If you’re traveling to Tokyo, chances are you’ll have heard of the Robot Restaurant - whether it's through a blog, guidebook, or that friend who went there and raved about it. Here's our in-depth review and guide to getting Robot Restaurant tickets, plus some tips to help you get the most out of your visit.
Horse-shaped robots and samba costumes. - image © Florentyna Leow
Located along one of the main roads in Kabukicho, the red-light district in Shinjuku, the Robot Restaurant is an ultra-flashy, hyper-tacky robot-themed cabaret show. It features every single Japanese cultural motif you can think of, amplified and decked out in obnoxious colours and lights, along with an extra dose of Hollywood appropriation and ear-splitting music. Think ninjas, evil robots, Warcraft villains, beautiful anime-inspired dancers, giant pandas, Princess Ariel on a giant lobster.
The front of the Robot Restaurant building. - image © Florentyna Leow
It is absurd. It’s self-Orientalising stereotypes on steroids. It is unabashedly designed to entertain the foreign tourist - everything is in English, from the dubbed performances to announcements throughout.
And yet, despite the tackiness of it all, it is surprisingly entertaining. Which may well be the whole point. It was one of the late, great Anthony Bourdain's favorite places in Tokyo.
Entering the Robot Restaurant. - image © Florentyna Leow
Buying Tickets For The Robot Restaurant
Tickets to the Robot Restaurant are priced at JPY8,000 per person. The Robot Restaurant is entertaining, but it’s not worth paying full sticker price for, especially when there are myriad discount ticket options out there.
The Robot Restaurant usually fills every show, so showing up shortly before showtime to purchase tickets isn’t going to guarantee seats. We suggest purchasing Robot Restaurant tickets in advance, which offer 30-35% off the standard ticket price.
There are four showtimes daily:
- First Performance: 4:00pm (doors open 3:00pm)
- Second Performance: 5:55pm (doors open 5:00pm)
- Third Performance: 7:50pm (doors open 7:00pm)
- Fourth Performance: 9:45pm (doors open 9:00pm)
The early afternoon show - the equivalent of a matinee - is the cheapest to book.
The entrance to the Robot Restaurant. - image © Florentyna Leow
On the day of show, bring your mobile voucher or a printout to the ticket counter. This is located opposite the entrance to the Robot Restaurant on Sakura-dori Street. There are always staff members hovering around, ready to assist.
Swap this form for a ticket. - image © Florentyna Leow
After you show them your mobile voucher or confirm your name on the list, the staff members will give you a form that you’ll take to the counter and exchange for tickets.
They threw in a free gift. - image © Florentyna Leow
They included a free small gift with our tickets - nail clippers that also doubled up as beer bottle openers. It was appropriately kitschy.
All the overpriced drinks you can purchase, along with the usual tacky souvenirs. - image © Florentyna Leow
Things to Remember Before You Go To The Robot Restaurant
- Eat before or after the show. When the Robot Restaurant first opened some years ago, your ticket price included an awful bento box. They’ve since upgraded this to an optional JPY1,000 mixed sushi meal in a ‘lacquered bento box’ (really just plastic). You can also buy overpriced drinks and popcorn during intermissions.
- But, given the wealth of fantastic restaurants in Shinjuku, it’s hardly worth your stomach space - plus you’ll be too busy managing the full-on sensory overload to actually eat during the performance. Skip the snacks and have a meal somewhere in the neighbourhood before or after. Late night ramen joint Takahashi is nearby to the Robot Restaurant.
- No outside food or drinks are allowed. That being said, no one will notice if you bring your own Coca-Cola or bottled water, especially if you’re sitting in the third row.
- Bring your smartphone, forget the cameras. You’ll be reminded several times before the performance by the emcee that no flash photography is allowed. Smartphone photography and videos are okay.
- Use the bathrooms during the intermissions. There will be ample reminders to do this - if you’re in the bathroom when the performances begin, you won’t be able to return to your seat. The robots might trample you.
A staff member handing out noise-blocking headphones before the show starts. - image © Florentyna Leow
Before The Robot Restaurant Show
- About 5-10 minutes before the show is due to begin, you’ll be ushered into the main theatre - a long, narrow room lined with seats on each side. It’s cramped seating, so if you’re by yourself, you’ll probably end up with a new friend at the end of the night. Or at least spend the duration of the performance exchanging raised eyebrows with them.
- You’ll have a chance to buy some overpriced snacks and drinks. Unless you don’t mind dropping that cash, we suggest skipping this. They’ll also hand out noise-blocking headphones before the show starts. I highly recommend taking a pair when offered - the music is extremely loud, and it’s hard on your ears.
- There are three acts performed in 10 to 15-minute increments. I suppose longer acts would be too much of a sensory overload. Incidentally, the loud music and nonstop action at the show is designed to overwhelm adults, so it might not be the best place to bring very young children.
- The show is best experienced when you don’t know exactly what to expect. It heightens the absurdity of it all. So if you already have your heart set on watching the Robot Restaurant show and prefer your entertainment sans spoilers, stop reading now and just go buy some tickets.
