My partner and I are pretty hardcore gamers so it was only natural that our journey to Japan was heavily on the geeky side. But Japan is not just heaven for gamers and anime fans, it also caters greatly for science, the animal obsessed, movie buffs and tech nerds.
I did a serious amount of research to scout these places out beforehand so this is a mix of our own journey and places we found online. The focus is mostly on Tokyo since that’s where we spent the most time but we managed to keep out in other places too!
I’ll also add in things that we didn’t get to do ourselves but are on our lists for next time and they’ll be marked with an asterisk*.
1. Sony Showroom
Address: Sony Building 4F Ginza 5-3-1 Chuo-ku Tokyo 104-0061
Based in the heart of Ginza, it showcases everything from headphones to cameras to televisions to gaming accessories. While it doesn’t have games, it does have the latest gadgets, hosts workshops and has photography exhibitions. It’s also here where we picked up my 64gb card for my Playstation VITA which is incredibly difficult to get in Ireland! By the way, as a foreigner if you spend over 5,000 yen (€38) you can get tax relief but you need to have your passport on you.
2. Robot Restaurant*
Address: 1-7-1 Kabukicho, Tokyo, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan 160-0021, Japan
We didn’t get to visit this Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku as we were short on time and strapped for cash at the end of our journey but we’ve heard that this eclectic show is one of the most excitingly weird things that people have headed to in Japan! Here’s a taster:
Address: Taitō, Tokyo 110-0006, Japan
Also known as Akiba or Electric City, this is the hub for all things gaming and electronic based. You’ll find all sizes of electronic stores as well as second-hand gaming stores, gaming arcades, speciality stores and also maid cafés. Here you can also find Super Potato, a retro gaming store with piles of games to offer (it’s through a narrow corridor and up a flight of stairs).
4. Nakano Broadway
Address: 5 Chome-52 Nakano, Tokyo 164-0001, Japan
This is less touristy and pricey than Akihabara and is contained in a 4-story mall. Nakano Broadway has hundreds of Otaku stores and you’ll find all sorts of gems here. It houses small Mandarake stores that specialise in manga and specialist anime collectables.
5. Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo
Address: Sunshine City alpa 2F 3-1-2 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, 170-6002
Based in Sunshine City, the Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo is a Pokémon trainers’ dream. From collectables to plush toys, to wedding glasses and even cutlery (I bought Pikachu chopsticks!), the themed goods are so adorable to see.
Note: There are also Pokémon Centres in Sapporo, Tohoku, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Hiroshima and there are also smaller Pokémon shops dotted around Japan.
6. Manga Kissa*
What’s this I hear you say? Well Manga are Japanese comic books and kissa are tea houses, so this is a blend of the both. In a nutshell, you pay by the hour to sit back, relax and read comics. Your experiences may vary but basically, you get your own cubicle with a big comfy chair, internet and sometimes even a DVD player and games console. Customers browse through hundreds of manga. Sadly, this is catered towards the Japanese themselves so you may find it challenging if you don’t speak Japanese.
These cafés are open all night and have become unofficial hotels. There’s no bed but you’ll find some people sleeping on the chair or out of the floor of the cubicle. Some manga kissa allow you to bring your own food and drink, and blankets and pillows can be provided. Also, some have even installed showers! There are many in Japan so just keep an eye out for them. The names vary from Internet Cafe (インターネットカフェ) to Manga Kissa (マンガ喫茶)—with “kissa” short for kissaten or cafe—and even Media Cafe (メディアカフェ)
7. Studio Ghibli Museum
Address: 1-1-83 Simorenjaku, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181-0013
Fans of animation and of Studio Ghibli NEED to head here. It’s magical. When you arrive you’re given a little film strip of one of the movies (I got Howl’s Moving Castle) and the whole layout of the museum is so sweet and innocent.
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Today we headed to the Oscar-winning animation company Studio Ghibli Museum! Based in #Mitaka outside of #Tokyo – it’s a super special place that really has a lot of heart. You can’t take photos inside but it was so very lovely! Tickets can’t be bought at the museum and need to be bought 3 months in advance. Despite its popularity, tickets only cost 1000 yen each which is just €7.70
You’re not allowed to take photos inside the venue but it’s 100% worth visiting. You need to book your tickets for the Studio Ghibli Museum around three months in advance online. We booked ours through JTB in the UK here.
