A visit to Tokyo’s weird and wonderful Robot Restaurant.
The room looks like a kaleidoscope threw up in it. There are shapes, colours, jewels, and mirrors everywhere. The aesthetic is… I struggle for a label. Tacky? Jaw-dropping? Bizarre?
Finally it comes to me: the interior is the love-child of kitsch and psychedelic.
Tokyo is probably, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, one of the weirdest places I have ever been. Blame it on my Western, left-leaning-but-still-slightly-conservative perspective: this land of anime, cosplay, and fetish culture is jarring to the girl who grew up in Canada, a country that is straight-laced and square in comparison. I suspected Tokyo was a city like no other when my friend and I visited a fetish cafe where cherub-faced waitresses dressed in maid costumes and offered spankings and ear-cleanings on request; my suspicions were confirmed when we made the acquaintance of Japanese reggae enthusiasts at a dancehall club who spoke poor English but were somehow fluent in Jamaican patois.
I repeat: Tokyo, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, is one of the weirdest places I have ever been.
So really, I shouldn’t have been surprised by what I saw when my friend and I arrived at Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant and found ourselves blinded by its, er, colourful interior.
So what is this enchanted place? Well, for starters, “Robot Restaurant” is a bit of a misnomer. There are robots, yes, and while the bento boxes filled with wilted sushi on offer technically qualify as food, designating the place a restaurant is pretty far off the mark. Instead, the Robot Restaurant is more accurately defined as a cabaret show with some Transformer-like automatons thrown in.
There are two shows daily, at 8:30pm and 10pm, and it’s prudent to book a spot in advance because the restaurant reaches capacity quickly. Luckily, we manage to snag tickets to an 8:30pm showing the night before we are due to depart Japan. Tickets are about $50 USD per person but all the online reviews we’d read told us that the spectacle is worth the price of admission and more. We turn up with half an hour to showtime and are ushered with other guests through a series of hallways until we get to a bar that somehow evokes the stage from the Starlight Express. We grab a table and busy ourselves with taking pictures.
Five minutes to showtime, we are then directed to another room which resembles a very small amphitheatre. The seats are similar to the ones found at the movies and they are packed tightly together– unfortunate for my knees but I am impressed at how close we are to the stage. Once all guests have been seated, the aforementioned bento box is served– one look and one sniff convince me that it’s better that I leave it uneaten! The lights are cut and the show begins.
What a show it is! Loud music pumps and loud lighting refracts on bodies that are very young and scantily clad.
There are complicated dance routines (to songs from Broadway musicals like Dreamgirls!), majorettes dressed as bunny rabbits who slay with their baton-handling skills, a pole dancer(!) and of course, robots galore. If the show follows some sort of storyline or narrative, it is completely lost on me. But even if the spectacle is devoid of any meaning, my friend and I are captivated from start to finish.
Ninety minutes-ish later, the lights dim for what we think is the last time and the humans leave the stage. A couple of robots are trotted out and guests are invited to take their pictures with them. As shameless tourists my friend and I jump at the opportunity!
After our cheesy snaps, we are treated to an encore, which is greatly appreciated by the guests. We leave the venue, eyes filled with wonder and heads spinning with everything we’ve seen over the course of the evening. I exhale deeply upon exiting and think for the umpteenth time this trip about how weird, yet fascinating Tokyo is, and how the Robot Restaurant is definitely an experience worth having!
Have you ever been to or heard of the Robot Restaurant?