Unforgettable experiences

If you’re looking for experiences that will make your friends back home wish they’d come along, here are my favorites!

ONLY-IN-JAPAN CRAZY

Be astounded by immersive digital art at BORDERLESS (the TeamLab Digital Museum) in Odaiba

The ever-changing digital environment isn’t just gorgeous, it might be the most surprising, delightful thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s a morphing  360° projection-mapping world, with interactive artworks that wander from room to room, plus a forest of resonating lanterns and a maze constructed of shimmering, glimmering LED strings. Seriously, if you see nothing else in Tokyo, see this.

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

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You’ve got forty-five chances to take the most killer profile pic ever! Insert yourself into this series of life-size illusions that make it look like you’re defying death, befriending wild creatures or just stepped out of a masterpiece.

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

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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Get a pedicure from foot nibbling therapy fish at the Oedo Onsen in Odaiba

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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 in Odaiba

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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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Marvel at the talented artists who leave prayer plaques at the shrine devoted to anime and manga in Akihabara

Where anime and manga artists come to pray for success

Not only cane you see amazing art drawn on prayer plaques by visitors, you can even buy a charm to protect your electronics

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Make your own plastic food in Kappabashi

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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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Ogle outlandish goods at the street market on Koshinzuka Street

From bamboo ear cleaners to dried snake tea, you’ve never seen a street market like this

Every 4th, 14th and 24th of the month, Koshinzuka Street is taken over by vendors selling handmade bamboo ear cleaners, crispy cricket drinking snacks, and poisonous dried snake tea. Of course, you can still visit the Big Red Underwear store and buy a magic umbrella, even if it’s not a special day.

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Watch a fire ceremony in Monzen-nakacho

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If you thought Buddhism was all about silent contemplation, you haven’t been to a fire ceremony! The Fukugawa Fudo temple dishes up bonfires of flaming prayer sticks and towering taiko drums. This ceremony takes place five 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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Watch the best free entertainment in Tokyo, every Sunday afternoon at Yoyogi Park in Harajuku

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 Watch the rockabilly dancers, try slackline, check out the costumed dogs, clap for the latest song and dance talent, and more, every Sunday afternoon.

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Ride a roller coaster through a skyscraper in Koraku-en

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How can you resist this amusement park, right in the middle of Tokyo?

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ONLY-IN-JAPAN TRADITIONAL

Spend three hours on the edge of your seat at the Kabuki theatre in Higashi-ginza

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If you 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.

Banish negative people from your life at the dish-breaking shrine in Kamakura

Get rid of negative people in the most satisfying way possible at this Kamakura shrine, then take home a dragon clapper to summon good fortune and frighten away bad.

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Double your money at the Zeni-arai Benten money-washing shrine in Kamakura

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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 in Kamakura

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

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Time travel back to the 1960s at the History Garage in Odaiba

Crazy vintage car collection displayed in a historical town setting

Wander around among an extensive collection of fast, old, rare & famous cars

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ONLY-IN-JAPAN SOUL-RESTORING

Meet a hedgehog up close and personal in Roppongi

Like a cat café, only prickly

Play with the adorable hedgehog of your choice

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Sit among the musicians at the world’s smallest live jazz bar in Shimo-kitazawa

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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 less then $20, 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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Be ignored by many kinds of cats, as if they were your very own, at a cat cafe in Shinjuku

Excellent cat café

Do the famous coffee & kitty thing • Lots of different kinds

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

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This mountain on the outskirts of Tokyo is a great place to see autumn leaves, cherry blossoms, and hike year-round. There’s a nice monkey park at the top, and a beer garden in the summer.

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ENTERTAINING EATS

Get served by iconic assassins in your own private dungeon at the Ninja restaurant in Akasaka-mitsuke

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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 pleasantly surprised. The place itself is a delightful dungeon full of drawbridges and secret passageways, staffed by ninjas who conjure up delicious dishes with surprising twists. This experience does not disappoint.

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Lunch at a maid café in Akihabara

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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 in Shinjuku

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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 in Ikebukuro

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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 in Kamakura

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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 in Mitsukoshi-mae

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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 in Ryogoku

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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 to see which of my favorite events are 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

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, and 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 outside Tokyo

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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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