8. Square-Enix Café*
Address: Yodobashi Akiba 1st floor
Fans of Final Fantasy, Octopath and all things Square-Enix will want to head to this café that’s themed to delight fans. The interior decoration changes with the theme of Square Enix’s popular title focusing on games, original menus for a limited time.
9. Artnia at Square-Enix HQ
Shinjuku Eastside Square, 6 Chome-27-30 Shinjuku, 新宿区 Tokyo 160-0022, Japan
Our hotel in Shinjuku was so close to the Square-Enix HQ which as a Final Fantasy megafan this was like a dream come true. While you can’t head into the headquarters you can head to their official café Artnia which looks like a white pod outside the building. It sells all sorts of Square-Enix merchandise from Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts and Nier Automata and has a breathtaking crystal room. Food in the café is themed for the venue and it’s a wonderful place to just sit in and chill.
10. HUNTERS BAR
Address: 1 Chome-3-16 Kabukicho, Pasela Resorts Shinjuku Store 1F, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan
This was a bit trickier to find because it’s inside another building and isn’t really signposted properly. The Hunters Bar is a venture by Pasela Resorts and Capcom and is revamped to highlight Monster Hunter World. Food and drink were themed and patrons were also able to play on a four-screen set-up in the bar. There were also many cool props donning the walls!
11. 12. 13. Gundam Unicorn, Gundam Café and Gundam Base
Address: DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, 1-1-10, Aomi, Koutou-ku, Tokyo, 135-0064
Don’t worry you’ll spot the Gundam Unicorn. The 1:1-scale replica is 64.6 feet tall, 1.7 meters taller than its predecessor statue of the old-school RX-78-2 Gundam. The Gundam transforms from Unicorn mode to Destroy mode at any of the four daily shows. The showtimes are 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, and 17:00. Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early, so you can get a good spot for photos.
Right next to the Gundam is the café selling themed takeaway snacks and memorabilia but for more goods, you can head to the seventh floor of the mall and you’ll find the Gundam Base Tokyo. The base houses models, posters, models and other gear.
14. Miraikan – National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation
Address: 2-3-6 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Nearby to the Gundam Unicorn is the Miraikan. The museum houses some really cool interactive displays that will delight both adults and children alike. Displays are in Japanese and English and you can even get to see Asimo, the most adorable robot in action that was developed by Honda.
15. Club Sega Akihabara
Address: Japan, 〒101-0021 Tokyo, Chiyoda, Sotokanda, 1 Chome−11−11 外神田1丁目ビルディング
Sega has a number of venues all over Japan, but the one you should head to is the amazing red neon building in Akihabara. The main building originally opened as Hi-Tech Land Sega Akihabara before becoming Club Sega Akihabara. It houses all sorts of arcade delights as well as the latest Japanese craze of claw machines.
16. Takeshita Street – Harajuku
Japan, 〒150-0001 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingūmae, 1 Chome−17, 渋谷区 神宮前１丁目
This amazing pedestrian shopping street in Harajuku is renowned for its fashion, cafés and boutiques. Fashion is the biggest draw but in the quirkiest sense of the word. It’s like an explosion of colour fell over Harajuku and you’ll see all sorts of randomness there. If you like cute things this is for you!
17. Pokemon Café*
Address: 11-2, Nihonbashi 2-Chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0027 Nihonbashi Takashimaya S.C. East Building 5th Floor Phone number 03-6262-3439
If you’re a Pokémon fan and can’t head out to the Pokémon Centre, head along to the Pokémon Café! With adorable themed food, it’s a must if you want to indulge in the delightful atmosphere. You need to have a reservation in advance. So check out the link for more details.
18. National Museum of Nature and Science
Address: 7-20 Uenokoen, Taitō, Tokyo 110-8718, Japan
This incredible museum deserves a two-day trip if you can. It goes through everything from the beginning of life to dinosaurs and space. The exhibits are all in Japanese apart from a few stands, and you have the option of hiring an audio guide which I’d highly recommend as it enriches the experience.
