Each year, millions of travelers make their way to Tokyo to dine on sushi and admire the Shinjuku district’s towering skyscrapers. What many of them don’t know is that Japan’s buttoned up capital is also a leader in all things cute – or as the Japanese say, “kawaii.”
From its colorful cosplayers to its zany cafés, Tokyo has proven time and again that it’s much less old school than it is cool. Here’s how to experience this awesome Japanese city in all its pink-hued, anime-lined, cat-happy, kawaii glory – just as it was meant to be.
For Anime Nerds:
Back in the ‘90s, a blonde, pigtailed cartoon teenager named Sailor Moon fought evil by moonlight on the small screen. If you remember her – or if Goku, Pikachu, and Clow Cards continue to be a regular part of your vocabulary – visiting Tokyo is your chance to delve into the history of Japanese art and nab merchandise not available anywhere else. Here are a few recommended destinations for those of you who are looking to score major anime otaku (aka “nerd”) points.
Tourist handbooks might refer to Tokyo’s Akihabara district as the discount electronics quarter. But in recent years, it’s carved out a name for itself as Japan’s center of manga and anime culture. Wander through the district for its crop of otaku cafes, retailers, retro game shops, and much more.
Over in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo lies J-World Tokyo, a must-see shrine (of sorts) to Japan’s beloved manga magazine Shonen Jump. Nosh on Japanese treats in the manga character food court, compete for prizes with the anime-lovers in your life, hop on a carousel ride, and spot your favorite characters from popular manga series like One Piece, Dragonball, and Naruto.
Dubbed the “new mecca of anime,” Asagaya’s Anime Street is a paradise for cosplayers, anime buffs, and art lovers. Opened in spring 2014, the shops lining the street hawk everything from custom-made costumes to merchandise from popular shows.
If you only have 24 hours: Sailor Moon says that you can’t truly call yourself an anime otaku if you visit Tokyo without stopping by Suginami’s Animation Museum. Your favorite small-screen characters are more than their kawaii faces would suggest. Brush up on anime’s beginnings, learn how images are made and how shows are dubbed, and even create your own anime at the digital workshop. Time to brush up on those art skills!
For Sanrio Fanatics:
Sanrio, the Japanese company behind Hello Kitty and friends, isn’t just a part of Japanese culture – it is a creator of Japanese youth culture. Whatever your thoughts on Hello Kitty bodysuits (because those exist, y’all), you have to admit that Sanrio’s kawaii cat is on her way to world domination. But for now, she rules Tokyo with an iron paw.
Tokyo’s Sanrio Puroland theme park has served as the purrfect attraction for Hello Kitty-obsessed visitors for two and a half decades. The Sanrio-run site houses restaurants, themed attractions like boat rides and Kitty’s house (it’s as pink as you’d imagine), three live theaters, and more – all featuring our favorite kitty and her friends. Visitors can also stock up on gear from several kawaii gift shops.
Bus tours are overrated – unless you’re riding with the world’s most popular feline. Reserve your spot on a Hato double-decker Hello Kitty bus to experience floor-to-ceiling kawaii madness as you ride down the streets of Tokyo.
The best way to immerse yourself in the world of Hello Kitty is to book your way into it. At Keio Plaza, choose between a pop art-themed “Kitty Town” room and a stately princess-themed “Princess Kitty” room.
If you only have 24 hours: Sanrio World Ginza is the way to go. Gaze up in awe at its 8-foot-tall Hello Kitty statue and get your paws on luggage, chairs, toys, clothing, and jewelry – all featuring Hello Kitty as well as other popular characters like My Melody, Cinnamoroll, Chococat, and more!
For Café Connoisseurs:
Forget Starbucks! In recent years, Tokyo’s cafés have gotten gloriously weird(er). Japan’s most unique cafés allow visitors to sit under a starry planetarium, sip cups of joe next to furry felines, or get their hair done after they dine.
Unleash your inner cat lady with a visit to Kabukichō district’s Cat Cafe Calico. What’s better than caffeine and a café full of friendly kitties? Nothing, I tell you. Absolutely nothing.
Salon wait times are killer! Satisfy your cravings as you tame your tresses at Nalu 76 Café, a restaurant/hair salon hybrid in Shibuya. Because no one should have to go hungry as they wait for their new ‘do.
Over in Kabukichō, Shinjuku’s red-light district, you’ll find the Lord – or maybe just this Jesus-themed eatery. Featuring Asian-European fusion cuisine and cocktails with names like “Angel’s Trap” and “Deathscyth Hell,” Christon Café is the spot to hit for a wild time with the Holy Family. Amen to that!
If you only have 24 hours: Young astronomers will love dining under the stars at the Planetarium Starry Café in Haneda Airport. You and the kiddos can learn about the universe and its miracles from films projected onto the ceiling.
For Fashion Lovers:
The bright hues and outlandish styles of Tokyo’s Harajuku section would put any New York Fashion Week to shame. Bring home a splash of Japanese style with a shopping trip that’s almost too kawaii to handle. Almost.
Takeshita Street is a preteen girl’s dream. Here, you’ll find everything from crepe shops to street clothes, affordable accessories, and character merchandise. Oh, and splashes of blinding color. Go on a Sunday to spot outlandishly-dressed Harajuku cosplay girls.
Take your pick from a wide selection of ‘shockingly cute’ accessories in shades of electric yellow, pink, and purple. It’s tough not to notice 6%Dokidoki – just keep your eyes peeled for the pastel-colored carousel horse stationed in the window.
Tokyo’s Design Festa Gallery features an exciting array of installments, including those geared toward fashion design-lovers. The lineup includes kawaii art, accessories, clothing, and much more – all created by local Japanese artists.
If you only have 24 hours: Let your inner eccentric run wild through Laforet mall, a multi-storey shopping center packed with clothing and accessories boutiques catering to the Lolita girl in all of us.
These Tokyo spots are too kawaii to miss! Which ones would you visit? Do you have any of your own spots to add to the list?