I first heard about Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. While it didn’t seem to capture much about traditional Japanese culture, it seemed to be the craziest, weirdest, yet most brilliant show I’ve ever heard about, so when I brought my father on a trip to Japan, I was determined to include it in our schedule. It didn’t disappoint.
What is Robot Restaurant?
Robot Restaurant is equal parts show and restaurant, as well as being equally not a show or a restaurant. In fact, it’s so crazy, it’s actually difficult to describe. Located in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood, you’ll first notice the bright and over the top signage from quite far away.
The Restaurant of Robot Restaurant
After purchasing your ticket across the street, you’ll enter through the main entrance under the “extremely subtle” Robot Restaurant sign. You’ll be led to the restaurant portion of the spectacle, which is a spectacle in and of itself. The restaurant is as close as you’ll ever come to living inside of a disco ball.
The whole thing is so over the top that all you can do is smile, laugh, and take it all in. While you spend about 45 minutes waiting in the restaurant, you’ll be free to purchase food and drinks and to mingle with the very international crowd of tourists who come from all over the world to take in the party atmosphere of Robot Restaurant. After about 15 minutes, a small band comes out on stage to perform pop music while dressed as, well, robots. The visual is incredibly entertaining, but what makes it so cool is that the band is really great! They play a great choice of tunes and sound amazing while doing so.
The bar is fully stocked with anything you can imagine, though the food is mainly bar food style cuisine. The lack of culinary options is really no issue whatsoever as nobody ever comes to Robot Restaurant for the food. It’s about the experience. I should mention that even the bathrooms are completely over the top. I’ll spare you photos of the men’s room, but trust me when I tell you that nothing can prepare you for what they look like.
The Venue for the Floor Show
The main attraction of Robot Restaurant is the floor show. After listening to the band for about 30 minutes, you’ll be led to another floor where the floorshow takes place. The audience is seated at tables in pairs about four rows deep on either side of the runway where the show takes place. More food and drinks are available here, though the bar is slightly less extensive and the food options are mainly popcorn and pretzel type snack foods.
The Robot Restaurant Floor Show
This part is the main attraction. The floorshow consists of about 3 different “shows” which center around different themes. The shows feature upbeat music that spans the gamut from heavy metal to thumping dance tracks. The cast uses dance, creative lighting, remote control robots and dinosaurs, parade style floats, and vary forms of machinery to very loosely tell the story of each show. I couldn’t quite figure out what any of the plots were, but for this spectacle it just doesn’t matter. I promise that you’ll be plenty entertained by just taking in the entire scene visually and aurally.
One of the things I loved the most about Robot Restaurant was how simple the concept is. It has very high tech vibe, but it really feels like a group of friends coming together to collaborate on a show, much in the tradition of early Cirque du Soleil prior to their commercialization. There’s an incredibly charming bohemian vibe, the performers have infectious energy, and the entire event exudes fun and happiness.
Robot Restaurant highlights everything about the goofy side of Japanese culture that is usually expressed only through TV game shows and physical comedians. Robot Restaurant is also a wonderful way to meet other foreign tourists as the entire experience is a fantastic ice-breaker. It’s one of the most creative theatrical creations I’ve ever seen and I guarantee it won’t disappoint. I highly recommend you check it out the next time you’re in Tokyo.