Top 10 Weird Things to Do in Tokyo
By Taryn Siegel on 24 Apr 2017
While most Tokyo guidebooks will send you to certain unmissable sites like fresh sushi at the Tsukiji fish market or the towering Tokyo Sky Tree, what really makes Tokyo such a special metropolis is its unique weirdness and wonder. For a truly unforgettable experience in Tokyo, I offer you the 10 things to do in Tokyo that you won’t find anywhere else.
- Have Coffee with a Hedgehog
…or an owl, or a bunny, or a snake, or (for the less adventurous) a cat. One of the quirkier things to do in Tokyo, pet cafes have been taking off all over Japan since the first cat café opened in Osaka in the 1960s. Since Tokyo is a cramped, bustling city that fits 1/10 of its nationwide population into a vast array of tiny apartments, having a pet in Tokyo is usually impossible. Pet cafes offer Tokyoites the chance to cuddle with some pets for a couple hours, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee at the same time. I’ve personally been to every café-type I listed above, but I think my new favorite is the hedgehog café. Harry’s Hedgehog Café is located just a few minutes’ walk from Roppongi station. Playtime with the hedgehogs is charged in 30-minute intervals (¥1080 per 30 min, weekdays, ¥1404 per 30 min, weekends & holidays). In a corner of the café they have a wide selection of self-service drinks, including coffee, herbal tea, and Japanese tea, all completely free. My hedgehog squirmed a little at first and tried to prick me, but ultimately fell asleep curled up in my lap while I sipped on my Apple & Rosehip tea.
- Spend the night in a spa
Japan, with its volcanic terrain and extensive hot springs, is a land of spas. And even though Tokyo is a bit removed from the volcanic regions, it still has its own underground hot springs and corresponding aboveground luxury spas. One of the best is Spa LaQua, located next to the Tokyo Dome in Bunkyo. Spa LaQua has five levels with an endless selection of pools, comfy seats, sleeping areas, and saunas. The main relaxation floor has floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Tokyo Dome amusement park. I know that sounds a little tacky, but it’s actually a beautiful view. The especially cool thing about this spa, though, is that it’s essentially open 24 hours (technically, it closes between 9AM and 11AM). After 1AM you have to pay a special “late night” charge of ¥1944, which, with regular admission included, comes to a total of ¥4578 for an overnight stay, which makes it cheaper than some capsule hotels. It’s like staying overnight in a museum or aquarium, except with a hundred different comfy beds to choose from and beautiful little saunas to wander into in the middle of the night if you need help falling back asleep.
- Descend into the slums of Hong Kong for some gaming
This next one is technically in Kawasaki, Kanagawa, but only a 30-minute train ride from central Tokyo, and not a site that can be overlooked. Anata no Warehouse is an 8-level massive arcade facility designed to look like the slums of Hong Kong. The building exterior is treated to appear like rusting metal, with Chinese letters etched into the dungeon-like front door. After entering, you’ll emerge into a red, glowing, metal tunnel. If you wind through the tunnel past the elevators, you’ll find a crooked line of metal steps bordered by broken pipes that appear to be floating in a pool of green smoke. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the aesthetic here is slums or horror house. The main arcade levels look like a tiny city; all of the walls are rusted metal, dirty tiles, and exposed pipes, with racing car games lined up right next to fake roast-duck stands. The unforgettable décor is definitely the main attraction here, but it also has every arcade game you could ask for, plus ping-pong tables, bowling, and more.
- Visit a Maid Café
Maid Cafes are a bit of a weird Tokyo attraction for most foreign visitors. Young, attractive Japanese waitresses dress in French maid outfits and address their customers as “Master” and “Mistress.” The idea is that customers are treated like masters being served in their own home, rather than café patrons. Maids will greet customers with “Welcome Home, my Master” and then usually offer some weird accessory to wear at the table, like bunny ears. Most maid cafes offer a basic selection of food and a wide variety of cutesy drinks, most of which the maids will decorate with some kind of silly design at your table. Although the cafes are obviously intended for male clientele, girls are more than welcome too. So take a minute to pour over the list of hundreds of maid cafes in Tokyo for the one that’s right for you, because this is a weird Tokyo attraction that shouldn’t be missed.
- Stay in a Love Hotel
Love Hotels are a special type of hotel, unique to Japan, that, in addition to the normal overnight rate, also offer a special “rest” option, where guests can stay for just a few hours at a reduced rate. Obviously, the original intention of these hotels is for couples to use them, and for that reason they have kind of a seedy reputation. But in reality, love hotels are just much nicer business hotels for about the same price. The décor is usually upscale and ornate, the rooms spacious, and a hot-springs-style bathtub is included inside the suite. And if you still feel awkward about entering one, the check-in and check-out process is designed to minimize human contact, so most places will let you do everything via an automated machine in the lobby.
