Robot Restaurant, Omoide Yokocho & Kabuki-cho (and a moment of Golden Gai), Shinjuku, Tokyo

(February 2019)

Tokyo was amazing & I think our day in Shinjuku was the most fun we’ve had in Japan. There’s so much to do & see that there’s no way we’ll be able to experience it all before we leave but we’ve made a dent! We definitely want to spend more time checking out Tokyo & I don’t know about Rob, but I would love to travel back here someday but for a vacation next time, so he won’t have to work. Before this trip to Japan, we didn’t have much interest in visiting the country but we’ve changed our minds about that, especially since visiting this city. I’m only annoyed that it took us so long to finally get to Tokyo. It was really exciting, and we spent the entire day looking at each other, saying, “We’re in TOKYO right now!” One day only allows time to see a small portion of the city but we were blown away. Seattle is big but Tokyo is ENORMOUS.

We had to take the train from Yokosuka & travel to Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world, with around 3.5 million people passing through each day. The station is also full of numerous shopping options, restaurants & has around 200 exits. We walked through a decent portion of it & it took forever, because the station is massive. I think we did pretty well considering it was our first time in such a large station and I’ve read even people who are from Tokyo sometimes find themselves lost in that place.

The trip to Shinjuku started out a little rough for us, because there we were both a couple of hangry people. We spent FOREVER trying to agree on a lunch spot, which was extremely annoying. This was our first realization of just how cash heavy Japan is. There was a Japanese restaurant we wanted to try and even stood in line for a bit, only to realize they had cash only machines that print a ticket for the customer. We finally ended up settling and Rob bought Burger King & I just got some curry from Coco Ichibanya, which is a chain restaurant I’m not even that wild about & I can easily get some in Yokosuka. It really annoyed me that we came to Tokyo & did that but someone was going to die if we didn’t eat.

After our unexciting lunches, our moods were a little better and we did a little wandering around the area, just checking things out & taking it all in. We came across the Godzilla store which has some cool things but it was pretty expensive. Action figures were pushing $100, which didn’t surprise us considering the history of Godzilla in Tokyo. We didn’t buy anything but I wish we had! Maybe another time… because it would be awesome to take home some Godzilla memorabilia from Tokyo!

The main focus for today was the Robot Restaurant. The word “restaurant” is used loosely here, since they sell snacks like popcorn chicken or buttered popcorn, and for a little extra money, you can add one of three meal choices on to your ticket. None of the food items were appealing and the online reviews for the food were pretty poor so we skipped the meal & just bought the show tickets.

Robot Restaurant is on the majority of “must do” lists for visitors to Tokyo, & even Anthony Bourdain said it’s “touristy as hell” but he thought it was awesome, placing it at the top of his Tokyo must do’s. If you know anything about Anthony Bourdain, you know that Tokyo was his favorite city in the world.

One article I read said that it’s fun but it’s like an assault on your senses, but it went far beyond what we ever imagined & was so amazing. For Rob, this activity topped all the rest of the things we’ve done so far & I think he actually wants to do it again before we leave Japan. The lobby, the hallways and elevator were so vibrant and lovely and just fun to look at. I took a video of it. It’s not my finest piece of work but you get the picture! You enter through one door, and head down MANY flights of stairs, but then after the show, they take you back up to street level taking a different route, and you actually come up on the other side of the street.

Even the pre-show was awesome, with a musician dressed up as a robot, playing instrumentals of songs like “Time After Time.” The first video here is actually the pre-show entertainment. The rest contain footage from the actual show. I only recorded in like 30 second increments, because I didn’t want to miss the show to film, plus I felt long videos would be overkill. Although, the number of videos I recorded was probably also overkill. It’s fine though.

I took some pictures and videos but they don’t do it justice. There are some moments I wish I’d filmed but I didn’t want to spend the entire experience looking through a lens. I’ve seen it referred to as a cabaret style show which I personally think is a stretch but that’s just me. Anyway, the show consists of a bunch of performers dressed in costumes, dancing, riding or dressing up as robots. No one in the audience really knew what the story line was, or if there even was one, but it was a blast to watch. Rob described it as being like “well choreographed, visual ecstasy.” We were surprised at how small the actual room was but they made it work. The “stage” is just the floor, with three audience rows on both sides of the performers. They have JUST enough room to perform and prior to the show, they tell the front row audience that when certain robots come by, it’s required to lean back to allow room for them, in their massive size, to get by. Rob & I were in the front row so we did a little leaning back!

