More than most nations, the Japanese have an uncanny knack for creating weird restaurants. During a day in Tokyo, you can take your breakfast in a cat cafe, lunch in a catch-your-own sushi restaurant and head to dinner in a dracula themed diner. The number of options for oddly themed eating is enough to make your headspin. However, despite the strange smorgasbord, there is one restaurant that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Whatever way you look at it, Ninja Akasaka is one weird joint.
As the name implies, there is a very specific motif at the heart of Ninja, and the restaurant is intent on sticking to it. Accessed from the side of an unremarkable main road, the building isn’t much to look at from the street. A glass front door, flanked by a fish and strange squiggly symbol is set in a jet black wall that looks more disco than dinner. As with anything worthwhile, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
One step inside is enough to know that this isn’t the place for a quiet candlelit meal for two. The entire place eschews the usual dining room formula of tables, chairs and crap painting, and replaces it with a dimly lit labyrinth, decked out to look like a ninja village. The walls are made up to resemble chiseled blocks of stone, and the roofs of the mock feudal Japanese houses are covered in thatch. Running water cascades between the buildings and weird fog creeps around dark, hidden corners. It’s almost like stepping back in time. Until you notice the concierge is holding an iPad.
Though the interior is certainly unusual, it’s not what sets Ninja apart from Tokyo’s other themed restaurants. After you’ve passed the iPad-wielding concierge, the staff undergo a dramatic transformation. Once you head deeper into the dining room, there are no waiters or other serving staff to be seen. It’s trained ninjas from here on in. You will be guided to your table - set in a dark nook away from one of the restaurant’s winding thoroughfares - by a ninja, be served your food by a ninja and given your bill a ninja. Occasionally, one might leap and tumble from the shadows, before vanishing into the gloom with a flourish. You might not always see them, but you can be sure that they are there.
The ninjas are certainly the stars at their eponymous restaurant. They help guide guests to their table through narrow subterranean passages bedecked in tiki torches and a drawbridge that only falls on a special ninja command. They present the menu on an enormous scroll and perform masterful conjuring and sleight of hand mind tricks in front of dazzled diners. They also serve food with much somersaulting and wall creeping. Why walk in a straight line when you can hang from the ceiling?
Ninjitsu staff are not the only highlight. The food, which features a mixture of Japanese classics with a Western twist, may be a little pricey, but is entertaining in and of itself. Dishes fashioned into shuriken stars and sushi that belches fog means that the theatre doesn’t stop after service. There is also a wizard who patrols tables and entertains guests as they eat. It might not be the place for a serious catch-up over food, but for theatre Ninja is second to none.
There are some who say that Ninja is all style and no substance. When the business opened a second location in New York, the restaurant was savaged by some serious critics for focusing too much on acrobatics and for failing to deliver on the food front. But, whatever way you look at it, it certainly delivers an experience like no other. Besides, if there’s one restaurant you don’t want to get on the wrong side of with a bad review, it’s one armed to the teeth with Japanese assassins.