Japan’s Funkiest Restaurants
November 11, 2013

Japan’s Funkiest Restaurants

My favorite restaurants in Japan will always be the ones that feel (and in some cases are) ancient. The ones with huge wooden beams and open fires filling the room with smoke. I’m up for the futuristic and downright weird ones as well, though. I mean, that’s what you come to Japan for, isn’t it.

Having my food delivered on a tiny electronic train is still impressive enough to me, which happens mainly at sushi restaurants when you select what you want on the touch screen menu, rather than waiting for it to pass by on the conveyor belt. That is, incidentally, the best way to select your sushi in a restaurant, because the ones you order are fresher than those that have been circling on the conveyor. Since most Japanese people know this, you wonder why they have the conveyor belt at all, unless it’s to provide the opportunity to laugh at foreigners who eat fish that was killed more than fifteen minutes ago.

But sushi gets a lot weirder than electronic trains. A fairly well known practice is that of eating sushi from a naked woman’s body, called nyotaimori. The women are trained to lie down motionless for long periods, and they take a fragrance-free shower just before service, finished with cold water so their body is cool. In case it all sounds a bit degrading towards women (it does sound a bit degrading towards women), there is a version called nantaimori which is eating sushi from a naked man’s body. Yeah, I bet that’s as popular.

If nyotaimori gets a bit old for some people, they can take things to an even more extreme level with ‘cannibal’ sushi. This involves a life-size, entirely edible recreation of a human body that is placed in front of diners on the table, as if about to have surgery or an autopsy performed, by waitresses dressed as nurses. The customers then dissect the body and red liquid spills out as the pink outer layer is cut into. All of the organs inside are edible too.

Of course, it goes without saying that there are ‘catch your own’ sushi restaurants.

I should point out that these kinds of restaurants aren’t on every corner, and I have never seen any in my town. There are a good few McDonalds though.

A lot of Japan’s odder restaurants are quite gimmicky, but the extremes to which they take a theme make them remarkable. They go well beyond having a rock themed café that is the same as a normal café but with two guitars on the wall. One popular theme is prison. Diners eat in a cell, in handcuffs, and food is served using chemistry lab equipment (not sure where chemistry comes into it) by staff dressed as wardens. There are random blackouts and riots that turn dinner into chaos. The establishment should carry the theme all the way to the end and have customers pay with cigarettes.

One of Tokyo’s most popular themed restaurants is Ninja, where actors creep about you as you eat, coming to your table to perform magic and illusions, in an environment that includes drawbridges and dark passageways and is set up to look like a seventeenth century Edo village.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of colourful, fantasy themed places too, from Alice in Wonderland to Dragon Quest. Japan does this sort of thing pretty brilliantly. They pull off their themed restaurants almost as well as some of the ineptitude and rudeness themed restaurants I have been to in the west.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on Amazon.com.

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