Now I’ll share some Robot Restaurant videos with you. They each range from about 25-45 seconds. The lights mess with the video quality a little, we do a little talking over the videos, Rob wants a floor like that & it was challenging to film at the end with all the people around. In between the major robotic pieces were little dance numbers. I wish my videos did this show justice because it was so awesome. Just watching the videos makes me smile! I probably could have uploaded fewer videos & pictures but it’s tough to choose between them! They all deserve to be here!

After the show, we had a better time than we did before the show. We weren’t hungry because our lunches carried us pretty far, but I didn’t care. I wanted to eat some Japanese food! This area is known for having endless kinds of yakitori & other little snacks & I wasn’t going to miss out on this opportunity! The area we were in was Kabuki-cho, known as a red light district, which we found to be a little intriguing. I’ve come across videos and articles saying that it’s a sketchy area but I’ve also seen some things that said it isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. In our experience, it wasn’t bad at all but we were there somewhat early in the evening, before the night life really kicked off. There are a few other things in the area we want to come back & do, so we might try to plan those a little later in the day so we can actually partake in the night time experience. Neither of us have ever spent any time in a red light district & we know it isn’t glamorous but it is so interesting! We had a lot of fun but we just didn’t see some of the things in person that we saw in the videos. Generally, these things are aimed at men so my presence might have just deterred them from approaching Rob. They basically say that if people try to get you into a building, don’t go. Avoiding eye contact can discourage some of the club promoters from bothering you. The big business in the area are host & hostess establishments.

They say nothing sexual takes place and people are just paying for the company. They say that you WILL spend more than you plan, so if you’re quoted a price, figure on doubling, or even tripling, that quote, as many of these businesses will find a way to add expenses onto your bill. They actually even do overhead disclaimers through an outdoor intercom system, warning people to be careful of the individuals they come across, including pick pockets & of certain establishments, & to actively avoid being taken advantage of. There are a lot of rumors about the Yakuza (Japanese organized crime) playing a pretty big role in running the area so there is a strong police presence around there. That being said, I’ve also heard they have little interest in tourists & will pretty much leave us alone so we’re safe. Anyway, maybe next time, we’ll walk away with some interesting stories!

Interesting fact: tattoos are becoming more common among the young people in Japan, but apparently people used to avoid getting them because tattoos were associated with the Yakuza. On the web site for Robot Restaurnt, they have a handful of rules listed, one of which is that customers will be denied entry if they have any visible tattoos. I covered mine but I saw a guy who had a full sleeve so I guess if you make it through the doors they won’t say much…? Or maybe tattoos are becoming common enough that they’re lax on the rule? I don’t know.

Omoide Yokocho!

My personal favorite spot so far is an alley called Omoide Yokocho, which I’ve read means “Memory Lane,” but it’s also known as “Piss Alley.” The history behind the name is that, back in the day (1940’s), people used to literally go out & urinate in the street because there’s only one bathroom for all the establishments to share. Anyway, if you want some delicious bites to eat, this is where it’s at with tons of izakaya shops (these are considered a “must visit” on plenty of Tokyo to do lists). Izakaya shops are just tiny little restaurants that serve small food options & alcohol. Your glass of soda is going to cost you like 350 Yen so you may as well just spend a few extra Yen & buy yourself something really good. To go orders are not an option so we did have to sit down, but just ordered small plates before moving on. Omoide Yokocho has a very old school Japan look & feel, staying true its wartime appearance and it was a lot of fun & I can’t wait to go back. Side note: Apparently, some of the building aren’t original because there was a fire at some point, but they rebuilt, & chose to go with the same look, keeping the vintage Japanese vibe alive.

I walked by one small restaurant that didn’t have a single customer & kinda felt bad for the guy running it, because he looked ready to grill up some food! I figured I would buy something from him but then I looked at his menu, and it was all animal organs. I’m an adventurous eater sometimes, but I wasn’t quite there yet.

We only stopped two places for food, although I wish we had stopped at many more but there’s always next time. The restaurants are so tiny! Many of them do have an upstairs though and we never made it up to the second level but on the ground levels, each place only had about three tables, or a bar with maybe 8 stools. You practically have to climb over people to get inside some of them and I was literally elbow to elbow with Rob and another guy at one of these stops but it was actually a lot of fun. On Rob’s side, he ended up talking to two guys from Minnesota, & on the other side of me, I had three chatty locals who I could barely understand but they were so friendly! They asked where we are from & definitely associated us with Ichiro Suzuki & Starbucks.

This is one of my favorite videos because I was able to get some good footage of the izakaya shop we were in, including our Minnesotan & local friends. I felt like we were hanging out somewhere Anthony Bourdain would have loved! Tokyo was his favorite city, after all.

