If Kabukicho had a theme park starring Akihabara chika aidoru (“underground” idols), this might be it…

After opening last summer amidst much sound and fury, we finally paid a visit to the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district.

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

It is located in the heart of Shinjuku’s world of the erotica. The entrance is a garish, bright open plaza manned by cold beefy bouncers who are if not quite rude, certainly very unwelcoming and unhelpful (don’t expect any kind of guidance). In other words, just like a sex club or strip club.

Anyway, then you go over to the main building on the other side of the street to a horrifically bright waiting room. Seriously, it’s so bright that your eyes hurt. There you are surrounded mirrors and flashing lights, and constant sound.

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

After waiting for the audience to leave from the previous show, you then go down the stairs to the basement performance area where you are given a bento lunchbox and asked to take a seat on one of the two audience areas. It is a kind of traverse stage, with the “show” happening in the hallway between the two blocks of seats.

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

This means you spend as much time watching the giant walls of screens showing cheap CGI battles and images of female warriors on horseback, and, naturally, the faces of the other audience members.

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

We were expecting an audience of sleazy guys or otakus, but actually it was mostly just curious Japanese and foreigners. Considering that the club has advertised itself on its mammoth budget (10 billion yen or $130 million!), the handful of empty seats are not a good sign, though. (Saying that, we can’t really see where the money went but anyway…)

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

Now to the show itself. Words fail me. It features essentially about 20 dancers who play instruments and, well, dance. Stylistically it’s the biggest smorgasbord of kitsch and the burlesque you are likely to see outside of a Takarazuka performance, only with Kabukicho strip culture and Akihabara chika aidoru motifs thrown in for good measure. It is also erotic; all the girls are scantily clad, plus some had busts we hadn’t seen in Japan except in a porn film.

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

But more than being aroused, we were most of just simply befuddled by the swirling vortext of influences and elements poured into the mix here. A fighting panda. Drumming girls. A dinosaur. A tank. Sci-fi. Robots. Sex. Sexism. Cheesy smiling idol subculture with genuinely alluring sexuality (well, actually, that’s quite common in Japan so we’re at least used to that).

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

It is around an hour long, though structured as a series of numbers, so there are quite frequent pauses. Considering it now costs ¥5,000 (with a bento lunchbox meal and drink included), it is a little expensive then, though the kitsch is priceless. For the record, I went with a group of gay Americans and they all seemed to have a whale of a time.

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

The style of the dancing and music was more Gekidan Shinkansen than genuine strip club, and the finale with the carnival float robots (you have to wait quite a while for the robots to appear!) and a neon tank, followed by dancers who hang from the ceiling, is utterly impossible to define.

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

Here’s the video we made!

jts_may2013

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