Tinder. Whether you love it or hate it, you probably have it. The addictive swipe-right version of dating is as big in Tokyo as it is anywhere else and just as fun/horrific/entertaining. If you’re in Tokyo for a while or just passing through, it’s a great way to meet friends (don’t snort, it honestly can be), find a hook-up or even the love of your life…(maybe?). Regardless or your intentions, or your app-preference, you’ll need somewhere to take your date, and you need to impress while looking effortless. So if you like traditional ‘cute’ dates or something a little more unusual, here are some affordable and interesting ideas:
A way more relaxed version without the normal date pressure, day dates are great in Tokyo since you can avoid the crowds and the higher prices. These are some fun, alternative options to just getting coffee (the date equivalent of starting the chat with “hi” or, heaven forbid, “sup”. Let’s make an effort here people.)
For strings attached, head to the Hammock Cafe
A little bit less suggestive than the bed cafe, the Hammock Cafe is fun version of ‘let’s get a coffee’ with added distractions. Much like driving, it’s easier to talk when you’re not awkwardly sat staring directly at each other and the swinging is just fun regardless. Be warned though: no sharing hammocks!
Keep it Cute with Swan boats and Ice Cream at Inokashira Park
If you don’t need a time limit (maybe a second date territory?) or are pretty confident you’ll get on, Tokyo’s parks are perfect for a long date, with Inokashira being particularly good. Filled with mini distractions and cute stuff like swan boats you can stroll, look at lovely temples, eat ice cream and picnic to your heart’s content (hopefully it’s mutual). Just remember the middle of summer is not fun in Tokyo, and no one wants be a sweating mess for their first date—so check the temperatures.
If you like playing games… (of the Nintendo kind): 8bit Cafe
Yes it’s another cafe, but this is for the inner-kids/geeks/nostalgic-80s-and-90s-kids who have found their inner-kid-geek soulmate. Packed with every game console you can imagine, you’ll soon see your favorites and get sucked in at 8bit Cafe. If you don’t know much about games, it’s still really fun as there are two-players like Mario Kart and an original arcade-style table game. It’s great for conversation starters and you can wander around, so it’s really nice and relaxed as well as being fun. The homemade lemonade is really good and beers are available too, depending on your need for dutch courage (be it for the date or Mario Kart). Handily it’s right outside the station exit, and you get bonus points if you can make awkward jokes as you pass the sex shop sign on the stairs up to the cafe…
Lunch with Bells On
If you want to impress, a Michelin lunch is the perfect way make the most effortless of efforts. It’s a winner on all sides—award-winning food, way less intense than a full-on dinner and everyone feels a bit special! You see my logic right? Exactly. In most countries this would be a financially horrifying prospect, but in Tokyo it’s perfectly fine. You can choose from a variety of affordable Japanese and European restaurants across the city—but remember lunch sets are usually only on weekdays.
If you’re meeting a ramen fan, a fun version could be the Michelin ramen joint Tsuta—but you do have to get there in the morning to get advance tickets. Kyourakutei is a personal favorite: serving fresh soba and crisp tempura in a lovely little restaurant in a Kagurazaka side street, it’s really lovely. (Bonus: even if the date sucks, at least you both got great food right?)
So you’re going for the evening date. The more serious, possible-romance, possible-love-hotel kind of date (it’s Tinder, let’s drop the pretense). I salute you. Here are some options to tone down or ramp up the date, depending on how afraid of commitment you are.
Romantic views, without the drama – Tokyo’s Metropolitan Building Observatory
Tokyo Skytree is the most popular date for Japanese couples in Tokyo, and with romantic views, soft lighting and 8 million other couples, what’s not to love? Surrounded by brave love-confessions, it’s great for people-watching and drama (sorry but who doesn’t love a bit of eavesdropping?) but can be a bit much—not to mention pricey—for a first date. If you’re not sure it’s a proposal situation just yet, you could try the Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings in Shibuya instead. After drinks in a nice bar to test the water, you can head up until 10pm to see Tokyo in a very romantic light. This is an easy way to step up a normal date, and it’s totally free!
A DIY dinner: okonomiyaki
If you want to do dinner, okonomiyaki is the perfect choice. With an endless variety of ingredients it can suit pretty much everyone, and you can eat different ones or share, so bonus points for flexibility. Okonomiyaki translates roughly as “grilled” and “as you like it”, so you can see my thinking. The best part, though, is that you can mix and cook it yourself at the table, so it provides the all-vital distraction. (Especially if the nearby family get stuck in to help you cook, as usually happens to me). There are plenty of places to choose from, but the best is Monja Street in Tsukishima (Monjayaki being a version of okonomiyaki). You can wander down the lantern-lit street and pick a restaurant, most have English menus and then get to work! (It’s also round the corner from an owl cafe called Hare no Mise, so can be a nice combination).
Monjayaki Street: Nishinaka Street, 2 minutes from Tsukishima Station
Drinks in the Unknown – Golden Gai
If you aren’t in Tokyo for long and wanted to see some interesting spots while dating, Golden-Gai is the one. Rows of tiny, eccentric and bizarre bars are crammed into this famous district behind Kabukicho, each with their own appeal. You can find some with cover charges, and plenty without, and wandering down the streets to pick out the next bar is half the fun. If you want a good starter, Albatross is a winner—with chandeliers and an Edwardian feel, it’s date-perfect and there are lots of interesting drinks to try. Otherwise though, just see it as a bit of an adventure!
1 Chome Kabukicho, 新宿区 Tokyo 160-0021
Dress to Impress at Tokyo’s Best Bars and Beer Gardens
One for the traditionalist, a cool bar is a fail-safe for the confident and those who want to impress, but tricky to find in a new city. The Hacienda del Cielo Rooftop Bar is a great option, and the Ikebukuro Seibu Rooftop Garden and Omohara Beer Forest are ideal for beer drinkers. If your date has a fear of heights, you could head to Commune Farmers Market for chilled drinks and food, with music and a ready-made coolness you can hopefully pass off as your own…
There you have it—some perfect suggestions for an evening of romance with your future-soulmate or some fun things to do with someone else’s. If it goes well, you could try climbing Mt Takao or visit a giant Buddha together for your next adventure. If it wasn’t a success, why not go anyway—they’re really cool. Either way, you can see some sights and eat some food, so no losers here!