11 Wacky Things to Do in Tokyo
From robot shows and poop museums to geek culture and maid cafes, Tokyo offers no shortage of offbeat activities you won't find anywhere else.
Photo By: InsideJapan Tours, Charlea Jefts
Photo By: Kassondra Cloos
Photo By: InsideJapan Tours, Tyler Palma
Photo By: InsideJapan Tours, Matt Spiller
Photo By: Leslie Barrett
Photo By: Kassondra Cloos
Photo By: Kassondra Cloos
Photo By: Kassondra Cloos
Photo By: @home cafe
Photo By: Getty Images/Jeff Greenberg
Old World Meets New
In many ways, Japan is a country of contradictions. This is a place where you can find some of the most advanced technology and innovation the world has to offer — like ultra-high-speed bullet trains and bathrooms that greet you by automatically raising the toilet seat and cleaning themselves when they sense you have entered — and yet you might have difficulty using a credit card. Life moves extremely fast and people work extremely hard, but when technology is turned off, it’s off. Shrines, temples and gardens abound, and analog watches are as ubiquitous as cell phones.
If you know where to look, you can find scores of unique, wacky, only-in-Tokyo kinds of activities that are more than worth writing home about — like the Robot Restaurant, pictured here, where the main attraction isn’t the food but the performances by live actors and robots.
Flights to Tokyo are only getting cheaper, and with English translations on public transit in Tokyo, it's easier than ever to get around without knowing any Japanese (practicing a bit never hurts, though). Check out these wild, wacky and only-in-Japan activities that are sure to make for an unparalleled urban adventure.
BOOK NOW: Things to Do in Tokyo | TripAdvisor
Visit Kanda Myojin, the Shrine of Anime Geeks
The Kanda Myojin Shrine looks like any normal shrine at first glance. But in recent years, it’s actually become a major part of otaku, or geek, culture. It became popular after a character in the hit anime series Love Live got a job as a shrine maiden here, which then became a covetable job for high school girls in real life. These (pictured) plaques, called "ema," are for people to write wishes for the gods to grant. Many of the "ema" at Kanda Myojin are Love Live-themed — you can buy them with the characters on them. The "ema" are all later burned in special rituals.
Looking for more behind-the-scenes nuggets? To get the most out of your time, consider booking a custom Insider Day with InsideJapan Tours. They’ll send you out with an English-speaking guide who can show you the best of the city and provide deep context and background you’d otherwise never get.
Step Inside an Infinite Lantern Gallery at teamLab Borderless in Tokyo
TeamLab Borderless is an immersive, mesmerizing and trippy digital art museum that will make you forget that time exists. As you move through the installation’s various areas, you’ll stumble upon hidden rooms where light is used in exceptionally creative ways. In the Crystal World, you’ll find thousands of strands of LED lights hanging from the ceiling to the mirrored floor. There are many entrances to this room, so make sure you take the time to fully explore the area. Each exhibit and the projections on the walls in each room change constantly, so much so that it’s easy to get lost and forget where you’ve been and where you haven’t. Allow at least three to four hours to fully experience this place without feeling lost, and be sure to budget time for the En Tea House, too. For about $5 (or about 536 yen), you can get a cup of green tea that will attract projections of dancing flowers and growing vines whenever it’s placed flat on the table. TeamLab has many other immersive art experiences in Tokyo and beyond, as well.
Make Your Own Realistic Food Samples
Throughout Japan, restaurants have elaborate displays of fake food to show prospective diners exactly what their food will look like. For a uniquely Japanese souvenir, visit Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya which has a food sample making experience where you can make your own realistic dishes out of wax, and bring them home to confound your friends. They also sell replica food-making kits.
