Unforgettable experiences

If you’re looking for experiences that will make your friends back home wish they’d come along, here are my favorite things to do that most people don’t know about.

Take photos of yourself in amazing situations at the Trick Art Museum

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You’ve got forty-five chances to take the most killer profile pic ever! Life-size illusions range from being swallowed by a shark to battling ninjas to being trapped by a giant in his wineglass!

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Be a Lolita for a day

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At Maison de Julietta in Laforet, you can choose from all this season’s latest Lolita fashions (including wigs, stockings, and matching accessories), then be styled by a professional makeup artist, and have your picture taken!

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Be dazzled by fembots, laser lights & neon taiko drummers at the Robot Restaurant

RobotRestaurant

Vegas meets New Japan in this music, dance and laser light show extravaganza. Taiko drumming and pole dancing alternate with battling robots. Everybody should go once, because you definitely won’t see anything like this outside Japan!

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Watch the best free entertainment in Tokyo, every Sunday afternoon in Yoyogi Park

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 Watch the rockabilly dancers, try slackline, check out the costumed dogs, marvel at the Skate Beagle, and more!

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Ride a roller coaster through a skyscraper

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How could you resist going to this amusement park, right in the middle of Tokyo?

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Get a pedicure from foot nibbling therapy fish

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Fifteen or thirty minute sessions guarantee to make everything below the water line squicky (and I don’t mean squeaky) clean!

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Beat your compadres at a Smile Fight at the Explorascience Museum

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Who’s got the deadliest smile? Let the Sony Explorascience computer snap your photo and rank you among the best smilers of the day!

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Play with the adorable hedgehog of your choice

Like a cat café, only prickly. At the Harry Hedgehog Café, you can meet these cute little guys up close and personal.

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Spend three hours on the edge of your seat at the Kabuki theatre

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Think three hours of stylized acting in archaic Japanese might be wasted on you? Think again! First of all, the English earphones are so great, even my Japanese friends use them because they explain stuff like, “that flute music you’re hearing always plays when someone is about to die.” The costumes and sets are amazing, and the stories are real classics of love and betrayal and pranksterism and death. I guarantee, you won’t be bored. Here’s a step by step guide to how to get tickets and what to do when you get there.

Watch a taiko-drumming fire ceremony

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If you thought Buddhism was all about silent contemplation, think again! The Fukugawa Fudo temple dishes up bonfires of flaming prayer sticks and towering taiko drums. This ceremony takes place several times daily at a fascinating temple that also has a hall of 10,000 crystal Fudo figures and a room filled with glow-in-the-dark gods.

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Sit among the musicians at the world’s smallest live jazz bar6Apollo

Most nights of the week, live jazz spirals up into the night from the basement lair of the Apollo bar in Shimo-kitazawa. For the price of a beer and a cover charge of about $15.00, you can sit so close to the musicians you can see the scratches on their instruments. One night it’s Brazilian, one night Afro, the next night blues, but the quality of the music is always amazing. Japanese jazz musicians love experimenting with unusual instruments too – it’s the only place I’ve seen someone jamming on a bass flute or a six-string bass!

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Make your own plastic food

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There’s a store in the restaurant supply district where you can sign up for a two-hour workshop to learn how to make a piece of tempura and a head of lettuce! Or if you’re short of time, you can buy kits there to take home and DIY.

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Learn the secret messages hidden in woodblock prints at the Amuse Museum

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The Amuse Museum is home to a collection of wonderful artifacts illustrating Japanese country life before Japan opened to the West (I especially love the salmon skin boots with fins!), but they also have a tiny theater that shows a terrific loop of shorts pointing out the hidden messages in woodblock prints. As a special bonus, you can head up to Bar Six for a drink and the best view of Senso-ji temple around!

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Double your money at the Zeni-arai Benten money-washing shrine4Zeniarai

The gods who promise to double any money you wash in the spring at the Zeni-arai Benten shrine in Kamakura must be in a generous mood because the live in one of the most beautiful shrines I’ve ever seen. Hidden away through a tunnel carved through a cliff, it’s a cool grotto of ferny walls, with trickling waterfalls and loads of small shrine buildings and torii gates.

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Go inside the giant Buddha

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Yes, you can go inside the Daibutsu and see how it was made!

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See monkeys & a lovely shrine at the top of Mt. Takao

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You can get there by cable car, chair lift or hiking trail • The monkey park features lots of lively & entertaining monkey families • Nice shrine, snack bars & souvenir shops at the top • All-you-can-eat-and-drink beer garden is open from July-Oct • Great place to see cherry blossoms (early Apr) and autumn leaves (mid- to late Nov).

