From forgetful waiters to recreating the Japanese elementary lunch experience, Tokyo has never been accused of dull dining choices. While food enthusiasts point to Japan as a world leader in experiential dining, travelers are beginning to demand more than simply showing up for a meal. Via creative resources and concepts, inventive restaurateurs and cafe owners strive to create a singular, notable moment for their guests. Take a deeper dive past the theme restaurants and explore these five extraordinary options for a truly unique dining experience.
No, we aren’t cursing about curry. Dam curry or “damukare” is the latest rage in Japan literally built upon the architectural idea of a dam buttressing a large water source. Using rice as the dam fortress which holds back a river of curry in a reservoir, these inventive creations are as much fun to look at as to eat. Every restaurant does it a little differently with some dishes created as edible works of art. Here are two restaurants in the Tokyo area specializing in dam curry for your dining pleasure.
i. Katakuri no Hana
Inside the Okutama Water and Green Museum, which is located in the extreme west end of Tokyo in Okutama, is a little restaurant called Katakuri no Hana. They serve twenty variations of Ogouchi Dam Curry, named after the dam which houses the water for Metro Tokyo.
Plan the perfect day trip and walk along the dam for a breathtaking view, visit the hot springs for a delightful dip in warm waters, visit nearby Mugiyama no Ukihashi Bridge and the Ogouchi Shrine, hike the Okutama Mukashi Michi trail, tour the free admission museum, then settle down to an artfully crafted curry dish designed to look like the Ogouchi Dam.
Katakuri no Hana is open from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM daily, and closed on Wednesdays and national holidays (if Wednesday is a national holiday, they are closed the following day).
To get there by car, drive through Tachikawa to Ome, then take Highway 411 which takes you straight into Okutama. To get there by train, take the JR Chuo/Ome Line from Tokyo to Ome Station. At Ome Station, switch trains to Ome Line and get off at Okutama Station, then take the Nishi Tokyo Bus from bus stop 2 to Lake Okutama. It’s about a 15-minute bus ride. (The bus will stop at Ogouchi Shrine on the way if you want to take a peek.)
Fun fact: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Waterworks manages the dam, museum, and restaurant.
ii. Kappo Sansyu-ya
Situated in the northeastern region of Tokyo in Sumida, Kappo Sansyu-ya is a restaurant that specializes in dam curries and creates clever dish designs using a wall of sticky rice to shore up a powerful wall of spicy curry. Try their Gravity Dam or Arch Dam! Located in close proximity to Tokyo Skytree, the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and the Sumida Aquarium, it’s a delicious and unique eating experience to finish a day of sightseeing.
Kappo Sansyu-ya is open from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM for lunch, and from 4:30 PM to 9:30 PM for dinner. It’s about a seven-minute walk from Honjo-azumabashi Station on the Toei Asakusa Line.
Do you fondly reminisce about lunchtime as a child? Have you ever seen a video portraying Japanese children eating their lunch in school and wish you could have done that? Get ready for a one-of-a-kind experience at Kyushoku Toban. This truly charming cafe recreates the lunch practice of Japanese elementary school children.
Be transported to childhood by enjoying a cafeteria-style meal complete with metal trays separating each prepared dish in a classroom setting (think desks and chalkboards.) Pure nostalgia is on the menu served up in this party atmosphere with food choices ranging from first grade through sixth grade, including dishes such as Pork and Tofu Miso, Barbecue Steak with Mushrooms, and a silly sounding drink which translates into English as “Truly Bad Skim Milk Powder.” With a robust bar service, you can also enjoy your favorite adult beverage along with your milk.
Kyushoku Toban is open every day excluding national holidays. Lunch starts at 11:30 AM, while dinner is from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Large parties of four to 20 people are also welcome.
To get there, take the Toei Oedo Line to Shin-Okachimachi Station and use Exit A3. You can also get off at the JR Okachimachi Station and from the North Exit, walk towards Kasuga-dori Sumidagawa for eight minutes. On the Hibiya Line, you can also get off at Naka-Okachimachi Station, use Exit 3, and walk towards Kasugadori Sumidagawa for six minutes.
ZAUO brings a whole new meaning to fresh seafood since the diner must catch their own fish to cook for their meal. Conveniently situated in the heart of Shinjuku, you must make reservations and arrive ready to battle the sea. Giving you a table and a fishing rod, your next task is figuring out what kind of fish you want to catch. Purchase your bait and start fishing! Pro experience not required; simply ask the staff for the best tips to catch your fish. Once caught, you can choose from a variety of ways to have the fish prepared.
ZAUO has many branches in Tokyo and across Japan, but the one in Shinjuku serves lunch from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM and dinner from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM daily. For the weekday lunch, they only accommodate customers choosing the full course menu and you must make reservations at least one day in advance.
For those traveling alone, the moomin House Café has got you covered. Say goodbye to single dining as solo guests are treated to a special visitor placed at their table. Billed as the anti-loneliness cafe, large stuffed plushies called “Moomins” (somewhat resembling hippos or manatees) stave off sadness with their goofy smiles. Moomins are the creation of a Finnish author of children’s books and a natural fit for comic- and anime-crazy Japan.
Located in Sumida not far from the Tokyo Skytree, the moomin House Café is open from 8:00 AM to 10:30 PM.
This curated list was crafted for folks seeking dining alternatives far from a sea of tourists and off the beaten path. With an eye towards giving you a rare experience, these five remarkable options deliver memorable adventures you’ll cherish from your visit to Tokyo (plus some awesome stories to tell your friends). It’s time to awaken your spirit and gain a whole new perspective on eating out!
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