Tokyo for Hipsters

Tokyo for Hipsters

Hipsters don’t usually call themselves "hipsters", but even you aren’t one, you might find a few hip activities in Tokyo appealing.

Hipster refers to a postmodern subculture of young, urban middle-class adults and older teenagers that became particularly prominent in the 2010s. The subculture is associated with indie and alternative music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility, and alternative lifestyles.

Hagiso is known as Tokyo’s "smallest cultural institution". This house in the traditional Yanaka area includes a café and exhibition space. Go there for a drink and catch one of their occasional gigs and dance performances.

Karaoke might be pretty mainstream, but what about singing karaoke in a hot tub? Yes, there is a place part karaoke box and part theme park in Tokyo called Roppongi’s Lovenet complex. Here, you will find some bizarre rooms, such as the Aqua suite where you can sing in a hot tub.

Tour the traditional arts: This is an activity for everyone but it will certainly suit hipsters as stroll around Bingoya, an alternative souvenir shop. Here, they will find five floors’ worth of handmade traditional crafts, including pottery, fabrics, lacquerware and folk art.

Get your hands on countless books in Tokyo’s Jimbocho neighbourhood, a bibliophile nirvana which offers some 180 second-hand bookshops.

If you are looking for something cool, and if you are a hipster you probably are, hop aboard a swimming bus. This amphibious bus tours the streets around Tokyo Skytree before navigating the waters of a river nearby.

Puff on a hookah pipe and odd liquors such as ginseng brandy and cannabis vodka in Bonji Bar, a curious watering hole in Asakusa.

Sip slow-brewed coffee in a café from the 70s. Surrounded by retro furniture, you will be able to place with the shop’s aged cat while waiting for your coffee.

Have an experimental evening at SuperDeluxe, a haven for Tokyo’s avant-garde types. This place hosts improv gigs, rock shows, dance performances and Pecha Kucha nights. You can also get highly quaffable Tokyo Ale here.

Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant

If you thought the idea of Hooters - with girls serving chicken in provocative outfits - was extravagant, wait until you visit Robot Restaurant in Tokyo. Bikini-clad women perform mock battles using enormous robots bring a basement in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district to to life every night.

Decorated with neon lights, video screens, mirrors and bright colours, Robot Restaurant has a futuristic atmosphere that takes after Cyperdog shop in Camden Town, London.

However, the main attraction of the restaurant is its 60-minute show which is worth US$100 million. Robots, dancers, drummers, bomber planes, tanks, motorcycles, quads, giant video screens, and three gigantic fifteen foot tall female robots take to the stage and make it the paramount psychedelic experience.

About 12,000 bulbs line the walls of the waiting room preparing your senses and leading you to the show area. There you will find more than 200 colourful 44-inch monitors surround the stage area, even on the ceiling. Attractive female robots might be quite entertaining, but the battle between a giant mechanical armadillo and a Kung-fu panda are just about the most comical aspect of the show.

As futuristic characters battle on stage, Daft Punk-inspired figures skate around the place swinging lasers and cheering the crowd with their glow sticks. The show also features mythical characters from console games.

With such an extraordinary spectacle, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the place has become world-famous since its establishment over a year ago. Even if you haven't been to the place, you've probably heard about it, read about it in a blog or news sites, watched a clip on YouTube or TV, or even seen a snippet of a recent Tokyo-filmed music video from the rock band Muse.

The Robot Restaurant couldn't be any further from the eating-focused establishment its name might suggest, but dinner is included which is always a plus. The drink menu, however, only consists of canned beer, chu-hai and bottled tea. The entry fee also includes a bento box.

Sanno Festival

Sanno Festival

The Sanno Matsuri is one of the three most famous festivals of Japan, along with Sanja Matsuri and the Kanda Matsuri. Even though it is an annual event, only on even-numbered years the festival comes paired with the Jinkosai, a famous procession of floats and shrines. The Sanno Matsuri takes place in mid-June, extends over a week and offers very traditional events.

Jinkosai - which extends over a length of 600 metres - takes place in the middle of June in every other year. In the procession, about 300 people dressed in ancient costumes parade through the heart of Tokyo. The parade features three mikoshi (portable shrines) adorned with a phoenix on the roof, and are said to hold Shinto gods that protect Tokyo.

Festival-goers will also see dashi floats, people carrying drums, people on horseback, and also people dressed as the legendary goblin called Tengu, described as having a red face, long nose and believed to have supernatural powers.

Apart from the Jinkosai, most of the events held at the festival are rather small; nonetheless, you can witness a large variety of Japanese traditions during the event. To start with, there are large displays of flowers arranged in Japanese style known as Ikenaba, and special tables and seats are set up in the shrine garden to sip on Japanese tea.

An important event during the festival is the Sanno Chinkasai, a purification ceremony held at Hie Shrine. In this ceremony, people pass through a large ring made of chigaya and bamboo. Such practice is believed to atone for the sins unconsciously committed in the past six months. As people pass the ring, they hold a doll which is said to take on their sins.

Historically, the festival had more than 40 floats; however, due to the disruption it causes to traffic and commerce, the parade has been significantly reduced. Still, this is an unmissable event with one of the most notable points being a stop at the Imperial Palace, where the mikoshi are used in a religious ceremony.

Since the Sanno festival is historically a celebration of the city's rulers, the chief priest offers prayers to the current Imperial Family.

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival

Hundreds of brightly-coloured fireworks paint the evening sky of Tokyo every summer in the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival - one of the major fireworks displays in Japan. This event, held on the last Saturday of July over the Sumidagawa near Asakusa, attracts close to a million of celebrants every year. The reflection of the dazzling fireworks over the Sumida River is an unforgettable sight.

In direct contrast with other fireworks displays in other parts of the world, the Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai follows the Japanese tradition of having a pronounced competitive nature. During the festival, rival pyrotechnic groups try to out-do the last, and subsequently, there is an incredible variety of fireworks in different colours and patterns. Different lights paint the sky of Tokyo with shapes as complicated as Doraemon, Pikachu or kanji.

The Sumidagawa Festival is said to have originated in the Edo period. Back then, people viewed fireworks while enjoying the cool of the summer evening. However, others say that the roots of this event lie in the Suijin Festival dedicated to the water deity held to appease the souls of those who had died of starvation or of plague and to drive away pestilence during the reign of Tokygawa Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa Shogun (1684-1751).

This old tradition was suspended because of too much traffic and too many buildings, but it was revived in 1978. Since then, it has a new name, Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai (Sumida River Fireworks Display). Today, this event is widely considered one of the most marvelous scenes of the summer season in Tokyo.

If you are looking for a good spot to view the fireworks display, you will find it along the Sumida River, which flows through the eastern part of Tokyo and empties into Tokyo Bay.