Planning my upcoming trip to Japan has required much more research than I usually do.
I’m excited to get swept away by the dazzlingly unfamiliar, but I don’t want to get so swept away that I inadvertently miss experiencing things that can only Japan has on tap.
It started when I out-of-the-blue remembered the existence of Tokyo’s famous Cat Cafes (see below)- how could I almost have forgotten to visit someplace that not only gives you snacks, but lets you pet a rental cat while you sip your strawberry milk?
The more I researched, the longer my list of Japanese Oddities grew. For better or worse, there seem to be some only-in-Japan activities that I’m still trying to wrap my Western sensibilities around.
1. The Japanese Cat Cafe
Most Tokyo apartments (a) don’t have a square meter of extra space and (b) won’t permit you to keep pets anyway. What’s a cuddle-starved cat lover to do? Enter the Cat Cafe.
After paying an entrance fee based on how long you want to pet the kitties, you can enjoy all the magic of a coffeehouse (read: a steamy cup of caffeine between your paws)… and love on the resident cats as a bonus! Most cafes have tons of cat toys and even treats that you can buy to lure kitties over.
My personal favorite: Some cat cafes house only rescued strays, with all of the felines up for adoption.
Although the first cat cafe- called KitTea- is allegedly coming to San Francisco this year (yet another reason why SF is my favorite city, anywhere), I can’t NOT do this. Let it be known that Mr. M would rate this a 0, and shall be going in the name of Being a Good Sport.
2. Love Hotels
Hotel rooms that you can rent by the hour aren’t unique to Japan, but this? Thankfully, this is.
The Japanese take “love hotels” to a whole new level. There’s a room modeled to look just like the inside of a subway car… because who doesn’t have the urge to strip down in the clammy, urine-soaked subways, amiright, ladies? And another snow-themed one with two igloos (and a snow shovel, for what purpose I’m not kinky enough to dream up).
Although I was a little eww-ed out when I first heard about this trend, many love hotel guests are actually married couples trying to escape tiny apartments with paper-thin walls.
I’m not gonna lie… I find the themed rooms’ interior decor totally amusing. (Are there special interior designers who only work on love hotels?) But getting a quick look is SO not worth the yuck factor of having to step inside, or the scalding hot disinfectant bath I’d have to take afterwards. No.
I did not ask Mr. M for his rating on this because sometimes a girl just doesn’t want to know.
3. Sumo Wrestling
Sumo should probably be left off the list of Japanese Oddities. I mean, it’s way less odd than the WWE nonsense we Americans call “wrestling.” But it’s here because, like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, there’s really nowhere else in the world you can go to experience sumo.
The sport was originally performed to entertain Shinto deities, and many of the rituals performed before and after a match today still have religious significance. There are only six sumo tournaments a year, and it just so happens that our stay in Tokyo will overlap with one of the tournaments!
If my request to purchase tickets goes through, we will be there! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this ancient sport in action.
4. Capsule Hotels
Originally created as sleeping spots for nose-to-the-grindstone office workers who missed the last subway train home, capsule hotels are like a human beehive. Luggage must be stored in a separate locker room, as each “room” is only about 3 ft x 3ft x 7ft… like a dog kennel… or those creepy freezer boxes they slide dead bodies out of in the medical examiner’s forensics lab.
Skimping on space needn’t mean skimping on creature comforts; these come equipped with your own tv and a wifi connection! Score! For $20-$40 a night, it’s a great alternative for budget travelers, or men engaged in a lover’s spat (because I don’t think most Tokyo apartments have room for the so-called ‘doghouse’).
Despite my own claustrophobia, I was all for spending one night in a capsule hotel, just to give it the old college try. I imagined Mr. M & I being able to pop our heads out and talk to each other like little meerkats at a slumber party. But most capsule hotels are for men only, and the ones that do allow women have separate female-only floors (which totally makes sense)… and that’s dramatically less fun.
I guess these chickens shall remain cage-free.
By the way, far more spacious Western versions of the capsule hotel are popping up and are typically called Pod Hotels.
5. Station Pushers
Thanks to the magic of the internet, everyone knows about the Shinjuku Station Pushers: men whose actual job it is to shove folks into already-jam-packed subway cars during rush hour. Supposedly subway windows have shattered due to the sheer force of too many people trying to get in not enough space.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s worth a look here:
Sorry, Shinjuku Station Pushers… but I’m perfectly content to “experience” this from the safety of the interwebs. Here I thought subway travel in NYC was stressful.
6. Japanese versions of American Food
I don’t even know how to describe, this, so I won’t.
Japanese Kit Kats come in flavors like wasabi, green tea, red bean sandwich, and purple yam. There are dozens of off-the-wall flavors, and it’s almost like a scavenger hunt to find which cart sells the weirdest ones.
I immediately thought no, save your appetite for food you can only eat in Japan… and then I remembered this is food you can only eat in Japan! I’m not forsaking a bowl of ramen or tasty tempura for seaweed Pringles, but if I need a quick snack, why not? And the quest for a Midnight Eagle Kit Kat?