Just a hop and a skip away from Shinjuku station, in the glitzy town of Kabuki-chō – one of Tokyo’s most famous entertainment districts – is Robot Restaurant. The walk over to the restaurant from Shinjuku station, as well as the entrance to Kabuki-chō is filled with bright signage and borderline-illegal sales people for restaurants, bars and various gentleman’s clubs, which is entertainment in itself. Once you’ve passed the noise and the shiny lights, you’ll arrive at Robot Restaurant, and you won’t miss it either. They have one of the brightest and the most eye-catching signage of the street.
The ticket booth is set up across the street from the actual establishment, welcoming patrons from all over the world to lineup and purchase their tickets and merchandise; there is no such thing as an on or an off-season here, it is as it has been since its establishment a highly sought after tourist attraction.
As soon as you step into the restaurant, you are transported to a different world, a techno-coloured world filled with robots. The friendly English speaking staff will lead you up to the waiting room. The waiting room isn’t just any old hallway or room – it’s a large room, fixed with large panels of TV screens, a bar and a grand piano. The decor is opulent, extravagant and bright – something you expect to see at Liberace’s mansion. From the ceiling to the floor, even the chairs and tables are gold and sparkly.
About half an hour before the show, the waiting room begin to fill up with excited tourists and out-of-towners curiously looking around, taking in each and every moment of this experience. Amongst the chatter, suddenly a beautiful woman sits down at the piano and a robot guitarist – dressed similarly of Daft Punk – begins to play soft jazz covers of greatest hits. Before you know it the waiting room is full and the band is complete with robot bass player and a robot drummer.
At the end of the set by the robot band, the staff comes back again to lead the eager audience down to the show venue. A few flights of stairs down and the audience is shown to a hall with seats on either sides of the room. Again, this room is decked out with large screens, which play videos of gorgeous showgirls dancing. This is the point where audience members receive their dinner. In addition to the meal you can purchase popcorn, corn chips, alcoholic drinks and even the restaurant’s very own Robo Chips.
Just as the audience is settled in with their food and drinks, it’s show time. There’s a brief announcement made in English – as are all in-show dialogues and announcements here. Lights go out and the room with filled with anticipation and silence. The first part of the show begins with dancers and musicians dressed in Kabuki style costumes, energetically hitting the taiko drums, encapsulating the Japanese festival spirit and hyping up the audience. From the first thud of the drum, the bright lights flash across and around the room. The lights come from above, from the floats that the performers ride on and even from their costumes.
The floats and the performers are constantly moving around, rotating to ensure every audience member gets to see every aspect of each segment. Each segment has a different theme and some even come with a story which is acted out by both the robots and the showgirls. It is not a huge venue, so it’s quite amazing how smoothly the show runs considering how large and bulky some of the robots and the floats are. There are many different types of floats and robots that are in the show, each made with such great detail.
Every segment brings in a new range of robots; guitar playing robots, afro robots, evil samurai robots and even dinosaur robots. The performers get right into character for each separate segment, which pulls the audience right in. Although the flashing lights and the loud background sound and music may feel a little too intense right at the beginning, as soon as the performers take you into their world, you see that each flash of light is made precisely at the right time creating the surreal atmosphere that Robot Restaurant is loved for.
The last half of the show includes audience participation. During intermission, staff bring out glow sticks for the audience members. When the show resumes, the audience all wait in anticipation, fidgeting with the glow stick waiting for the call to get involved. Audience members get to fist pump along to some of the musical numbers with the glow stick, which definitely brings up the energy in the place leading up to the big finale. Without giving away too much, the finale is an explosion of colour, lights and sound that pulls in the audience one last time, they bop along with great enthusiasm as the performers, floats and robots dance around the stage.
When the show is over, it’s like waking up from a dream – a very bright and colourful dream. Suddenly being release back into the real world can make you think ‘did that really just happen?’. The lights of Shinjuku look a little less brighter after being at the Robot Restaurant, but also reminding you of the moments of surreal excitement had during the show. It’s only in Japan you would find anything like this.