I landed at Tokyo's Narita Airport last week ready to find out why so many people (13.35 million, according to last year's numbers) would want to live in a single place. Now I desperately wants to move there, if only for the weird and wonderful food and drink scene.
Tokyo is like nowhere else on Earth when it comes to dining out. Maguro. Yakatori. Ramen. Ramen baths. Yakisoba. Takoyaki. These go from being foreign words to lifelong favorites after a single day in Japan’s capital. The drinks are equally impressive (Jim Murray, named Japanese whiskey the global best in 2014 in his famous World Whiskey Bible) and the cocktails and bars are equal to those of London and New York.
In a gastronomic effort to break the button off my jeans, I discovered there’s a lot of Only-in-Tokyo stuff happening. On Saturday, I had to scrounge up the courage to eat a skewer of grilled womb. I spent Sunday, not in church (sorry, Mom), but in the Harajuku neighborhood, sharing a crêpe with a girl dressed as anime character. The weekend also included one restaurant completely devoid of chairs and another with dozens of robots.
Tokyo serves up the strange in a very palatable way. Without further adieu, the five food and drink experiences you can only have in Tokyo:
Study the World’s Best Whiskey with a view of the Sky Tower
Take the elevator to the Ritz-Carlton’s 45th-floor Lobby Lounge and ask esteemed barman Kentaro Wada to set you up with a flight of Japanese whiskies. He pairs each with artisan chocolates, made in-house. You’ll learn the differences between Hibiki 17-year blend and a Yamazaki 12-year single malt, while ogling the sheer size of this city through floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s one of the best views of Tokyo’s famous Sky Tower.
Eat Crepes & Candy with Anime Characters in Harajuku
Harajuku is one of the hottest tourist attractions in Tokyo. It’s an epicenter for developing fashions and the theatrical style. Take your camera to Takeshita Street, where Japanese teenagers treat a typical Tuesday like Comic Con, fully decked in outrageous costumes. The street is also renowned crepe stands, candy stores, and bars selling carbonated, brightly colored bubble teas. Careful. The sugar high can make a t-shirt covered in kittens and unicorns feel like a logical purchase.
Eat Grilled Womb on Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku
If authentic travel means channeling your inner Anthony Bourdain, head to Omoide Yokocho. This tiny road is crammed on either side with open-front izakayas, each seating an average of six to 10 people in front of a grill. Yakatori – the popular term for skewered meats – runs the gamut here, from grilled pork and chicken to more daunting options like intestines and womb. For post-dinner drinks, hit up the Albatross G bar. Downstairs there are more chandeliers than barstools, and the second floor attic gallery is a Alice-in-Wonderland-French-Bordello design. There’s a hole in the floor. You yell your order down to the bartender below.
Fine Dine on Your Feet at the Inikari Standup Steakhouse
The name of this chain translates to “Sudden Steak.” There are no chairs. Walk to the back butcher counter, choose your cut and then retreat to an empty space of high counter. Your finished masterpiece is plated and brought through the crowd on a sizzling skillet. You carve and consume standing. While it lacks pomp or circumstance, it is an incredibly delicious steak experience. The original Inikari is in the swanky Ginza neighborhood, but there are several scattered across the city.
Eat, Drink & Maybe Take an Advil at the Robot Restaurant
It cost 10-million yen to build this nightclub/restaurant/theater, where robots rule the stage. The whole place is a menagerie of mirrors, lasers, blinking neon, advanced robotics, and bikini-clad cyborg girls, who put on several shows per day. It’s 7,000 yen to enter ($56) and another 1,000 yen to eat. Stick to the canned beers, because you are there for the show and not the food. And the show, while somewhat headache-enducing, is something you will find nowhere else.