For those of you that have been following along at home, you will have read in my last blog post – My Daily Update Home – Part 4 – that I wrote home to my family about the mind bending experience I had when I visited the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. In that blog I had intentionally not gone into any further detail nor posted any of my photos from that event. I wanted to hold that back until I could write about it in a little more detail and provide some of the 2,500 images I took during the 2 hour show. So on with the blog. Oh and here is a little bite from my email home about the Robot Restaurant.
Wow! Insane! Intense! Unbelievable! It was such an amazingly high energy show. Unforgettable. I was lucky enough to get front row seats and sat next to a lady who was visiting her sister who lives here. We talked a lot in between acts and she was half Japanese half Austrian who lived in Germany.
During my first trip to Tokyo in 2015 I had been aware of the Robot Restaurant but had opted instead to focus on street photography and visiting more traditional and cultural sites within this amazing city. I kind of regretted that decision but didn’t dwell on it too much. Close friends had been to the Robot Restaurant and had posted these funny kaleidoscopic images on social media of what they had seen. Initially it made little sense to me. I wasn’t a big stage show follower even with traditional performances so I saw little value in investing in this event.
And I had held to that view right up until a few days before I actually departed for Tokyo in August of this year. I had been at home, relatively content with my itinerary, but still decided to browse some sites online that highlighted “what’s on” information. A couple of things popped up but it wasn’t until I came across a ticket seller for Robot Restaurant that I decided to look a little deeper. I made a quick decision to go ahead with it. What the hell? It is something you can only see and experience in Tokyo and so why not! So I booked online via a site call Go Voyagin. You can take a look for yourself here. I ordered my tickets and by the time I was due to depart the e-tickets had arrived in my inbox. Simple.
By the time I had reached Tokyo, and the day of the show arrived, I was quite excited to be honest. During some of my nightly photowalks I had passed the restaurant and its brightly coloured and illuminated signs on the streets of Shinjuku. With my e-ticket in hand I queued up first at the ticket office to get my official ticket. The ticketing process at the actual ticket office was a little weird and disorganised. Then a quick dash across the street in the pouring rain and I was inside the theatre building. Tiny corridors with brightly coloured murals and images and three dimensional sculptures hanging from the ceilings. I very quickly became disconnected from the reality of what was going on outside the building. Small lift loads of people were carried up to a large bar and lounge area. It was glitzy and gold and psychedelic to say the least.
Once everyone for that showing time was in the lounge and enjoying a beverage a small band took the stage in strange robot costumes whilst a truly gorgeous woman sang some truly terrible songs. There were some other performers during that pre-show period but I don’t want to spoil all with too many details. During this time the drinks were flowing and a small stand was happily selling and promoting souvenirs. My ticket had actually included a coupon for a free drink so that was a bonus. Thankfully I had a big dinner just before the show. Last drinks were called and we were encouraged to quickly make our way to the theatre. We were ushered through a series of corridors and down several flights of stairs. All insanely decorated and intoxicating.
When I walked into the theatre I quickly realised that we were in fact all standing on the actual stage area. It was a long room and on the two long sides were ascending seating with these strange little two person tables. So everyone faced into the stage. It was all very thoughtful. And I was lucky to have a front row seat. The tables even had drink holders and yes before long a cart was wheeled out and beverages could be bought and even snacks. Mostly giant cans of Japanese beer. Well, when in Rome! This happened a couple of times during the shows – in between the various ‘acts’. I was seated next to a young woman and we quickly shared our stories about why we were in Japan and why we had come to the show. Stage hands were ushering people into their seats quickly and large signs were held up to say that it was now too late to go to the toilet. I don’t recall seeing a sign prior warning that it would soon be too late to go to the toilet.
And the show began with such power and energy that I just sat smiling like an idiot. I don’t want to go into the specifics of the performance I experienced as I don’t want to spoil it for people hoping to go one day. But I know that I didn’t stop smiling the whole time. There were insane costumes ranging from traditional looking Japanese historical costumes and girls in skimpy anime-style outfits through to tribal costumes and techno robot dancers. Bright lights, lasers, pyro-technics and wall to wall giant screens. It was loud, bright and full of character and fascination. There was a bit of a story in some of the acts that I could almost grasp and in other parts I had no idea what was going on. There were giant robots walking around the stage, enormous robotic mythical creatures and giant moving platforms holding rows of performers drumming on giant drums in unison. So much energy and action and stimulation. There was so much to take in. So much.
The whole experience lasted for around two hours – I think. It was really hard to tell in that space as it was closed off from the world and was running at such a crazy pace that it left me in a bit of a daze by the end of it. There were intermissions where they literally removed these little gates – that probably stopped people loosing a foot to a giant robot – to allow you to buy snacks and drinks and go to the toilet. And as for the Robot Restaurant being a restaurant, well it isn’t really. You can pre-order bento boxes either with your ticket or prior to the show at the bar, and they are brought out to you at the very start. I didn’t bother as I wanted to concentrate on the show and also I had my camera in hand the whole time. Once I returned home and downloaded all of my photos I was surprised to find that I had taken so many shots at the Robot Restaurant.
The photos will show what I experienced far better than words ever will. But even then it still doesn’t answer the all too familiar question of ‘So what was the show about?’ A question I probably would still have trouble answering even having experienced it for myself. Let me see…’It is so very, very Tokyo!’…’It was like a mix of a rock concert, musical theatre performance, traditional Japanese theatre, modern interpretation of the futuristic Tokyo and yet none of those things’…I think that the best solution would be to say that if you are ever heading to Tokyo with an afternoon or a night free then you just have to see it for yourself. By the time the show was over and I made my way out to the street I was completely disorientate and more than a little dazed by the sudden drop in the stimulation level. It was temporary of course as Tokyo is far from lacking in stimulation. Happy shooting.