At that restaurant, we had sliced grilled pork skewers with leeks, which was so delicious, and grilled pig heart, which was interesting. It was a little weird to know what it was & still eat it, but I have to give them credit for not wasting any parts of the animal! They seasoned it really well so it was pretty tasty, and it actually reminded me of a well done steak. Believe it or not, Rob tried it too and he didn’t mind it. I think I might be rubbing off on him because I’ve gotten him to try several new things during our time here! To be honest, I don’t think either of us will ever go out of our way to eat pig heart again but it was an experience.

At the other restaurant, we each ordered an appetizer & our first hi-balls (they’re only okay). Rob ordered chicken hip yakitori, and I ordered the takoyaki (thanks for reminding me of what it was called, Kiyomi) & it was actually pretty good. Takoyaki is little balls that are breaded with batter, and filled with sauce and chopped octopus. Before we received our dishes, they gave us tiny bowls with tofu in a sauce, topped with green onions & french fried onions. Eating soft tofu with chopsticks was interesting but I got through it. Anyway, I took one bite and had to process my feelings for a moment to decide if I liked it or not & I decided it really wasn’t bad. I told Rob, “You aren’t going to like this but I think you should try it anyway, to say you did.” So to my surprise, he took a bite and then just sat there for a second. I could tell immediately it wasn’t going well so I asked if he hated the texture and he nodded his head. I don’t think he could even chew for a second out of disgust & I think he had a pretty hard time forcing that down so that’s a one time thing for him. I guess it’s not for everyone!

There is an area called Golden Gai & apparently this is one of the spots known for a little bit of sketchy behavior from shop owners & staff. All the businesses that line Golden Gai are strictly about the nightlife, and quite a few weren’t even open yet. Interesting fact: Golden Gai is known for having some of the tiniest bars in Tokyo. We were a little bummed we didn’t get to experience any of them because it’s a pretty old part of the city & I’ve read that some of the bars have really neat decor inside, & some have signature drinks, but we were just a little too early. Next time! We don’t plan to spend a ton of time there, because we don’t like the idea of people trying to rip us off at every opportunity but we just want to check it out after Golden Gai comes alive. It’s famous for a reason!

You do have to pay attention to the signs around you. I watched one video that said, if you find a place with English writing anywhere on the front of their business or on the menu, it’s okay to enter. If there’s no English anywhere, assume it isn’t okay to enter. There are quite a few exclusive establishments that are members only, or Japanese only. We’re not offended or anything… we don’t care, but we came across a few signs definitely letting us know we weren’t welcome! I’ve read that, with time, some of these places are becoming a little more welcoming though. If you try to enter a place, and someone steps in front of you and forms their arms in an X over their chest, definitely turn around & just walk away.

Don’t get me wrong… even though it was a little early for anything too wild to happen, these were still cool places to see, but like I’ve said, next time we’re going at night so we can get the full effect.

We both had a fantastic day & even though this is tiny part of what the city has to offer, I am in love with Tokyo so far. It’s so big, busy and exciting & I can’t wait to see more. I love the energy.

Before heading into Shinjuku, I did a lot of reserch to get an idea of what to expect. I’m going to post a video for you on here, from a girl who does travel vlogs on youtube. The video is only about five months old so everything is pretty much the same as it is now, but she provides an excellent tour of the things we experienced. The video is about 13 minutes long but totally worth the watch. She is GRRRLtraveler and I’m pretty jealous of her travel experiences. She refers to some information from back in 2007, about Shinjuku Station being the busiest in the world and that hasn’t changed. At a couple different points in the video, she mentions the aromas from the food and that is so true. As soon as we walked out of Robot Restaurant, we were surrounded by delicious smells. After I watched this video the first time, I did read some comments posted about it, saying it isn’t as sketchy or dangerous as she makes it out to be, & we don’t have enough knowledge or experience with the area to have formed an opinion on that. I did, however, watch a video of a guy and his friends walking through the area, and they were propositioned for a few different things. They also said this place is renowned as far as red light districts go. I also read a “Do’s & Don’t of Shinjuku” article, and one of the things was to walk away if you feel uncomfortable with your surroundings. So I don’t know.

Here is GrrrlTraveler’s video:

I didn’t type too much about the Host/Hostess clubs, because I don’t have much to tell about them since we didn’t experience them. Her video discusses them & her information is pretty good. The one thing I will say, though, is that must be a BOOMING business! Those billboards are EVERYWHERE and those people make bank.

Some pictures from Tokyo!

I forgot to talk about Godzilla Road until I watched her video again & it reminded me. We did see the eight story tall Godzilla, which Rob thought was awesome, naturally.

Our evening in Tokyo has come to an end!


Bonus: Here is a Robot Restaurant video I took from youtube. It’s someone else’s video but it’s like a movie preview for what you should expect!