Tokyo is super quirky, extraordinarily advanced yet somehow locals still grasp hold of their traditions and fascinating culture.
Many people chatter about the unusual types of experiences you can have in Japan, from Cat Cafes, to soaking in hot springs filled with red wine, sleeping in capsule hotels, or NOT sleeping in Love Hotels and for many people, it is these peculiar encounters that draw travellers to the country.
We thought we would share with you our favourite ‘bizarre bars’ as we call them in Tokyo, the city that never shuts down.
1. Black Cat Cafe
You may have heard about Japan’s cat cafes before and been super excited about paying an hourly fee to sit in a room and play with felines while you sip on your coffee, but now, there is a new level of cat café!
A black cat café! Cat Café Nekobayaka is a place where one can play non-stop with magical kitties like Hakubei, Kiisuke, and Chashibu.
Every cat on their roster is jet-black from head to tail. The cats here all wear different coloured bow ties so you can tell them apart (how cute!)
2. Izakaya Kayabuki with Monkey Waiters
Theres’s nothing particularly strange about this restaurant… from the outside, it looks like any other Japanese izakaya, or sake house.
Noren curtains are down to let passersby know that its open for business. A wooden exterior is decorated with customary red lit lanterns. The nondescript side street is quiet except for a few cars passing by here and there.
Inside, old enka songs can be heard faintly in the background, while cold beer and a variety of homestyle dishes make their way to the tables.
Boiled fish, fried chicken karaage, takowasa (wasabi and octopus), and Utsunomiya’s famous gyoza are standard menu choices. Local residents mix with foreign teachers and other inquisitives on the tatami mats. The space is small, intimate, unassuming.
Tucked away in a corner of Utsunomiya’s concrete jungle. By all appearances, Kayabuki Tavern is just your ordinary, run of the mill Japanese restaurant.
However, behind these doors, a very less than ordinary story emerges.
A monkey wearing a women’s mask and wig will wait on you at izakaya Kayabuki in Utsnomiya, and if you’re lucky, jump on your head.
Two monkeys work as waiters. Their names are Yacchan and Fukuchan.
Yacchan dresses in a shirt and shorts while he takes customers’ drink orders and delivers them to the diners’ tables. Fukuchan has the main duty of bringing the attendees hot towels to clean their hands before ordering drinks.
3. Ninja Restaurant
Ninja is one of the most popular theme restaurants in Tokyo, and you’ll need reservations well in advance to dine in dim light as trained assassins slink about.
Guests are led over drawbridges and down winding passages to an eating area resembling a 17th century Edo period village. The menu features cocktails with fad collagen additives and set meals up to $200 a person.
The meal includes entertainment in the form of an illusionist who visits your table and other surprises.
4. Alcatraz ER
Whoever came up with this place couldn’t decide between a hospital-themed restaurant or a prison-themed restaurant.
So they didn’t decide, and just make it a prison hospital-themed restaurant. Here patients/inmates/diners are handcuffed to their tables (in their cells) and served liquid nourishment via IV bags. It’s not a restaurant for the squeamish.
Alcatraz is a cross between The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Rocky Horror Picture Show, and one of Tokyo’s oldest themed nightspots.
There are handcuffs, chainsaws, cocktails poured through syringes, menu items like “Dead Chicken”, and servers who wear mental ward doctor and nurse’s uniforms. There’s lots of screaming and raucousness, so be prepared for a loud evening.
One of the first theme restaurants to open in Tokyo, Alcatraz ER is, as its name suggests, styled after a prison hospital. A prison hospital from hell, that is.
The menu includes human intestines (OK, it’s an unfeasibly long sausage in a kidney dish), a penis on a bed of lettuce (another sausage, suggestively carved) and various impossibly spicy delectables.
As for the drinks, the Nounai Hassha (“brain buster”) is a vodka-based cocktail in a life-size mannequin head, while the Hitori Asobi (literally, “play by yourself”) is a wine cocktail served with, um, a couple of vibrators.
One thing to keep in mind – you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the wicked nurses, who have a habit of pulling down unruly customers’ trousers to administer an injection from a gigantic syringe. You have been warned.
5. Christon Café
For people who fantasize about breaking into a Catholic Church and drinking sacramental wine, there’s Christon Café.
Here, musty European church meets trendy nightclub in the form of stained glass windows, paintings of Mary and Joseph, religious icons, and an elaborate cocktail menu.
If you haven’t been to confession in awhile, you might ask to be seated in one of the wooden dining booths with velvet curtains.
Christian imagery abounds in the form of crucifix shaped menus, statues of Jesus, and candle lined altars. The concept is so popular that the restaurant has 4 locations across Japan.
6. Lock Up
If mental ward dining doesn’t appeal to you, how about eating in a prison cell? Patrons of Lock Up can expect to be handcuffed and led to a jail cell where they will dine on food presented in chemistry lab equipment served by prison wardens.
There are secret doors, random blackouts, and raving prisoners in hockey masks. Throughout the night, there are also staged jailbreaks and you might just have to hide another prisoner in your cell.
Let’s make one thing clear, you do not go to The Lock Up for the food; you go there for the experience and the colourful cocktails served in all sorts of beakers, test tubes and syringes.
Getting into the restaurant is an experience in itself – you have to walk through darkened hallways (watch your step) which can give you a bit of a fright.
And once you make it to the restaurant itself, you get handcuffed and led to your cell. Get the all you can drink (nomihoudai) option and try all the cocktails – it also includes beer, wine and soft drinks for those not cocktail inclined.
The food is standard izakaya fare, but have a bit of fun with the sushi roulette where one of the pieces of sushi is filled with tonnes of wasabi, but you can’t tell from looking at it from the outside. Lots of fun to play, but the worst thing ever when you lose.
7. Vampire Café
Not surprisingly, the colour theme is red in this dramatic restaurant full of candelabras, broken mirrors, skulls, and a large centrepiece coffin.
Guests sit in private booths lined with thick velvet drapes and listen to baroque music. Servers wear French maid costumes or tuxedos.
Food is presented in coffin shaped bowls with edible crucifixes and artistic garnishes of blood — I mean, ketchup.
8. Alice in Wonderland
Though waitresses wear kinky Alice outfits at this restaurant, the patrons are mostly groups of women.
Customers are granted access through a large door, which opens like a page of a book, and led down a rabbit hole corridor adorned with passages from the story.
The restaurant is decorated with playing cards on the ceiling and floors, lamps made out of funky hats, and tea cup shaped booths. The menu is a miniature diorama to make you feel like a giant, and food items have edible mirrors, Cheshire cat faces, and notes that read, “Eat me!”
We all know that the Japanese are workaholics, but this takes things to another level. You’ll find that theme bars of all description abound in Tokyo, but none has quite the same bizarrely unattractive concept as Office.
With a photocopier by the window, power points for workaholics and bookshelves against the wall, the management seems not to have noticed that its bar offers the best view in the area.
DJs play mellow tunes most nights, and the crowd are young, urban trendies.
10. Owl Café
Cat and Dog Cafes are so last year. While the rest of the world is still catching up with the trend of animal cafes, the Japanese are streaks ahead with the newest craze being Owl Cafes.
A mandatory email reservation system curbs the lines of owl enthusiasts that might otherwise stand outside, and although booking an available time can require as much tenacity as a prime-time SoulCycle appointment, successfully securing a spot means one full hour of unbridled, up-close-and-personal time with actual owls.
The owls themselves are in all forms of sizes and colors, and are gently tethered to several different perches around the room, with their names written on plaques behind them.