If you’re looking for something fun to do on a rainy day and want to exercise those brain muscles, then look no further than Tokyo Mystery Circus. The entertainment facility, which opened in Shinjuku’s notorious Kabukicho in December 2017, features a collection of escape rooms and other interactive games across five storeys and one basement.
I’m a sucker for puzzles and escaping from reality, so last weekend I decided to rope my friend into checking out TMC.
Inside Tokyo Mystery Circus
What do you envision when you hear the words “escape room”? Personally, I think of a self-contained room that you are “locked in” and have to escape by solving a bunch of puzzles in turn. At least, that’s what I experienced when I played back home in Australia.
But it seems Japan has a slightly more loose interpretation of the term. While there are definitely those rooms that I described above, the term seems to encompass a sweeping range of interactive games. Their common feature is that you have to solve puzzles in order to get the next clue.
B1F: Secret Base Lab
An open space where you can experience escape games with immersive storylines.
1F: Mystery Atrium
The entrance and reception counter. Also houses a cafe and merchandise store. There seem to be Snoopy collaboration running at the moment.
2F: Mini Real Escape Rooms
A floor with a variety of escape rooms and games, including the “Ranpodo Puzzle Series” investigation game that we played. (More on that experience below.)
3F: Real Stealth Area
An active game where you become spy agent and have to get past guards and booby traps to complete your mission of infiltrating an enemy base.
4F: PTG Room / Secret Base Lab
PTG stands for Projection Table Game. As the name suggests, you solve puzzles using projection mapping here. There is currently a Sailor Moon game running.
5F: 9 Rooms / Secret Base Lab 385
This floor houses the most elaborate escape room of the facility: Escape from the Runaway Train (also known as Escape from the Nine Rooms). There are nine rooms (or train carriages) with nine puzzles to solve. In order to proceed from one locked room to the next, you need to solve the puzzle in each room. The aim is to reach the final carriage and pull the emergency break to stop the train.
This is one of the rare games in TMC that you can play in Japanese, English or Chinese. But there is a time limit of 50 minutes so it can get very pricey if you keep buying time extensions.
Playing a game at Tokyo Mystery Circus
In our first foray into the Tokyo Mystery Circus we played 「書店に眠る謎からの脱出」 (Literally: Escape from the sleeping mystery of the bookstore). Unfortunately, it was only available in Japanese but since there was no time limit we (an Australian and a Hong Konger) decided to go with it.
When I booked the game online, I expected it to be a “mini escape room” — i.e. a private room to ourselves for a specific time slot.
I was in for a surprise, because it was literally an open space bookstore, with multiple groups playing at once. But it was still a lot of fun, and clues were scattered across multiple floors of the building. So it was pretty active too.
Without giving too much away, you assume the role of a detective helping the bookstore owner solve a case. The game is broken into five chapters, and you have to solve the puzzle in each to get the clue for the next stage. Thankfully, most of the puzzles are not Japanese language-specific, although you obviously must be fluent to understand the rules and clues. There were a couple of puzzles that required playing around with kanji, but I left them to my Hong Kong friend. She got them in a flash, which was very helpful. ;D
If you really get stuck, you can access a webpage via a QR code that will give you progressive hints. We only had to use it a few times so I think we did pretty well for two non-native Japanese!
The estimated play time was 60-80 minutes, but it took us around double that, lol. Mostly because of the time it took us to understand the instructions in Japanese, more than the actual puzzles themselves. Started around 3:30pm and finished around 6pm, absolutely starving.
Tickets for each escape room/game can be purchased on the Tokyo Mystery Circus official website. You can get a discount for advanced tickets so it is worth booking online. Keep in mind that almost all games are not available in English, unless it says otherwise on the product page. Some games also cost slightly more on weekends and holidays.
Prices range depending on how immersive and elaborate the game is. The cheapest one is a money vault escape room for 1,000 yen that you have to solve in 10 minutes. The most expensive one is an anime idol-themed game for 4,500 yen that seems rather involved. (Information current as of September 2021).
How to get to Tokyo Mystery Circus
Tokyo Mystery Circus can be easily accessed from any of the lines serving Shinjuku, including multiple JR, Tokyo Metro and Toei subway lines. The closest, however, is Shinjuku Station on the Seibu Shinjuku Line. From there it’s only a 2-minute walk.
Address: 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1丁目27-5 APMビル
APM Building, Kabukicho 1-27-5, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
TMC is open from 11:30am to 9pm on weekdays, and 9:30am to 9pm on weekends and national holidays.
If you looking for more playful ways to escape reality, also check out Mazaria, a virtual reality arcade in Ikebukuro.