Like many other people, I think my image of Japan before moving here was a little warped because of TV and the internet. Truth be told, upon arriving at Narita Airport way back in July 2015 I was a little disappointed to have not been serenaded by a life-size Pikachu scrapping with a sumo wrestler.
One thing we are regularly told about Japan via the media is the variety of wacky theme restaurants which – if you believe everything you hear – are on every corner alongside robots and vending machines filled with used panties. With regards to the vending machine, I’m yet to encounter this myth and I have my doubts as to whether it exists! Answers on a postcard please.
Although they’re not quite everywhere you look, there are plenty of different themed restaurants around Tokyo to be explored. The most famous is perhaps Alcatraz – the Shibuya restaurant famous for mixing drinks with dildos that was recently featured on banterrific wanker site The Lad Bible. Although I haven’t visited that particular spot, I’ve had the pleasure – and I use that word loosely – of dining at the very similar Lock Up restaurant (also in Shibuya) as well as the brilliant Ninja restaurant in Akasaka.
Having recently – almost eight months ago is recent, right? – moved to the Kichijoji area of Tokyo, I’ve been keen to explore the wide range of bars and izakayas that make the area so popular. I first read about Yurei izakaya about two months ago and it’s been on my list of places to visit ever since.
What makes this place stand out from other izakayas and restaurants is, you guessed it, the theme! Yurei is described as a ‘ghost’ izakaya, set in the ‘underworld’. Your guess is as good as mine. The only way to find out exactly what this meant was to visit and see for ourselves, which is exactly what me and a group of friends did one random Tuesday after work.
Despite being hidden away behind Don Quixote at the south side of the station, it’s quite easy to find Yurei. All you have to do is listen out for the high-pitched, generic spooky noise blasting out from the speakers in the doorway. If you’re hard of hearing then the ghost hanging above the staircase is something of a giveaway too.
We were met at the door by a waitress who spoke decent enough English whilst remaining completely in character at the same time. Quite impressive really that a girl can keep up the act of being a ‘kawaii’ ghost from the underworld whilst explaining the intricacies of a truly bizarre restaurant in a foreign language whilst keeping a straight face. Top marks from me!
Speaking of the bizarre rituals of this underworld, one such rule was that upon ringing the bell to get the waitress/ghost’s attention you had to hold a severed hand in the air so they could recognise you. I’m not sure this was entirely necessary on a quiet Tuesday night but it certainly added to the experience!
Speaking of props, the whole restaurant is kitted out with severed body parts, toilet walls that resemble human skin and even a full sized coffin. More on that later. The child in me also couldn’t resist clapping on a regular basis, as there were a number of spiders that would drop from the ceiling on a piece of string upon the sound of a clap. It’s the simple things.
The menu was pretty standard izakaya fare with a twist. In other words, the same stuff you can get in most places but with spooky sounding names! ‘Eyeballs’ for fried quail eggs stood out, as well as ‘Fried Straw Man’ and a number of other blood-related takes on seemingly normal food.
The culinary highlight was without a doubt the ‘cremated’ ribs which – despite sounding like they should be burnt to a crisp, were actually done to perfection with the meat (cliche alert!) falling off the bone. Oh yeah, they also douse them in booze and set fire to them at the table because…well, just because.
Notice I call the ribs the culinary highlight because the real highlight of the night was the ‘Russian Roulette’. All you have to do is replace a loaded gun with a fish cake stuffed with wasabi and you’re on the right track.
The usual cost is ¥150 per person although for some reason we were ‘treated’ to the fish cake serving for free. The Russian Roulette goes up in three stages – each one presumably hotter than the other – although I’m not sure why you’d do one stage and think you need any more. Each to their own!
On the count of three we all tucked into our bitesize fish cakes and eyes were darting all round the table to see the reactions of everyone. Upon realising that my fish cake was indeed a fish cake I only had to look directly in front of me to see the victim of this game as my friend Jess’ face had quickly turned into a grimace: she was chewing on a full ball of wasabi!
Remember that full sized coffin? Not long after arriving we saw a girl from another group getting dressed up and taking part in some sort of funeral ceremony. We had no idea what was going on as, let’s be honest, is there any logic in a place like this?
Not long after chowing down on her wasabi cake, Jess was quickly marched over to the coffin where she was given her very own ceremony. Charming!
I could spend the next few paragraphs explaining what happened, but instead here’s a video to do my job for me.
With work and last trains on the horizon it was time to call it a night, plus Jess’ funeral and all that put us on a bit of a downer. We settled the very reasonable bill (most theme restaurants tend to be overpriced, just because) and with Jess miraculously coming back to life we were on our way.
Mind you, if I was her I’d maybe have played dead a little longer. I’d say being buried is a pretty good excuse to get out of paying the bill. One to remember for next time.