BONUS: It’s in Ueno Park which also has other museums, cafés and a lake where you can hire boats.
19. 20. Disneyland Tokyo and Disney Sea
Address: 1-1 Maihama, Urayasu-shi, Chiba-ken 279-0031, Japan
I mean, do I need to say more? Disneyland Tokyo and Disney Sea are outside of the main city so you’ll need to take the train. It can be exceptionally busy so we recommend heading midweek and early. It’s not uncommon to see queues that are hours long sadly but if you’re looking for something nostalgic and magical this is it.
21. Game Taito Station
Address: Multiple locations! Find out here.
If you want to play arcade games, head to Game Taito Station. The multistorey game arcade caters to various machines from shoot ’em ups and dance machines to even train simulators.
22. Café la Siesta*
Address: Japan, 〒604-8024 Kyoto Prefecture, 京都市中京区Nakagyo Ward, Kamiyacho, 366 レイホウ 会館 1F
Gamers should definitely check out this café that has a great collection of retro games that you can simply play through the night. From consoles to handhelds, who doesn’t want to enjoy a bit of gaming while having a tipple.
23. Kyoto Yodobashi Camera
Address: Japan, 〒600-8216 Kyoto Prefecture, 京都市下京区京都駅前 京都タワー横
From cameras to televisions to gaming gadgets you’ll find all sorts of electronics here. You can find Yodobashi Camera all over Japan but this one in Kyoto is particularly good.
24. Nintendo Original Building*
Address: 342 Kagiyacho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8126
Nothing much to see here rather than embracing a little slice of history at the original Nintendo HQ and see the plaque.
25. Nintendo Headquarters*
Address: Japan, 〒601-8501 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Minami-ku, Kamitoba Hokodatechō, 京都市南区上鳥羽鉾立町１１−１
The present headquarters and Development Center of Nintendo is also in Kyoto but like the original building, there’s not much to see. However, as a Nintendo fan, it’s worth heading to just to fangirl outside! You can’t head into the building itself but seeing the Nintendo on the side of the building is perfect fan service.
A day trip from Osaka or Kyoto, Nara draws in hundreds of tourists for two main reasons. One it has the largest wooden temple in the world but two, its tame deer. The deer here are protected and are considered messengers from the gods. They also looooove crackers. There are around 1200 deer in Nara. Some deer have even learned to bow in exchange for crackers but be warned if they see you with a lot they may become more aggressive (we saw a lot of people just dropping theirs).
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Today we took the train on a 40min trip outside Kyoto city to Nara (one of the former capitals of Japan). Nara is well known for having a large herd of tame sika deer (in fact they have over 1200!) that roam the city and simply chill among tourists. According to local folklore, Sika deer from this area were considered sacred due to a visit from Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto, one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine. He was said to have been invited from Kashima Shrine and appeared on Mount Mikasa riding a white deer. From that point, the deer were considered divine and sacred by both Kasuga Shrine and Kōfuku-ji. Killing one of these sacred deer was a capital offense punishable by death up until 1637, the last recorded date of a breach of that law.
Directions to Nara Park (奈良公園)
From Kyoto: JR Nara Line: Y690, 45 minutes by express (kaisoku), 70 minutes by local (futsu), departs from JR Kyoto Station and arrives at JR Nara Station OR Kintetsu Nara Line: Y1110, 35 minutes by express (tokkyu), departs from Kintetsu Kyoto Station (on the south side of JR Kyoto Station) and arrives at Kintetsu Nara Station.
From Osaka: JR Kanjo-Yamatoji Lines: Y780, 50 minutes by Yamatoji Kaisoku (express), departs from JR Osaka Station and arrives at JR Nara Station OR Kintetsu Nara Line: Y540, 40 minutes, departs from Kintetsu Namba Station in Osaka and arrives at Kintetsu Nara Station. You will need to then walk to the park or get a bus transfer.
