Shibuya crossing in Tokyo (Photo: Vincent AF/Flickr)
When I visited Tokyo last month, I made a beeline to the amazingly weird attractions the city is notorious for, such as Robot Restaurant (with live robot battles and sexy Japanese vixens riding oversized snakes) and Tokyu Hands (a department store chock-full of strange gadgets). But there’s another category of wacky wonders that Japan is famous for: anti-loneliness attractions.
Why? There are a couple of reasons. One is related to the tourists. “Tokyo is a huge place for foreign dorks and nerds,” said my expat friend Marcel, a Brazilian finance analyst who fits the bill. “Everywhere you go, there’s some nerdy guy who comes here alone because it’s a city they save all their money for, for all the weird stuff.”
Plus, loneliness in Japanese natives is increasing — so much that by 2020, according to NLI Research Institute, living alone will be the norm in the country.
So, naturally, solutions (albeit novel and eccentric) have been on the rise to improve the lifestyle of the lonely, whether tourist or local. Behold our list of anti-loneliness treasures in the Land of the Rising Sun (or, uh, the Land of the Lonesome Dork).
The tranquility hugging chair
Chair hugs! (Photo: AFP/Getty)
While a bow is more formal, the Japanese are crazy about hugs … or, more specifically, the idea of hugs. With a new “tranquility chair,” or “anti-loneliness hugging chair,” those hugs can last hours. The chair is built in the shape of a large fabric doll with long arms to wrap comfortably around the lonely sitter. While a spokesperson for the company said it’s targeted for older people, those who need affection can get some love with one long sit. For $419, it could possibly be the most expensive hug ever received.
A flyer for renting a friend (Photo: Clientpartners KK)
It’s all the rage in Tokyo. There are several local agencies where residents and visitors alike can literally pay for a companion to join them for meals and activities, some starting at $30 per hour. (And no, we’re not talking about a prostitute in disguise. It’s really a companion in this case.) It’s popular with the locals, and hey, it beats dining alone.
The Moomin House Cafe, which started the trend (Photo: Culturalelite/Flickr)
Don’t have a date for lunch? Hit one of the anti-loneliness cafés that are springing up in and around the city. Several cafés provide large stuffed animals to sit with you while you eat, a trend notably triggered by the Moomin House Cafe chain. Apparently you’re never too old for toy time.
If playing with cats is your thing, check out a cat café. (Photo: MsSaraKelly/Flickr)
A cat café is exactly what you would expect: a café full of cats. The trend has become so popular since the first one opened in Osaka that now there are 39 in Tokyo alone. Cat cafés have continued to spread to other nearby cities that aren’t as quirky as Tokyo, such as Kyoto. But the cats in these spots see people come in and out all day long, so don’t expect crazy cat snuggles unless you’re one of the first through the door when they open.
Host and hostess bars
Host bar “menu” from a place on the streets of Shinjuku (Photo: Jimmy Im)
If you can’t find a cute girl or guy to drink with while in Tokyo, you can pay to chat with one. At host and hostess bars, for a few Japanese yen, (mostly male) tourists and locals can pay to drink and talk to a pretty girl or a young gay man. There’s a wide selection of girls and guys to choose from, sort of like a menu.
The many, many bars that line the Golden Gai (Photo: Stephen Kelly/Flickr)
Golden Gai is a labyrinth of streets containing about 200 bars that are tiny, even by Japanese standards. Most of these watering holes have a max capacity of five people, with nothing extraordinary in terms of decor. The intimate setting makes it perfect for solo travelers who want a nightcap and someone to talk to. Feel free to tell the bartender your life story — he might not speak English, but he’s a great listener!
Mini smoking pods
Smoking is not healthy, but apparently it’s a way to meet people in Tokyo. (Photo: Criggy1/Flickr)
While smoking is not permitted on trains, first-class trains are typically equipped with a smoking section. Unlike those on most other trains in the world that offer a smoking car or larger smoking section, the smoking sections in Japan are pods that fit only three people. As with the micro bars, the up-close-and-personal surroundings make it easy for solo smokers to bond with their neighbors.
Have lunch with an adorable, cuddly bunny? Don’t mind if I do! (Photo: John Gillepse/Flickr)
Not a cat person? Cuddle up with a bunny instead. Bunny-hug cafés have been popping up throughout Japan since 2011 (coincidentally, the year of the rabbit). The trend was spearheaded by Ms. Bunny, a café where you can pay 600 yen (approximately $6) for 30 minutes of sitting with a bunny on your lap while you enjoy your cup of joe.
Video: Check out this adorable bunny café