Seeing quirky subcultures up close is one of the most fun parts of any Japan backpacking tour. As Japan’s capital and largest city, there’s no better place to experience this side of the country than Tokyo. So here’s our top ten quirky things to do in Tokyo.
(As you’ll see, we’ve mostly not strayed into the seedy part of “quirky”. If you want to buy used underwear or check into a love hotel with someone you met 15 minutes earlier while dancing wildly to Justin Bieber, then crack on – you won’t need help from us.)
Pinball at a Pachinko parlour
We’re not talking a lonely pinball machine in the corner of a bar. Pachinko parlours are dedicated to fully immersive pinball love – it’s wall to wall machines on several floors, with buttons and bright lights galore. Expect to be dazzled and confused.
Maid cafés in Akihabara
Ever been served kiddie food by a Japanese woman in a French maid outfit addressing you as master or mistress? No? Well, here’s your chance. Grab that miniature teddy-bear cupcake with both hands.
Owl, cat and other animal cafes
Normal cafes on the surface, in that you can walk in, buy a cup of coffee or tea and sit down at a table. But look over your shoulder or down at your feet and you’ll see things aren’t as normal as they appear. Expect an owl perched on a branch or a cat purring and wanting to be stroked. Don’t be shy, the animals are there for you to play with.
Watch a sumo practice
By Japanese standards, this isn’t especially quirky. But a stable full of enormous men in topknots and cloth nappies grappling over a dirt floor isn’t exactly run of the mill for most people either. Head to Ryogoku District to see them in action.
Not two words you often put together, but this is exactly as it sounds. A sci-fi lover’s Moulin Rouge. Just substitute the tame feather dresses for shiny, laser-blasting robots and a techno soundtrack. Neon tanks, giant pandas, robo-dinosaurs and more all doing battle in front of you while you enjoy a drink and dinner.
People watching in Harajuku and Yoyogi Park
Harajuku is the centre of cosplay (short for costume play). Japanese teenagers dress as goth geishas, punks, demon school girls, or anime characters and then head to Harajuku to create quite a spectacle. Yoyogi Park is most famous for rockabilly clubs hanging out and dancing. Go on a Sunday and you’ll feel like you’ve walked onto the set of Grease.
Go to the toilet
For us simpletons that are used to a straight flush, the average Japanese toilet is a minefield of buttons offering anything from an upward water spray to a blast of hot air. I just wanted to have a pee!
Not for the claustrophobic. Tokyo’s famous capsule hotels are still going strong, helping hundreds of businessmen that miss their train home sober up before work the next day.
Buy something weird from a vending machine
Japanese vending machines sell so much more than Lucozade or Walkers crisps. You can get dog food, toys, gadgets, umbrellas and more. Hunt around and buy something you could never find in a machine back home.
Meguro Parasitological Museum
Ok, so you want weird? Well, here it is. The world’s only parasite museum. That’s right – parasites. The museum recounts the medical battle against parasites and includes some gory pics of tape worms (probably the highlight, if a tape worm can ever be a highlight).
Sumo, pachinko, cat cafes, Harajuku and robot cabaret are all part of our budget Japan backpacking tour, which starts and finishes in Tokyo.
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