27. Universal Studios Japan
Address: 2 Chome-1-33 Sakurajima, Konohana-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 554-0031, Japan
We loved Universal and preferred it over Disneyland for a number of reasons. The tickets were around the same price but the queues were miles shorter than Disney. In Disneyland we would have to queue at least for 30 – 40 minutes (Thunder Mountain was 2 hours!!), but in Universal it was anything from 5 mins to 40 minutes. The majority of queues were just 15minutes. Also, because Universal is catered a bit more to the adult audience, the attractions were better. Like Disney, you should head there early and midweek and also know that its closing time varies too. Take a look at their website for calendar details.
28. Nipponbashi aka DenDen Town
Address: Naniwa Ward, Osaka
DenDen town houses a collection of shops of electronic and anime goods with the area often referred to as the Akihabara of Osaka. There’s a Super Potato shop here also.
29. Video Game Bar Space Station*
Address: 2-13-3 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0086, Osaka
Play video games while you chill and drink. Ideal! Drinks were good and reasonably priced with video game themes. There’s a variety of consoles to play with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. As of writing in July 2018, the café is temporarily closed for renovations.
30. Ataraxia Cafe*
Address: Osaka-shi Naniwa-ku Nihonbashi 3 – chome 8 – 25 light Muzen Tamara studio building 3F
Based in Nipponbashi, this café caters to Japan’s growing number of female otakus instead. Clientele is restricted to otaku women only and unlike many of the otaku cafes where you’ll find with female servers roleplaying as maids and speaking in high-pitched voices, Ataraxia is the first of its kind. Here you’ll find manga as well as a creative workspace where women can draw, sew their cosplays and even trim their cosplay wigs. It’s catered more to the Japanese people themselves.
31. Critical Hit
Nagoya-shi Naka-ku Sakae 1-7-4 B1F #2
名古屋市中区栄１−７−４ B１F ２号室
This teeny retro gaming bar is an absolute delight. The owner, Alex Fraioli, has been running it for a few years now and has a great array of retro games. Gamers can play at the bar while they drink while a screen in the background plays everything from speedruns to Twitch streams.
Directions: A 3-minute walk from Fushimi subway station: From exit #7, walk straight along Hirokoji-doori. Take the first left onto Misono-doori. Take the next right and you’ll find the building on the left, next to a Chinese restaurant and across from a parking garage. Head downstairs and turn left.
32. Pachinko Machines
These aren’t really made for tourists but no doubt on your visit to Japan you’ll see Pachinko slots machines. A cousin of pinball, they’re bright, neon-fueled, fascinating machines and basically are Japan’s version of gambling. I can’t even begin to describe how loud it is in a Pachinko parlour but it’s worth heading in to see. For gamers, over the years there has been a tie in with video games too with Metal Gear Solid getting its own themed machine. The Snake Eater scenes were fully rebuilt in the Fox Engine (which powers MGSV),
33. Hello Kitty Flights and Bullet Trains*
EVA Airlines (Taiwanese) offers a Hello Kitty themed flights complete with Hello Kitty jargon, website, and airport gate to Japan! Check out when the next flight flies here.
Bullet trains or Shinkansen are the fastest trains in Japan but one of them has also been decked out with a Hello Kitty vibe. At the moment it is confirmed that this train will run for a limited time, until October 2018, when the company will announce either its continuance or the end of its run. The new train will provide a Kodama service on the Sanyo Shinkansen line, which connects the western cities of Osaka and Fukuoka. And for those with a JR Pass, yep, it’s covered! Find out more here.
32. Cat Islands*
And yes, it’s exactly as it sounds. There are around three well known cat islands in Japan with the number one being Aoshima, a 1.4km island in the Ehime Prefecture in southern Japan. There are less than 20 residents on the island but more than 120 cats. They were originally introduced as pest control but understandably the cats decided to get jiggy with it too! But this island isn’t actually a tourism hotspot and isn’t the easiest to get to. While the locals won’t turn away people, there are no tourist facilities there. You need to be serious cat lover. See how you can get there here.
Tashiro-jima Island is another cat lovers paradise. Based in the Miyagi Prefecture, around 100 people live on this island with more than 100 cats. Once famous for its silk (which attracted mice), the introduction of cats was most welcome. No pet dogs are allowed on this island there is a cat shrine called Neko-jinja devoted to cats that died.
Find out how to get there here.
And that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed my geeky list. Thank you for reading and prepare for more pieces on Japan soon.