- Travel Back in Time
Situated inside of Koganei Park, in Western Tokyo, is a tiny world of ancient Japan. Throughout its history, Tokyo has been subject to continuous, widespread destruction, whether it’s due to natural disasters, fires, or warfare, so unfortunately few of its historical buildings still exist today. The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum aims to preserve as much of historical Tokyo as possible. The museum has relocated and restored dozens of residences and shop fronts from the Edo Period up to the 20th century to this one area in Koganei Park. Some of the more modern buildings resemble little Victorian houses, while others are traditional Japanese homes dating back to the 1600s. Most of the residences are placed in the West and Central Zones of the mini metropolis, while in the East Zone is the “business district,” with old-fashioned grocery stores, inns, flower shops, manufacturers, and even a Meiji-Era police box from the 1860s.
- …And then Travel to the Future
A bit of a trek in Odaiba, the Museum of Emerging Science (also known as Miraikan) is nonetheless definitely worth a visit. This interactive museum houses the most cutting-edge research in Japan, from robots to particle accelerators to a replica of the International Space Station. Probably their best exhibit is the state-of-the-art robot ASIMO, who puts on a ten-minute show every hour or so to show off his eerily human-like movements—walking forwards, backwards, and sideways, jumping, and kicking a ball around with his trainer.
- Step into the World of Ghibli
Anyone even remotely familiar with the world of Japanese animation has probably seen or at least heard of the Studio Ghibli movies. These include titles like Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and my personal favorite, Howl’s Moving Castle. The Ghibli films are all marked with a style that I would call “luscious detail.” Every mundane detail of the scene landscapes is bursting with life and color in a way that no other animated film can really match. I can remember a scene from Howl’s Moving Castle where the main character is frying eggs and bacon over a wood stove and tossing eggshells into the mouth of the fire, and this very ordinary sequence is made literally gorgeous. In the Ghibli Museum, one of the most famous Tokyo attractions, you can experience the rich world of Ghibli first-hand. On the first floor of the museum is a little theater where you can watch a never-before-seen animated short. The second floor is a labyrinth of little rooms full of paper and sketches where you can see how the films come to life. There’s also a children’s play area with a giant cat bus from the movie My Neighbor Totoro. From the second floor balcony a winding staircase leads to the rooftop garden where you can find a life-sized robot from the movie Castle in the Sky. There’s also a café and gift shop that are both worth visiting. The ¥1000 price of admission also makes this one of the cheaper things to do in Tokyo. But be careful to reserve tickets online or at a convenience store at least a month in advance—no tickets are sold on site at the museum.
- Shop Inside a Work of Art
In the middle of Tennozu Isle in Shinagawa, Tokyo, flanked with waterfront views, is an art supply store like you’ve probably never seen before. Not only does it house over 4,200 pigments of color, ranged in a mesmerizing gradient across the store walls, but the interior is a stunning architectural work of art. The ceiling is paneled with rippling bamboo slats that swell across the open floor space. The floors, shelves, and tables are also made of bamboo, creating a beautiful and simple elegance. In addition to selling all kinds of paints, inks brushes, Japanese paper, the store also offers art classes and hosts various art events.
- Cheer on the Swallows
At first glance, going to a baseball game may not seem like a weird Tokyo attraction that you can’t find anywhere else. But the Japanese have a peculiar fanaticism towards baseball and a great sense of camaraderie. I list the Swallows here particularly since that’s the team I follow—they’re something like the Tokyo equivalent of the NY Mets, an underdog team continually living in the shadow of their rivals, the Tokyo Giants. What makes Japanese baseball games so unique (besides their very lax policy on bringing in your own food and alcohol) is that it’s really a spectacle—not just of the actual game, but of the fans watching. All of the key players have their own chants (written by the fans) that spectators chorus together when the player gets up to bat. And whenever a Swallows player scores a run, all the fans pull out these tiny, plastic, rainbow-colored umbrellas and perform a synchronized dance together while chanting another fan-written song. Over the summer, some of the games even end with a fireworks show.
Tokyo is definitely not a place for the ordinary. It’s a place for adventure, for discovery, and, above all, for the weird. No matter how short your stay in Tokyo may be, make sure you make the time to experience its weirdness to the fullest.
Hi there! I'm a freelance writer, part-time Physics tutor, and amateur musician living in Tokyo, Japan. I'm originally from New York, but have also lived in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Scotland. My interests are nearly equal parts reading, writing, travel, guitar, coffee, and Physics. When I'm not trekking around glorious Japan, I'm likely biking around Tokyo, reading in cafes, or at a live show of one of my greatly more musically talented friends.