Think of the craziest show you’ve ever seen and then multiply it by a million. You will have something halfway close to the insanity that is the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo. Firstly, a disclaimer: this is not a show that draws on some ancient Japanese culture. It is purely for entertaining tourists. If you’re happy to join the ranks of Australian and American tourists who are out for a night of joyous calamity that embraces the quirky kawaii of comic book culture, this is the thing for you. If you want zen gardens and authentic ancient samurai swords, move along.
Robot Restaurant is situated in the heart of Kabukicho – a suburb of Shinjuku known for its bright lights, pachinko parlous and host/hostess bars. It is essentially a night life district but far safer and cleaner than Kings Cross or equivalent districts in other nations. It is easily accessible and only a short walk from Shinjuku station. You will need to pre-book your tickets online and collect them from the ticket counter opposite the restaurant around half an hour before the show begins. Don’t worry if you’re discombobulated by the bright lights and loud music, there are plenty of staff wandering the street, ready to point you in the right direction.
Once you have collected your ticket, you will proceed to the restaurant entrance, go down some stairs decorated in a style that seems like (trucker hat designer) threw up his most audacious designs and enter a waiting room decked out in a mix of porn star’s boudoir and Liberacci.
Here you can cash in your free drink ticket and relax in a luxuriously cushioned nautilus shell
and be serenaded by a pop singer and her band of musical robots. I’m not kidding.
Then comes the show itself. I can only really describe it as one of the most joyously neon lighted robotic nights of my life. The show is filled with crazily kawaii dressed dancers that twirl and flip and scream HAH! At what seem to be random intervals, then, when it couldn’t get any more random of crazy, the robots enter. The dances and robots seem to change from season to season but the theme and quality seems to remain the same.
There will be a sweet robot dancing number, a fight to the death involving pretty Japanese girls and robotic dinosaurs or similar giant creatures, and an upbeat dance and song number to round out the show. A short interval punctuates the brain overload and gives you a little bit of time to catch your breath (and purchase quite outrageously priced food/souvenirs) but really, the show is all colour, all loud, all of the time.
At the end, I had huge sequin envy, huge neon envy and seriously considered trying to learn to dance so that I could join the ranks cast members who seemed to be having the times of their lives. Have you been? Did you enjoy it? Could you understand what on earth was going on? Leave me a comment!
One of my enduring memories of Tokyo is the proliferation of Pachinko parlours. These are the mysterious rooms behind double doors of frosted glass that look like the slot machine floor of a casino, sound like a hail storm and are prohibitively signposted in Japanese. Basically, if you speak no Japanese, you’re not going to go into one of these places. I was so curious about these places last time I came that when I was messing about on the Voyagin! site and saw that I could have a lesson in how to play Pachinko, I was totally sold. The package seemed pretty good value as it was for a lesson plus a guided session of playing pachinko in a real parlour with the teacher present for guidance. Phew!
You can see the practice machines lined up against the wall, and the table that we sat at to learn the rules of pachinko. It was fun to be a student on the other side of the desk for a change!
We met our guide Jhena outside a convenience store near Ginza station and she took us to her office which is part of a company that run a huge string of pachinko parlours. She spoke excellent English and gave us some of the history of the company before we began our lesson. Firstly, as a teacher, it was so much fun to be a student for the day and I thoroughly enjoyed being on the other side of the desk! Jhena had set up the room to be very welcoming, with little paper cranes made out of the Australian flag, a small gift for each of us, and lots of information on the whiteboard to help us understand the game. There were even model machines that we would use to practise the game before we went down to the real parlour.
Jhena was very thorough, teaching us all about the ins and outs of pachinko.
Pachinko has quite a long history (90 years) and is based on video games which explains the neon flashing lights and crazy videos that comprise many of the special features. Each machine seems to be linked to a different part of the video game culture that permeates Japanese fashion and entertainment. There are over 12000 pachinko parlours in Japan which shows how popular it is. The basic aim of the game is to get as many balls into the correct slot as possible to win tiny slivers of gold. As there is a law in Japan against earning money from gambling, you cannot exchange this gold for cash on the premises. Instead, you need to exit the parlous and find a gold exchange booth (often very close by!) at which you can exchange your gold.
Of course I wanted to practise on the pink machine.
Now that the history lesson is done, lets get down to the game! We began by looking at the setup of the machine and Jehna pointed out the digital display to the left side of the screen where you swipe your card (that has been preloaded with cashola). You type in your password then press the “Tamakashi” button to rent a ball. These are tiny ball bearings that are the main feature of the game. The balls fall into the tray at the bottom of the machine with a huge clatter to mark the beginning of your game. The machine is set up basically like a huge vertical pinball machine that continuously spits balls up that fall randomly into different pockets. Jhena showed us how to rotate the handle to control the force that each ball is thrown at to try to aim for specific pockets. Apparently you should always begin by aiming for “bukkomi” or the top left corner of the machine in order to cause the balls to fall into the middle pocket. When you get a ball into the center pocket, the machine will begin a special feature which is similar to the rotating numbers on a slot machine. If you win this round, another tulip shaped pocket, called the “attaka” will open and you have the opportunity to get as many balls into that pocket as possible. This will multiply your number of points. When you have run out of balls, you can press a button back on the display to use any available credit to get more balls until you run out and the game is done.
