Known officially as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Tokyo City Hall is also known as a great place to visit for skyline views from atop the city. With access to the observation deck being free it is a must-do item on most Tokyo Tourist checklists. The views are grand, but if you want a meal with that view the price tag is rather steep. Until you realize that there is another option, assuming you’re visiting around lunch time.
Welcome to the City Hall Cafeteria. Located on the 32nd floor (the observation deck is on 45, in a separate elevator bank), the cafeteria feeds thousands of municipal employees each day. And a handful of tourists, too. It is absolutely an industrial-scale operation with massive amounts of food being prepared and served very quickly, but it was also quite tasty and very affordable (my meal was ~650 yen or $6). Added bonus: many tables have views out the windows.
Stepping out of the elevators around lunch time just follow the crowds and soon you’ll be faced with the choices for today’s lunch in all their plastic glory. Menu options on display have English subtitles to help choose amongst the dozens of options on offer.
Once you’ve picked your meal head over to one of the vending machines, drop in some yen (cash only, like much of Japan!) and push the button. A receipt will come out which you present at the appropriate counter to receive your meal.
The food goes quickly and some meals will sell out during the day. When that happens the light on the vending machine goes out and you cannot choose that option. I learned this lesson the hard way when going back for seconds during our visit.
Also, while it is not entirely clear, there are two halves to the restaurant, one red and the other green. Depending on which side you order from you get different plates, trays, cups and chopsticks, even though the food choices are the same. Return your empties at the end of the meal to the proper side or face the wrath of one of the employees trying to explain what you’re doing wrong, likely with very little English involved. Oops.
Oh, and definitely return the chopsticks. How else will such a cool modern art display come to be.
The views from the observation deck are great, but the restaurant may be the true gem inside.
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