Otaku in Japan: Ninja Akasaka Cafe
I would never suspect a ninja stronghold within modern-day Tokyo, but that’s what the art of ninjutsu is all about: deception and misdirection.
Being a lifelong fan of Japanese culture, I finally fulfilled my dream of traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun. It was everything I imagined and more. The experience was enhanced by local Japanese friends who took it upon themselves to show me around. Knowing that I’m otaku, the Japanese word for geek, my friend Suguru thought I would get a kick out of visiting a ninja cafe. He was right.
Behind this unassuming door lies a land of shadow and mystery.
The ninja were adamant about keeping their secrets to themselves, so I wasn’t able to snap as many pictures as I would have liked. I got a few while they weren’t looking. I’ve always wanted to out-ninja a ninja.
The interior is like taking a step back through time into the streets of feudal Japan. The host greets you as you enter, then summons a ninja from the shadows to guide you to your room. The ninja knocks on a wooden wall and takes you through a trap-filled corridor, complete with a pit trap.
The going was dark and treacherous, so I decided to play it safe and use my hands to hug the walls instead of take pictures. Once we got through, I took a few quick pics of the darkened interior.
When our party was seated we were greeted by our server, a kunoichi. A kunoichi is a female practitioner of the ninja arts. I didn’t get her name, maybe because ninjas don’t reveal their true names. More likely it was because my understanding of Japanese is poor. However, a ninja is skilled and our kunoichi spoke excellent English, guiding me through the menu and the Ninja Akasaka experience.
The food played on themes that are important to the art of ninjutsu: illusion, misdirection, deception and skill. We had a lot of sake that night, so some of my pics came out blurry. Maybe that was part of the ninja plan all along?
What first looked like a row of sushi turned out to be something quite different. Slices of red tomato were cut and arranged to look like traditional tuna on sushi rice. It was an interesting experience, expecting the velvet texture of tuna, only to be greeted by the watery crunch of tomato.
A famous skill of ninjas is the ability to walk on water. This dish simulates that: Choice sashimi pieces are laid upon a block of ice resting on another block of dry ice, creating a mist that flows out from underneath the sashimi and giving the illusion of walking on water. Nothing else really needs to be said because it’s sashimi in Japan, so of course it was delicious.
We had pork in what appeared to be a lantern in the shape of a pig. Our kunoichi gave an explanation behind this, but I don’t remember much so I’m going to assume it’s pork hiding in a pig. Which sounds about right.
Desserts were all about disguise and misdirection as well. There was a snow frog made of cheesecake that hid fruits inside its belly. The kunoichi made it snow by sprinkling white sugar on it. A tasty pastry was wrapped in golden foil to appear like a koban, a gold piece from feudal Japan.
The highlight of the evening was a taste of ninja magic. Ninja performed such incredible feats of skill that they gained a reputation for practicing magic. In the middle of the meal, our kunoichi summoned her ninja brother, a master of the magic arts. She requested that we take no pics during the demonstration to prevent their secret techniques from being stolen. Not wanting a clan of angry ninjas hunting me down, I complied. The demonstration consisted of tricks with cards, ropes and coins, all very entertaining.
Later that evening, our kunoichi performed her own ninja magic. She produced a platter and unveiled a quail egg. She then set it on fire, did some ninja mumbo jumbo and promptly changed it into a fully cooked quail. Her brother would’ve been proud. The quail was stuffed with tasty meats and vegetables, another nod to the ninja skill of hiding.
As we left Ninja Akasaka, our kunoichi met us at the door and presented us with ninja scrolls, thanking us for our visit. She then displayed that she was a high-level ninja by crafting a custom-made scroll just for me.
Maybe one day I can also train to become a high-level ninja. Until that day, Ninja Akasaka will have a place in my heart. A shadowy place.
100-0014, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Nagatacho
2-14-3 Akasaka Tokyu Plaza 1F