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See giant frozen tuna at the Tsukiji Fish Market

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Ogle the giant tuna and the still wriggling denizens of the deep, then eat the freshest fish in the world at 24-hour sushi bar

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Learn how to make sushi from a master

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This four-hour workshop (in English!) starts with wandering the fish market and choosing the ingredients to a hands-on workshop teaching the techniques master chefs use to make sushi.

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MAKE A RESERVATION

ENTERTAINING EATS

Now you see it, now you don’t, at the Ninja restaurant

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If you want to see what this flaming egg turns into, let’s go to Ninja Akasaka! I was expecting something pretty cheesy, with lousy food, but I was totally surprised. The place itself is a delightful dungeon full of drawbridges and secret passageways, staffed by ninjas who conjure up quite delicious dishes with surprising twists. This restaurant does not disappoint.

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Lunch at a maid café

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Have the ultimate otaku lunch, being served by uniformed maids who call you “Master of the House”!

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Order a smokin’ Witch Girl cocktail and Black Rage Of  Satan Pizza at the Christon Cafe

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I discovered the theatrically great Goth theme café while doing book research for Nightshade, then I went back just for fun! The food isn’t amazing, but how can you resist ordering Black Rage Of Satan Pizza, washed down with a smoking Witch Girl cocktail?

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Eat red hot pepper and other weird flavors of ice cream

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At Namco Namja Town’s ice cream shop, every strange flavor of ice cream you can imagine is there for the sampling! Red hot pepper, wasabi, soy sauce, garlic, eggplant, beer, eel and more! They also have quite delicious flavors like Hokkaido sweet cream, grape, and Belgian chocolate.

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Catch your own noodles at Chaya Kado

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Catch your own noodles as they float past in the stream running down the middle of your table! Cold noodles dipped in a savory sauce with tempura and a beer are an unforgettable hot weather treat from May to October.

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SEASONAL FUN

You can’t enjoy these things all year round, but if you’re in Tokyo when they’re happening, they are well worth seeing!

Music, laser lights and thousands of fancy goldfish rock until late at the Art Aquarium

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From early July until late September, thousands of fancy goldfish are displayed at a giant gallery, lit up like jewels with laser lights. Each aquarium is custom designed to highlight the beauty of the fish, and many different varieties are on display. At night, DJs spin music live, and drinks are available (both alcoholic & non-alcoholic).

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Watch a battle of the titans at a sumo tournament

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For this only-in-Japan experience, you need to be in Tokyo during one of the three fifteen-day tournaments (January, May, December), but if you’re lucky enough to be here then, don’t miss watching some sumo! These mountains of muscle clash like forces of nature, and in between matches, the pomp and ceremony are as interesting to watch as the wrestling.

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Sample the traditional entertainment at a Japanese festival

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If you’ve never been to a rollicking Japanese festival, check my favorite listings at Tokyo Cheapo to see if there’s one happening while you’re in town! You’ll see why in my next life, I definitely want to come back as a Shinto god! Matsuri always feature the neighborhood folk carrying one or more golden portable shrines though the streets, lots of beer and saké, and sometimes a parade in period costume. Everyone ends up at the local shrine, where food booths, old-fashioned carnival games, and entertainments like monkey shows go late into the night. Best of all, this only-in-Japan entertainment is FREE!

Be amazed and delighted at Tokyo’s holiday illuminations

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One of my favorite things to do in Tokyo is to ride the trains around to see all the holiday Illuminations. From late-November to mid-January, neighborhoods try to out-do each other’s displays. Every one of them is a visual treat, but the wildest ones are animated and set to music. Don’t miss this free entertainment if you’re in Tokyo over the holidays.

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Wander through a winter wonderland of fairy lights at the Sagamiko Illumillions Theme Park

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November through mid-April • If you love holiday lights as much as I do, let’s go to the Illumillions theme park! They’ve covered the entire landscape with millions of colored lights, including a forest of golden trees, an underwater wonderland, and a palace that sparkles with a musical water fountain show several times an hour. There are even a couple of psychadelically glowing tunnels you can walk through!

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Read a novel set in Tokyo

The #1 hostboy at Club Nova makes a handsome living, whispering sweet nothings in the ears of women who pay him a fortune for the privilege. But the party’s over when Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura is assigned to investigate the death of one of Hoshi’s customers…read more

 

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