December 5, 2016

Robot Restaurant: Tokyo's Blazing Bionic Extravaganza

Robot Restaurant: Tokyo’s Blazing Bionic Extravaganza

Like any country, Japanese culture is multidimensional. On one hand, it is a land of elegant kimono, bonsai trees, Zen gardens, and plates of perfectly arranged sushi—this is the calm, refined and artful side that many a Japanophile has come in search of over the years. On the other hand, it is home to imaginative, fire-breathing monsters that fight to the death, where big-eyed anime cuteness rules, neon is everywhere, and you can get an American-style hamburger if you really want it—this is the side of Japan that speaks to the kid in all of us, and the side you can experience at the Robot Restaurant. Opened in 2012 in the heart of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district, the Robot Restaurant manages to capture Japan’s many contradictions in one awesome Tokyo robot show—here’s what you can expect from start to finish!

Colorful Characters Trip the Light Fantastic at Shinjuku Robot Restaurant

The Waiting Room

After being greeting by the buxom ‘bots at the front entrance, guests are escorted to a pre-show waiting area. While most waiting rooms are drab affairs, in the Shinjuku Robot Restaurant waiting room you won’t know where to rest your eyes first. Everywhere you look, it has the glitz of a Las Vegas casino, but redesigned by and for robot-kind. Other than the gilded glitter and gold everywhere, you might notice another thing unusual for Japan: many of the patrons are actually foreigners. According to Mr. Takashi Koizumi, who does sales and public relations for the Robot Restaurant, what started mostly as a Japanese-centered attraction is now inundated with tourists (many of them American) who now make up about 70% of the audience on any given night. There are some international, English-speaking wait staff...

...not to mention the odd robot showing off their sizzling electric guitar skills, Daft Punk-style, as everyone waits for the show. Depending on the day, there’s also the chance to see others of the metallic persuasion tickling the piano keys or even going to town on the drums. The waiting room and surrounding corridors are so overwhelming that you may wonder how the show itself can possibly top them. When asked what guests can expect, Mr. Koizumi’s answer is cryptic: “Chaos!”

The Beginning

Entering the theater, one thing that might surprise you is how intimate it is. The audience sits along either side of the performance space for the Tokyo Robot Show, a long strip that evokes the feeling and excitement of a street festival. Starting the show with a literal bang, a bevy of enthusiastic taiko drummers burst onto the scene, playing mightily while somehow managing to balance standing on risers that circulate around the room.

Then comes a parade of people wearing oni demon masks and carrying an mikoshi shrine, both staples of many old-style Japanese festivals—except that most shrines aren’t usually moving so wildly as dancers rock out on top of them! The light, color and energy are pure carnival, and seems to be designed especially to welcome tourists into Japan. Judging from the fact that each of the 3 or 4 daily shows are typically filled to capacity, that welcome seems to be working.

The Robot War

From there, the carnival-style artistry turns into something completely different. As the robots come out, a captivating and fantastical narrative unfolds. Suddenly the audience is immersed in the story of a peaceful island country (where the people ride fire-breathing snakes?!)...

...fighting against gods and goddesses atop mechanized reptiles that, just maybe, want to destroy the natural island environment. It’s a message for the times...

...that ends with a girl and a Gatling gun!

The Intermission: Food Time

Even just witnessing these rollicking reptile wars leaves the audience famished. Fortunately, food is another area where the Shinjuku Robot Restaurant does not disappoint! If you missed your chance for a meal in the waiting room, there’s always time to do so during intermission. If you feel like a quintessentially Japanese experience, don’t forget to order your bento box one day in advance of the show you want to see. There’s also a choice of gyuu karubi (boneless beef spare ribs) bento, gyuu shigure (beef cooked in soy sauce, mirin, ginger and other seasonings), and a fish option for non-meat eaters. To cater for those who feel more at home eating burgers, the Mega Burger and fries is a sloppy tribute to American ballpark bliss, and is a perfect match with any one of the alcoholic beverages on offer—why not try Ninja Beer to round out your Tokyo Robot Show experience?

The Lightshow

After the intermission there’s a Tron-like lightshow where tightly choreographed dancers in neon-lined black suits come out, racing around on tiny futuristic motorbikes and shooting lasers from their fingers. This is definitely one of the most artful parts of the show, a beautiful and edgy display that clears the visual palate in preparation for the massive robot “invasion” to come.

The Grand Finale

For the last showdown, the room goes dark, glow-sticks are passed around the audience, and the final Tokyo Robot Show parade is on! It is a thing of postmodern joy, a mix of high tech hijinks…

…Low-brow hee-haw…

…Great singing…

…Talented dancing…

…and tripped-out fairytale-on-metal motifs, including Cinderella...

…and a bunny who may have escaped from Wonderland to party!

Others in the weird and wonderful cast of robot characters include some that look like silly Betty Boop bubbleheads dressed to the nines…

…and some that are definitely from Planet 9! Finally, there are some menacing monstrosities, including a robot that resembles a two-headed Terminator, but is surprisingly camera-shy—you’ll just have to come to the show and see his awesomeness for yourself! Mr. Koizumi says that the restaurant currently has more than 20 different robots, with various shows—including RoboDance and Robot Boxing—highlighting different ones each time. There are also special themed shows for the Halloween and Christmas seasons, just to name two. When asked which show he liked best, Mr. Koizumi smiled and said simply, “All of them!”.

Watch the Tokyo Robot Show for a Night like No Other

After the show you may want to pick up some souvenirs. Besides the robot piggy banks pictured above, there are t-shirts, themed snacks, and even glow sticks. Apparently the most popular souvenir is a cute and colorful robot doll—all the better to hug close and remind yourself that robots are our friends! Whether you buy a souvenir or not though, a trip to the Robot Restaurant is one you won’t soon forget. The sheer, frenetic fun of it all should keep robot lovers and Japanophiles alike flooding back for years to come.

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