Taiko drummer on a dragon float. - image © Florentyna Leow
Robot Restaurant Act 1
The show kicks off with a taiko drum performance on moving floats, complete with energetic music that sounds like it came straight out of an arcade game. Dance sequences change every few minutes - there’s pretty much no time to process the weirdness before the next dance or scene floors you again.
Colourful ninja electric guitar player. - image © Florentyna Leow
It’s quite the visual spectacle: revolving neon-lit dragon floats, ninjas shredding on electric guitars, glittery horns, quick fire costume changes, sword and fan dances, parasols, festival floats that look like dragons and treasure ships (takarabune). One of the floats is draped with banners proclaiming ‘Bishamon-ten,’ one of the four heavenly kings of Buddhism. There is, of course, a neon-lit robot.
A neon-lit takarabune (treasure ship) float - image © Florentyna Leow
The aesthetic here could be described as “yakuza gang member meets demon god with a dose of oiran (Edo-period courtesan/entertainer).”
Ninja Turtles swooping in to battle. - image © Florentyna Leow
Robot Restaurant Act 2
If Act 1 was a Japanese cultural mashup, Act 2 is a Japanese (well, more like the Robot Restaurant creative directors) take on Hollywood motifs.
A contrived sci-fi storyline. - image © Florentyna Leow
Act 2 opens with a disembodied voice outlining a story. The premise: a number of resurrected divine beings are fighting back against the evil sentient robots have taken over the planet using a weapon called 'intelligence.’
A butterfly princess on the back of a huge bug - straight out of Nausicaa? - image © Florentyna Leow
The flimsy story is an excuse for a series of battles where dancers in brightly-colored costumes prance around on the backs of giant moving robot-floats in various shapes and guises, including Sebastian the Lobster (Princess Ariel riding) and what looks like a Terminator robot (with the Evil Robot Queen riding).
The final battle. - image © Florentyna Leow
As you’ve noticed, they’ve basically cherry-picked and incorporated a number of Hollywood characters in the show. One of the first few character we see is the panda from Kungfu Panda. One of the Ninja Turtles runs in to help save the day. Throughout, you’ll hear music from Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Copyright infringement? Most definitely.
Laser dancing in the dark. - image © Florentyna Leow
Robot Restaurant Act 3
It all comes to a head here. Slickly choreographed laser dances to Michael Jackson music sets the tone.
Dancing on top of a spinning platform on a car. - image © Florentyna Leow
Then it escalates with Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk with some 50s inspired carnival costumes, clowns, long chrome cars.
Robots. Always the robots. - image © Florentyna Leow
Then dancers come out in floats in Brazilian costumes, accompanied by the Robot Restaurant’s upbeat theme song. There are robots throughout.
It’s a big Brazilian carnival by the end of it. - image © Florentyna Leow
There is a lot of neon, chrome, glitz, colorful wigs and dyed hair, disco balls, thigh-high leather boots, feather boas. The most impressive part is how they manage to cram everything into the narrow stage in front of the audience without a single misstep.
Everyone looks like they’re having a lot of fun. - image © Florentyna Leow
Is the Robot Restaurant Worth It?
If you already think Japan is weird, this may well affirm every single stereotype you have about it. That being said, it’s not meant to be an accurate reflection of Japanese culture. The Robot Restaurant does fit in with a tendency in some quarters in the tourist industry towards self-Orientalizing practices, and also in a way gives tourists the kind of show they want to see.
Birds at the carnival. - image © Florentyna Leow
The show is an over-the-top mashup of traditional motifs with Hollywood characters and music, held together with a glue of neon laser lights, extravagant costumes, and shiny robots. This kind of freestyle mixing and adapting of various cultures is, in its own way, very ‘Japanese.’ That, in itself, is pretty interesting. And it is as trippy for Japanese audiences as it is for tourists.
Whether the Robot Restaurant is worth your time depends on what you want to see. It is an absurd, mindless 90-minute escape from the real world. If you’re looking for some fun, zany entertainment on a night out in Tokyo, this is it.
Sakura-dori Street in Kabukicho. - image © Florentyna Leow
How to Get To The Robot Restaurant
Take the East Exit of Shinjuku Station. Walk to the crossing. Cross the street (and don’t go underneath the train tracks), heading towards Kabukicho. Cross the large road at the traffic lights. Don Quijote will be on your right.
You can’t fail to spot the Robot Restaurant. - image © Florentyna Leow
Turn right and walk one block, then turn left into Sakura-dori Street. The Robot Restaurant is just down the road. You can’t miss it.
B2F Shinjuku Robot Building, 1-7-1, Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo
〒160-0021 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町１−７−１ 新宿ロボットビル B2F
4:00pm - 11:00pm
JPY8,000 directly from the venue, or discounted by purchasing online.
Subway: 5-minute walk from Exit B9 of Shinjuku Sanchome Station on the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line. Or, 5-minute walk from Shinjuku Station on the JR Yamanote, Chuo, Sobu, Odakyu, and Keio Lines.
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