Flashing lights, lasers, dancers dressed in bright colours, giant robots, a story that is completely nonsensical…the show at Robot Restaurant was everything I expected of Japan and jam-packed with my favourite things. Truth be told, when I saw a clip on you-tube, I was more fascinated with all the shiny objects on stage than a crow is with a piece of tinfoil. I didn’t know what else I wanted to do while in Japan, but one thing was for sure – I was going to Robot Restaurant.
This was the show I had been looking forward to my whole life. I carefully selected a date and time that fit with our itinerary, printed out the tickets (just to be safe), and spent the next month dreaming of all the wonders – and possible epileptic fit – that my brain would be subjected to.
The day of the show, we passed a lovely afternoon in Kamakura. We ate sweet potato ice cream and shared our gluten-free yakisoba with a hawk (the hawk actually stole it out of Laura’s hands just as she was about to put it in her mouth. Come to think of it, I don’t think there’s a place in the world where a wild animal hasn’t stolen food from me). After a relaxing time watching the surfers at Kamakura beach, we headed back to Tokyo for the show.
Robot Restaurant is located a short five-minute walk from Shinjuku Station – provided you exit this very large train station at the right place. We did not. That was ok though as we had plenty of time before we had to be at the ‘theatre’ (which, according to some reviews, was little more than a tiny, dank basement room with some seats around the edges). We did a little shopping, ate a rice ball, and downed a cider on the street so we wouldn’t have to pay for drinks at the show.
Now, it should be noted that we were well past the point of exhaustion on this trip. Every day was a struggle to get out of bed and do anything. For my part, I suffer from chronic fatigue, depression and, on this trip, a sprained ankle. Laura, in addition, likes to do this thing she calls ‘relaxing’ when she’s on vacation. We were spent, but determined to make the most of our remaining time in Japan – and completely stoked for the spectacle we were about to witness.
Robot Restaurant is the easiest thing to find in busy Shinjuku. They have signs posted along the way to keep you moving in the right direction and giant, brightly-coloured signs spelling out their name – which you can see from blocks away – at the restaurant itself. Robot Restaurant takes up so much space that the strip club beside them has a sign on their door warning dazed travellers that this is not the door they are looking for. In fact, there are so many strip clubs on this street, you may begin to wonder if the show at Robot Restaurant is anything more than scantily clad women dancing for your entertainment.
I excitedly showed the young woman at the door our (expensive) tickets and waited whiled she looked for our names on the reservation list. She scanned the first page of names, the second, and the third – we weren’t on there. She double-checked the spelling of our names and ran through the list again – still nothing. She took another look at our confirmation and looked at me somewhat hesitantly. “These tickets are for last month,” she said. To her defense, she did try to ask her manager if we could change the tickets, but he could not have cared less. Still in shock, we were pushed back into the street by the many other customers who needed tending to.
I had zero emotional resources left with which to deal with any disappointment, much less an expensive mistake that was completely my fault. I don’t know much about the culture of public displays of emotion in Japan, but I can say that I was the only person that evening to be standing in a street filled with a never-ending sea of people, crying as if my cat had just died. Tears were falling faster than Laura could catch them. I turned around in circles searching – to no avail – for a few feet of space without people. My senses became overloaded with the noises of the city. The sounds of touts calling for customers and giant electronic advertisements was too much. The coloured lights which I usually love started giving me a headache. Suddenly, I understood why people in Japan would pay to use a love hotel just so they could sit alone on a couch and play video games. At that moment, I would have paid any amount of money for two minutes of privacy. And Laura would have likewise paid any amount to get her emotional wreck of a wife off the streets of Tokyo.
And that’s how we ended up in a karaoke bar downing our obligatory alcoholic drink and singing The Greatest Love of All at the top of our lungs.
Surprisingly, I recovered from this massive loss pretty quickly. Mostly because we had neither the time nor the money to make a second attempt. Sure, Robot Restaurant may be kitschy fun, but sometimes it’s best if you focus on the negative reviews on TripAdvisor. That way, you know that all you’re really missing is a cheaply produced show with more intermission than performance, broken robots, and overt attempts to sell overpriced drinks. At least, that’s what I try to tell myself.
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