Deep in Tokyo's Shinjuku district is a place of wonder and technology, an explosive spectacle of robots, glitz and lasers: the Robot Restaurant.
Michelle StarrScience editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
"Restaurant" is something of a misnomer when it comes to Tokyo's Robot Restaurant. While you can eat there, the venue is not designed around eating, but light, colour, with every surface fluorescent and polished to a mirror gloss, and a robot arena spectacular.
"In Japan, we are exposed to robots from a very young age on TV and comics. Robots are just things that everybody loves," explained Yumi Ito, PR manager for the venue. "We wanted to appeal to a wide audience, so robots were an easy choice."
Inside is bewildering. First, there's the waiting area, where you can sit and have a snack while you wait for your show to start. It looks like the interior of a luxury arcade, sans the games: metallic and mirrored surfaces as far as the eye can see, LED lights in every colour of the neon rainbow, plush chairs shaped like baroque gold snail shells.
"The lounge is unbelievable. It's like the world's most outrageous interior designers were given crayons, glue sticks, glitter, and mescalin, and told to go crazy. Everything is mirrored and shining," wrote Mike Powell of 91 Days. "On every table, there's a robot dinosaur. On the stage, a lady-band clad in metallic bikinis and angel wings is playing soft lounge music. The drinks are cheap and the vibe couldn't be better."
And this is just the waiting room; the main action takes place deeper inside (you can order a bento to take with you if you are particularly hungry). This is where the robots come out to play: robots shaped like women. Robots shaped like action heroes. Robots shaped like dinosaurs and pandas and sharks and Transformers. Women dressed in showgirl glitter and armour and flashing LEDs, riding bikes and tanks and glittering horses and playing drums.
"We have robots that are piloted by the dancers, and remote-controlled robots as well. During the show, the robots dance in front of the audience to lively dance and techno music," Ito told CNET. "The Roboko models, which are piloted by the dancers, are modelled after the dance team leader and President, Namie Osawa. We wanted a strong female image for these robots, and our technical staff was able to build the Roboko after a lot of research and tests. We also have other robots, like our star, King Robota, which we bought from a company overseas."
There are 20 people who control the robots during the show -- both piloted and remote-controlled -- and another team of 20 people who perform daily maintenance on the robots. The Roboko robots are the stars of the show, but every robot has a role to play.
"When people ask us what the show is like, it's always hard to put it into words," Ito said. "There is just too much going on. You could describe it with our slogan -- The Most Awesome Place in the World! It is crazy, colourful, bright, entertaining, and there's no other place like it in the world."
Powell, too, had a hard time describing his experience. "Soon, the lights go out, the speakers switch on, and giant vehicles appear on either side of the narrow stage, ridden by ladies dressed as Amazonian war princesses from the year 3000," he wrote. "They're pounding on drums, rotating around the stage, screaming and dancing to the music, and you''re just like... confused. What the hell is happening? It's hilarious, ridiculous, impressive, overwhelming and pointless in equal measure."
If you are headed to Tokyo, the experience is not one to be missed -- and, indeed, the Robot Restaurant has become something of a destination for both locals and travellers alike.
"When Robot Restaurant first opened, we had no idea that this many foreigners would come," Ito said. "Now we have become a must-see attraction for tourists in Tokyo. Even though Kabukicho is small place, it is now filled with people from all over the world. We are very happy and proud of that."