Tokyo's unmissable quirky attractions

A guide to Tokyo's most bizarre sights, from owl and bunny cafes to pachinko parlours, robot cabaret and cosplay.

Cat cafe

Space is at a premium in Tokyo, so apartments are small and expensive. Consequently, not many people have pets. Instead, people pop along to pet cafes that house furry animals that can be stroked for a short time, for a small fee. Cat cafes were some of the first and proved so popular they have even spread to London (see Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, in Dalston Nekorobi is an established "pay as you stay" cat cafe in Tokyo.

Shibuya crossing

The second the lights change at this junction in the boutique shopping haven of Shibuya, all hell breaks loose. Moses himself would struggle to part this crowd of shoppers and commuters swarming in from all sides. The hordes were memorably navigated by Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.

Golden Gai bars

This network of alleyways is a remnant of old Tokyo and crammed with tiny bars that accommodate only a handful of people, making them perfect for socialising. On an adjacent road is Champion, a public karaoke bar, where tourists and besuited salarymen let off steam together in rowdy singalongs.

Maid cafe


Maid cafes are another disconcerting and not easily explained Tokyo trend. But if you want to be brought smiley face cupcakes and teddy-shaped ice cream sundaes by girls in maid outfits, Maidreamin is one of the handful of places in Akihabara where you can do so.

Bunny café

A short hop from Sensō-ji temple is this multi-floor café full of different breeds of rabbit, all waiting to be cuddled. First wash your hands then choose your rabbit (more difficult than it sounds when confronted by 20 or so twitching noses). Next take it in a carry basket to your seat, cover your knees in a blanket, pop the bunny on top and begin getting to know each other. It costs £15 ($A28.50) for a half-hour stroking session. Dressing up Flopsy costs extra.

Robot cabaret

What could be more entertaining than a laser show with dancing robots in Kabukicho – Tokyo's red light district? The fluidity of their moves has less to do with technology, however, and more to do with the fact that they're actually humans in costume. But this does not make the show at Robot Restaurant any less popular. Expect giant pandas, dinosaurs and ninjas too.

Lost in Translation bar

Drinks are expensive and there are lots of skyscraper bars to choose from, but the view of the twinkling cityscape is only partly why you'd visit the 52nd-floor New York Grill at the Park Hyatt. This is, of course, where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson meet in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. The bar offers a LIT cocktail - sake and cherry blossom.

Owl cafe

Blame Harry Potter, owl cafes are the latest in ethically dubious animal petting joints to hit the city. The baby birds sit on perches, while the larger birds will sit keenly on your arm.

Weird fashions

Neon hair, platform shoes, fake tans, mega-goth even snaggle teeth (dental work required) – these are just a few of the bizarre fashion crazes that have gripped Tokyo teens in recent years. Cosplay – getting dressed up in eccentric costumes – is also popular, making a visit over Halloween especially fun. The shopping streets near Harajuku are where to see people dressed up at the weekend but Odaiba is also fast becoming popular. Yoyogi Park in Shibuya sometimes hosts singing Elvis and rockabilly characters too.

P*** alley

Also known in more polite circles as Memory Lane, this is where you go to fill up on yakitori skewers. Pull up a stool somewhere along this narrow lane, lined with smoky stalls, where sticks of meat and, to a lesser extent, vegetables, are barbecued in front of you. Don't expect much English, or elbow room.

Capsule hotel

Not for the claustrophobic, capsule hotels are affordable places to spend a night. Not all accommodate women, but if you've had a few and missed the last train home (an easy thing to do in Tokyo – there are no night buses here), you can crawl into one of these tubes and sleep it off. There is not enough room to sit up and there is no door, only a blind between you and your snoring bedfellows.

Love hotels

These short-stay hotels, designed for amorous couples, have proven increasingly popular in Japan. Love hotels can usually be identified by the offer of two different room rates: a "rest", as well as an overnight stay. The name, and the presence of heart symbols, is also a giveaway.

While the cheapest love hotels will be pretty basic (with plenty of velvet), high-end establishments offer extravagantly decorated rooms, often with unusual themes and costumes for hire. The rooms sometimes feature rotating beds, ceiling mirrors and karaoke machines.


For less intimate karaoke sessions, there are lots of options for booths to hire around the city, including one where you can sing while sitting in a hot tub ( The Lost in Translation karaoke scene is set in Karaoke Kan, Shibuya, where there are reams of songs in English (with a definite Eighties bias) and glow-in-the-dark decor.

Canned food bar

Mr. Kanso is a surprisingly popular Japanese bar that serves canned food. Instead of providing a menu, those who dine there have the opportunity to select their meal from shelves filled with tuna and the like, and are supplied plastic cutlery to enjoy the contents of their tin.

Pachinko parlours

These noisy, multi-level floors of incredibly difficult to play pinball machines are everywhere. Even if you quite sensibly don't want to waste your yen trying to understand how jabbing at the flashing buttons might slow the crash of pinballs, and quite how the dizzying reel of animation clips relates to any of it, it's worth visiting one if only to appreciate just how loud and manic they are.

Dungeon cafe

Pasta with eyeballs anyone? Lock Up is a dark, dungeon-themed restaurant with tables in cells, cabinets of skulls and cocktails decorated with entrails served in test tubes. You'll be horrified. Or at least amused. There are branches across Japan.

The Telegraph, London