A holy trinity of Tokyo bars
1. Yogen Café (Café Prophecy)
Hosts: Protestant ladies
Spiritual specialty: Fortune-telling
Pride and joy: Coffee
General feel: With its coffee-only menu and discrete, easy-to-miss pile of bibles and religious CDs sitting next to the cash register, one could easily mistake this spiritual mission of sorts for a Spartan little café.
Run by the Protestant church next door, Café Prophecy lives up to its name by serving up individualized spiritual advice along with its (quite delicious) coffee.
It's open only in the afternoon and huge lines of customers build up outside every day, meaning there's easily an hour wait to get a table at peak times.
Customers are asked to bring recorders along so that they can review their fortunes at leisure after the fact. Those without are charged an extra ¥100 (US$1.30) to receive the recordings on microcassette tapes.
Which is a good thing, since the ladies of Café Prophecy launch their sermons in a rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness staccato.
My personal prophecy arrived as I sipped on my cup of the daily blend.
After pressing the record button on my digital recorder, my waitress dictated a four-minute fortune without even pausing to take a breath.
And the content? That's a secret, but I can tell you it was completely non-denominational in spite of the café's church connection.
Yogen Café, Koyo Building 1/F, 4-2-38 Takadanobaba; +81 (0) 3 5386 0030; open Tuesday-Friday, 2 p.m.-6:30 p.m., closed weekends and holidays; ciatk.exblog.jp
2. Bozu Bar
Hosts: Buddhist monks
Spiritual specialty: Cocktail enlightenment
Pride and joy: Monk-mixed cocktails including the Gokuraku Jodo ("Heavenly Paradise"), Abi Jigoku ("Eternal Hell"), Shikiyoku Zanmai ("Concupiscence")
General feel: Behind a door labeled “Namu Amida Buddha" lies a peculiar little bar run by fully ordained monks.
Unlike other theme bars, the decor isn’t fake -- the Buddhist altar, mandalas and everything else on display are the real deal.
Casual drinkers are more than welcome to drop by any time -- this is a bar, after all -- but why waste the opportunity for a meaningful conversation?
It's hard to imagine a more sympathetic ear for relationship advice than a bartending monk who can whip up the perfect cocktail for the occasion.
Perhaps a refreshing Aiyoku Jigoku ("Obsession with Love") will hit the spot?
Customers in search of deeper assistance can drop by the temple next door -- Kakekomi-dera ("Temple of Rescue").
Its monks offer spiritual counseling work based on the principles of Esoteric Buddhist astrology.
Vow’s Arakicho: AG Building 2/F, Arakicho 6, Shinjuku-ku; +81 (0) 3 3353 1032; open daily, 7:30 p.m.–late.
Vow’s Nakano: Nakano 5-55-6, Nakano-ku; +81 (0) 3 3385 5530; open daily, 7:30 p.m.–4:30 a.m.
3. Yurei Izakaya (Ghost Bar)
Spiritual specialty: Russian Roulette
Pride and joy: Punny dishes like Assari Shinjimei (a play on words meaning "easy death")
General feel: A dank basement offers the perfect location for this sort of bar.
The entrance staircase is a trial in itself, packed with gadgets designed to spook and scare (think rubber severed heads, sudden bursts of cold air, ghostly mumblings).
The theme of the bar is "spook cosplay," with waitresses wearing bone-white kimonos and traditional Buddhist funeral headdresses.
Faux gravestones and animatronic creepy-crawlies are everywhere. The bathroom features a disturbing human-skin motif instead of wallpaper, and the background music runs to eerie chants and dirges.
Although it's more "Haunted Mansion" than "Night of the Living Dead," the outright funereal trappings might be a little much for those not into this sort of thing.
Yurei Izakaya's main culinary claim to fame is its "Russian Roulette" kushi-age skewers.
All are normal fried foods -- save for one, which is filled with a huge dollop of sinus-bombing wasabi. It's up to unsuspecting diners to avoid that one as they eat their way round the shared plate.
Ultimately, someone draws the short straw, of course -- the unfortunate victim is then bestowed with a triangular funeral headdress of their own. Welcome to the world of survival horror.
Yurei Izakaya, Kichijoji Minami-Cho 1-8-11, Musashino-shi; +81 (0) 4 2241 0194; open Monday-Sunday, 5 p.m.-last train; www.yurei.jp
First published in 2010, this story was updated in October 2012.