The Robot Restaurant

We got the train from Iidabashi to Shinjuku in plenty of time, and decided to go for some more English food with fish and chips in Hub. Originally arriving at quarter to five to find it opens at five, we went for a walk around the block and on returning at 5.03 found we weren’t even the first customers in there!

A short walk from Hub was Kabukicho, a seedier area of Shinjuku, and also the site of the third part of Helen’s birthday surprise: the Robot Restaurant. Focusing more heavily on the ‘robot’ than the ‘restaurant’, the Robot Restaurant offers its clientèle robot fights, laser shows and half naked Japanese women – just what Helen wanted for her birthday!

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These two pictures (above) were just the outside and queueing area! It’s very popular, particularly with tourists, and you have to book on their website a couple of days before, but having our name on the list we got straight through and went up to the similarly sense smashing waiting room. Surrounded by mirrors, screens and enough flashing lights to require an epilepsy warning (of course there wasn’t one) the waiting room was merely a harbinger of the sensory overload to come.

One thing that was particularly cool about the waiting room was the super receptive dinosaurs on the tables to play with while you waited; fitted with microphones, cameras and sensors, they were able to follow you around the table and walk towards your hand, and even looked happy when you tickled it under the chin. Very clever.

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Finally we were called down to the restaurant area. I say restaurant area, though I don’t think you’d ever be able to pinpoint its use to any kind of cuisine if you didn’t know about it – three long rows of seats on either side of an empty corridor, more evoking a tv game show than any kind of eating establishment. We didn’t bother with food as most reviews online said it wasn’t worth it, but if you did want to eat there, you can buy a bento box for 1000 yen on top of the price of the ticket.

After a few minutes for the guests to find their seats, and with plenty of opportunity to stock up on alcoholic beverages, the show finally began.

Before the lights dimmed, a guy came out to welcome us to the evening, and to warn the people in the front row that they if they didn’t want to get smacked in the face by a robot, they’d better be wary and keep an eye out for them when they turned. To help them out a little, another guy came round and showed them how to lean back in case of emergency to avoid a trip to A&E before the night was out.

Then, the lights dimmed. Girls in bikinis ran out and took their places on two big robots behind a collection of taiko drums. What followed was a drum-off, between the red bikini girls and the white bikini girls, seemingly with no apparent winners apart from the men in the audience.

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The evening that followed can only be described as crazily Japanese. Throughout the course of the night, there were robot boxing fights, huge lady robots commandeered by three girls each, musical interludes of guitarist robots and girl singers (this time in sequinned bikinis), a brief appearance by Kung Fu Panda, a robot shark, a robot cow, planes, motorbikes and much more in between. A sign outside professed that the show was family friendly, but of the many costume changes by the girls, not many of them were very family friendly!

All in all, Helen had a wonderful birthday, and both the afternoon tea and robot restaurant are highly recommended!

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Helen’s birthday surprise

It’s a lovely season at the turn of April in Japan, with the weather picking up, and the cherry blossom blooming, and Helen is lucky to have her birthday bang in the middle of it. Two years ago she visited me in Tokyo and we saw the blossom in Inokashira-koen in Kichijoji, last year we had a little sojourn to Hainan island province in China, and this year I treated her to a lovely day out in biggest city in the world.

For a long time in Hong Kong she’d been wanting to go for afternoon tea in one of the nice hotels, so the first part of the day was a trip for lunch at the Fortnum and Mason’s restaurant in Nihombashi. Highly recommended by one of my students, it’s tucked away at the bottom of Mitsukoshi department store and offers a traditional afternoon tea, along with teas, cakes, biscuits and a special lunch menu.

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We of course went for the full whammy and had Queen Anne tea with a selection of sandwiches, scones and our choice of cakes. If my memory serves, we had prawn and avocado, salmon, cheese and ham, and roast beef sandwiches, all of which delightful; the scones were out of this world, with fluffy whipped cream and jam – it’s been ever such a long time since I’ve had a scone – and the cakes were delicious too. It evoked strong ideas of being on the veranda in the height of the Indian Raj with our coolies surrounding us, catering our every whim!

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After a lovely lunch, we headed towards Kudanshita to view some more cherry blossom, in another highly recommended area around the Yasukuni shrine. The Yasukuni shrine has been in the news recently as it’s where all the Japanese war dead are remembered, and many (including several war criminals) are buried, which is causing a bit of conflict with the Chinese and Koreans who aren’t that happy about it, but we didn’t know any of that when we went so were walking around blissfully naive.

By chance we happened to wander the wrong way at first and crossed the road into another park towards the top of the Emperor’s Palace, near the Budokan where the Beatles played many moons ago and which still holds martial arts tournaments. The entrance to the gardens were high above a lovely lake, surrounded by cherry trees, which made for a lovely view.

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We had a little wander around the park before trying to make our way down towards hiring one of the boats on the lake. By the time we got there, there was an hour and a half queue for the boats, and we had a time limit on the third part of the surprise day, so sadly we couldn’t hire a boat this time.

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Slightly disappointed, we crossed back over the road into Yasukuni proper, and had a lovely walk around the gardens there.

Luckily, despite the forecast, the weather was beautiful all day, which was a great bonus. Having done a lot of wandering, we were getting a little peckish, and decided to head over to our final destination of the day, an event so crazily mindblowing it deserves its own post soon!

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