Blend Your Own Perfect Shade of Ink
At the Ink Stand, by high-end stationery store Kakimori, you can blend your own perfect shade of ink. You can show up and have a staff member help you do this, or you can book in advance and get a set of base colors you can tinker with for 45 minutes until you find the perfect shade. Next door to the ink blending room, the shop sells its own boutique colors on tap. Buy a Kakimori rollerball or fountain pen to use with your new ink, and then go down the street to the Kakimori paper store to custom-make your own notebook and letter sets to use them with.
Get Dressed Up for Cosplay Karaoke
Karaoke in Japan is almost unrecognizable from the late-night bar events popular in the United States. Instead of getting up to sing in front of strangers, in Japan, you go to a dedicated karaoke bar and rent a private room for your group. You’re in total control of the playlist, waitstaff will bring drinks to your room upon request and costumes are often available to add an extra layer of fun to the experience. "Cosplay," or dressing up in costume, is a big part of Japanese culture along with its love for manga and anime. And if you're typically shy behind the microphone, everyone dressing up in silly attire for karaoke can help break the ice and spark your confidence.
Karaoke is easy to find around the city, especially in heavily trafficked areas like Shibuya Crossing. Check out Fioria, which has two locations in the city. Fioria features a wide variety of themed rooms, including one full of costumes and one with a whirlpool footbath.
Pop into an arcade while you’re at it. You’ll find scores of claw machines with wacky prizes like mass amounts of cookies, candy and Pringles, among a wide variety of toys, games and electronics.
Dance With the Kawaii Monsters in Harajuku
Tokyo is full of quirky, themed cafes. At the Kawaii Monster Cafe, right in the heart of the upscale Harajuku area, you’ll step into an Alice in Wonderland-style restaurant where you’ll find a menu full of food and drinks in unnaturally bright colors. The "kawaii monsters," or "cute monsters," sing and dance on top of a giant cake-shaped stage in the middle of the cafe — the bravest diners can take them up on a chance to join in for a short performance. Be sure to make a reservation to ensure you can get in.
Take Selfies at the Poop Museum
It might seem impossible to make poop cute, but the Unko Museum — or poop museum — has done it with its neon tribute to the poop emoji. When you enter this small installation hidden in a shopping mall, you first sit on a row of brightly-colored porcelain thrones and pretend to go No. 2. When you get up to explore, you’ll find a … surprise. The whole museum is extremely Instagrammable and is a great place to bring kids. Buy tickets in advance if you don’t want to have to wait when you show up.
Color, Draw or Write a Letter From the Stationery Cafe
If you’re a snail mail aficionado, you likely know that Japan is one of the world’s best places to buy stationery. Tokyo is full of stores like Itoya, which boasts 18 floors of paper products, high-end pens and more, spanning two buildings. If you like to write, paint or draw, visit the Bunbougu Cafe, a stationery-themed cafe with pencil-tipped chopsticks where you’ll have access to countless writing utensils, stamps, decorative washi tapes and more during a timed period (the cafe turns over all its guests on a schedule).
Visit a Maid Cafe
At the @home café, all the servers dress as maids and call diners "master" and "princess." The food here is extremely cute — as is everything about the whole experience. Think pink curry with rice formed in the shape of Hello Kitty, heart-shaped plates and lattes with an animal of your choice drawn on them in syrup. Entrance fees to the cafe include getting up on the stage to pose for a polaroid with one of the maids. Each guest also gets a membership card as a "License of Your Majesty."
Conveyor Belt Eats
At a "kaitenzushi," or conveyor belt sushi, restaurant, the food comes to you. You’ll sit by a narrow conveyor belt that snakes around the restaurant to reach each table, and whenever something looks good, you just snag it. These restaurants are generally pretty affordable, and you can order off a menu if you want something specific that you haven’t seen come around on the belt. At the end, your bill is tallied up by counting your plates — different colors signify different prices. Want dessert to come to you in a similar way? Tokyo also has a few all-you-can-eat dessert restaurants like Maison Able Café RonRon, where you pay a set fee for all the desserts you can eat off their conveyor belt.