The Lockup: Terrifying Tokyo Dining

Today's Special: Fried Chicken & Handcuffs

By Harumi Gondo
January 29, 2017
Food & Drink

Tokyo has plenty of themed restaurants, covering topics from Alice in Wonderland to ninjas and robots. But perhaps one of the most unique and genuinely frightening dining experiences in the city can be found at The Lockup, which has branches in Shibuya, Shinjuku and more.

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Upon entering the seventh-floor lobby area of the Shinjuku branch, the first thing you notice is the darkness, which takes your eyes a second to adjust to. A scrawled sign bids you to enter the door on the right. In the next room you are directed to place your hand in a small guillotine, which then startles you with a lightning flash and a scream alerting staff that new customers have arrived. A police escort opens the door and directs you inside. One person in each party is handcuffed, and the group is led down a dark hallway to a moderately lit prison cell with a table.

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According to our prison guard for the night, who spoke both French and English, there are around six police guards who escort customers to their tables and six prisoners who take and serve food. The Shinjuku branch tries to have on staff at least one person who speaks English and one person who speaks Chinese for the sake of language convenience.

One person in each party is handcuffed, and the group is led down a dark hallway to a moderately lit prison cell with a table.

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Reservations are not necessary, although there can be a wait of up to 20 minutes on busy nights. According to the staff’s estimate, 7 to 8 p.m. on weekends and 6 to 7 p.m. on weeknights are the busiest periods. The two floors hold a number of cells that hold from two to 10 people, and some rooms can be opened up so that even a group of up to 40 can be accommodated. The restaurant is mostly visited by couples and groups celebrating special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries – and people who’re up for a dining challenge. On the night we visited there were two celebratory announcements for guests celebrating their birthdays.

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We ordered a fun non-alcoholic drink that came with five test tubes filled with colored sweet liquids and a dropper and beaker to mix the liquids like a chemistry experiment. We also ordered a drink named after Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire, which had vampire fangs floating in it. The drinks were definitely fun and creative, and it was great fun to look over the beautiful menu describing the prison and monster-themed foods (prison chicken black, zombie entrails yaki, fried devil box). But the food itself was rather unexciting, perhaps even a bit disappointing, though many seem to think that it has overall improved since the restaurant’s earlier days.

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Still, it was quite an experience. Three times a night the entire restaurant experiences a blackout and there is a monster show that is quite terrifying. Even though I was expecting it, and even though I knew it was a fellow human being inside the monster costume, I was really, really scared. Hideous monsters roam through the dark hallway and even open the prison cell doors and enter the cells. If you are not too busy being frozen in terror, customers are allowed to take pictures. My seven-year-old was screaming and crying, and I had to promise her I would never, ever bring her back. (Babies and children are allowed, but I recommend only bringing older children and teens.)

Three times a night the entire restaurant experiences a blackout and there is a monster show that is quite terrifying.

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While I do not recommend going to The Lockup for its food, the restaurant and staff do a terrific job of creating the ambiance for an unforgettable and very unique experience. There are three branches throughout the Kanto area (Shinjuku, Shibuya and Omiya in Saitama), each with different closing times and menu items, as well as shows. For details on other branches, including contact information and opening times, see The Lockup’s website.

The Deets

Address: Shinjuku branch, 6–7F Shinjuku Square Building, 1-16-3 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 050-7576-5262

Open: Sun–Thu and public holidays, 5 p.m.–1 a.m.; Fri, Sat, the day before public holidays, 5 p.m.–3 a.m.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2016. It has been updated with the latest information by the Savvy Team.

Harumi is Japanese-American and moved to Tokyo in 2011 with her husband and daughter. She is passionate about her work as a type trainer working with individuals and companies to help them understand their strengths and blindspots. She has conducted trainings for JAXA, Tokyo American Club Women's Group, Takeda Pharmaceuticals and Osaka University Gender Equity Office. She is also an evaluation specialist for NearMedia, a media development organization that is currently training journalists in Pakistan. Harumi is super-determined to raise her two daughters to be bilingual and biliterate and is often scheduling events, playdates and outings to encourage and boost their English language skills. She is increasingly finding peace and joy with pilates and hot yoga.

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