Here you can see Jhena turning the handle to keep the balls flipping up, and turning the switch to pass her winning balls into the collection tray below.
There are also three different levels of pachinko machine that increase in difficulty but also increase the amount of gold you can win if you win a jackpot. You can tell which kind of machine you are playing by looking at the display at the top. Green will be the easiest but will yield the lowest number of points, while pink will give you more points but be much more difficult. Unfortunately, when we went down to the parlour, I chose a pink machine without looking at the difficulty and lost most of my balls very quickly! For a short while, the power of pink had forsaken me.
Luckily, my husband and our friend seemed to have chosen lucky machines and were quite skilled at getting the balls in the correct pockets. After a few incredibly fun special features, we had won enough points to exchange for three pieces of gold. Yippee! Also, on a side note, how cool is this machine? The big gold head on top of the machine flipped up from a hidden place when a special feature began. I didn’t manage to get a picture of it but the sword on the right was also involved in some special features and you had to stab it down at a specific time to get more winning balls. So confusing but so much fun!
Gold and bunny shoes. What more could you need?
Wait until the next post to find out more about these sweet sweet shoes!
Pachinko is definitely not something that you could just sit down in a parlour and learn on your own. At least, not without losing some serious money. Our class was super good value as it was on sale, included credit in the pachinko parlour and, most importantly, Jhena stayed with us while we played to help explain what was happening at each stage of the game. Our class only had us and a friend in and I think a small group would be best. It seems from the website that they deliberately keep the number of participants small which is a good thing. So, another thing ticked off our ‘to do in Tokyo’ list and another success. Do you have any must-do activities for Tokyo? Anything you’ve been dreaming of? Let me know, my lovelies!
If you’ve been following me on instagram (@bakerbowie) you might have seen this picture pop up recently. Remembering that i’m the kind of person who won’t even cross the road unless the little green man is lit up, let me tell you the story of the craziest thing you can do in Tokyo that I can’t believe is actually legal – go-karting through the busy streets of one of the most populated cities in the world.
We booked a tour with Maricar who operate from a base in Shinagawa and offer a tour package where a guide will lead your group through the busy Tokyo streets. The one thing that you definitely need to know before considering this is that you HAVE to have an international drivers permit and your passport in order to do this. They will check when you get there and if you don’t have the correct paperwork, no amount of pleading will get you in one of those karts. Anyhoo, we had planned this before we left Australia so with our licences in our hot little hands, we made our way to Shinagawa!
The fleet of go-karts wait patiently outside
Thats pretty much wraps it up…
Once we had checked in with our guide, we were allowed to choose a costume to drive in. They’re not fresh out of the packet so there will be wear and tear. Hot tip: it gets freakin cold on those go karts so don’t be stupid like me and choose a costume with short sleeves. Unfortunately, the pink princess peach dress trumped comfort and I had to go with it.
I’m powerless before pink.
Also, hubs and friend were Mario and Luigi so I had to go with the Mario theme!
Outside, we were given a little bit of instruction about how to operate the go karts then were ready to start. I’d never driven a go kart before so the steering came as a bit of a shock and I had a little bit of trouble with the left foot brake at the beginning but after about five minutes of driving it all started to feel pretty good.
Except for the part where there were no seatbelts… that was pretty crazy.
Our guide was very good and always made sure that our group of six was together and as safe as we could be, navigating the busy streets of suburbs such as Roppongi and Ginza. I have to admit that there were definitely times when I zoned out and forgot that I was actually driving through peak hour traffic in a foreign country. Don’t worry though, at those times a taxi would drive up pretty close or a bus would pull up along side me and snap me back to reality! If you are a bit of a shrinking violet, this isn’t the tour for you as things really got going when we got to the giant pedestrian crossing in Shibuya. You might remember it from the film Lost in Translation but if not, it’s a ridiculously populated intersection of about eight pedestrian crossings. When we pulled up to it, the people went wild, clapping, waving, calling out and filming us. Like I said, introverts – this is not for you!
So, after an hour or so of cruising the mean streets of Tokyo, we ended up back in Shinagawa and the warmth of the Maricar office. I can’t believe that this business is legal (you would never get away with it in Australia!) but, as long as it is, it is a must-do if you’re visiting and up for a bit of fun and adrenaline. Whats the craziest thing you’ve done when on holiday that you can’t believe is legal?