essence of Tokyo. Just stop and look at the people around you. What are they wearing? Did a woman just walk by wearing enormous black ram’s horns? Yep. What are their dogs wearing? Is that Chihuahua decked out in Channel? Of course.
Explore the world of creepy-cute
Cute is a major concept in Tokyo. “Kawaii” things range from giant inflatable ducks to whale-sized reclining cat statues. Similarly, creepy is a big seller. You never have a problem finding a mask of melting human flesh. But our favorite Tokyo twist was “creepy-cute.” For example, a Christina Aguilera voodoo doll with a skull and crossbones dress and David Bowie eyes… which seem to stare into your soul!!!
Stand under a monstrous spider
Move over Shelob and Aragog, Roppongi Hills is all about Maman, the epic 30-foot spider statue by artist Louise Bourgeois. From beneath her giant legs, you can stare up at the monolithic Mori Tower.
Watch the selfie frenzy at the Senso-ji Temple
Everyone and their brother wants to take a selfie in front of Senso-ji’s giant Kaminarimon, the so-called Thunder Gate. Not only is this a great place for people-watching, it’s also the location for Tokyo’s oldest and most colorful temple. Make your way through the popular gate and explore the Nakamise shopping street and temple beyond.
Eat sushi under an Italian sunset… at noon
In a city full of over-the-top kitsch, one of our favorite discoveries was the Venus Fort mall in Daiba. The entire interior is laid out like an Italian city with rambling cobbled streets, city squares complete with fountains, arched city gates and sunset skies 24/7. It’s surprisingly extensive. If that’s not enough, check out the classic car collection displayed on city streets inspired by Route 66. Too cool!
Talk to a robot
There are literally thousands of robots in Tokyo thrilling visitors and attempting (and I emphasize attempting) to provide customer service. Striking up a conversation in Japanese is much easier, but there are a few that speak English and Chinese.
Try a frozen beer… or three
Actually, one is probably enough. We had seen frozen beers in several restaurants, and curiosity got the better of us, so we eventually gave in and ordered one. We can’t say we loved it, but it is definitely a blog-worthy Tokyo experience. Despite the name, our frozen beer wasn’t totally frozen, just the swirly foam head.
Visit the Statue of Liberty
A lot of people know that Tokyo has its own version of the Eiffel Tower called Tokyo Tower, but did you know that they also have a Statue of Liberty? (I’m telling you, those things just keep popping up everywhere.) Yes, the Statue is strategically located in Daiba behind the Aqua City Mall and it’s backed by the Rainbow Bridge to give it an especially New York vibe.
Grab a drink (or something else)
Japan’s thematic cafes and pubs are legendary (and sometimes quite bizarre). You can sip coffee while playing with a cat, an owl, a macaw or a hedgehog. And you can take your cappuccino while chatting to a woman dressed up like a French maid or a man dressed like a Korean pop star. Or you can sip a beer as women frolic in lingerie or just before a man soaps you up with his body. When it comes to thematic cafe and pub options, Japanese seem to have few limits.
Plan Your Trip to Tokyo
When to Go
The best times to visit Tokyo, and Japan in general, are spring (from March to May) and fall (from September into December). This is also a great time to see Japan’s famous cherry blossoms and autumn leaves. Outside of these seasons, it can be quite cold in winter and hot, humid and rainy in summer.
During the Japan autumn leaf and cherry blossom season, accommodation in Tokyo can be booked out far in advance. Make sure to book early. We recommend searching for great Tokyo hotels on HotelsCombined.com, a site which finds the best deals for you across numerous top hotel booking sites, including hotels.com and agoda.
If you stay in Tokyo for an extended period of time, we recommend booking an apartment through Airbnb. We stayed for six weeks in Tokyo, and our small apartment with kitchen, bathroom and washing machine (!) was a lot more convenient than a small hotel room would have been. If you haven’t used Airbnb before and you click through this link here, you get a credit toward your first stay. The amount varies, but it’s usually between $30 and $40. Not too shabby.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
In terms of convenience, the best places to stay in Tokyo are the neighborhoods of Shinjuku and Shibuya followed by Ginza and Tokyo Station. Asakusa and Ikebukuro are also great, but those neighborhoods are not quite as central. During our time in Tokyo, we stayed on the western side of Shinjuku Station, near the Nishi Shinjuku Gochome Station (Oedo Line). We really liked our quiet neighborhood and the short distance to one of Tokyo’s main transport hubs.
Tokyo is gigantic and has so much to do. While most visitors may want to explore on their own, others may feel that communication and cultural differences are a bit too daunting. For those, we recommend checking out some of the Tokyo tours offered on Viator. Also, sightseeing as part of a group can be a lot more fun.
More specifically, if you are looking for entry tickets for the Robot Restaurant, check out the matinee tickets which are a bit cheaper than the regular tickets for the evening shows.
Also, we highly recommend visiting the Ghibli Museum which showcases the work of Hayao Miyazaki, the famous manga artist. Tickets are very popular and often sold out. Moreover, you have to buy tickets online in advance. Follow the link to the Ghibli Museum which describes how to purchase tickets in advance. Unfortunately, it seems strangely complicated. For easier (and more expensive) tickets, check out Ghibli Museum online tickets here.
We highly recommend checking out tokyocheapo.com for everything Tokyo. There, you can find info on rail passes, restaurants, ryokans and great area guides for the most popular neighborhoods.
By the way, if you happen to be coming from Singapore, here are some Singapore to Tokyo flight choices worth considering.