Narita International Airport

The sound of the alarm fills the room. I instantly regret last night’s rendezvous on Gwagalli Beach with delicious, grapefruit soju, also known as Korean vodka. It’s time for the last leg of our trip, Tokyo. After months of research and preparations, we still aren’t sure what to expect. As we pack our bags, I take out our English welcome guide prepared by our Shinjuku-Hu, Tokyo Airbnb host, Lily. She provided us with easy to follow directions and photos to take the train from Narita International Airport to Shinjuku-Okubu Station, the three minute walk from the station, and accessing the key. The first step to finding our room is a photo of a white brick wall marked the with stars. The directions read: Here is the destination. Get into the building please. We have seen Harry Potter enter the Hogwarts Express platform and are certain we do not have the same magical powers. All other steps seem very simple. We finish packing, take our bags downstairs, and get a cab driver’s attention outside of Hollys Coffee.

We arrive at

Hello Kitty Terminal Store, Narita International Airport, Japan

We are excited to begin our adventure as the captain announces our descent into Tokyo. As we exit the plane terminal, we pause to watch the chaos unfold in front of us: crowded restaurants and shops line the airport walls, torrents of people follow a network of signs to metros, trains, and buses. “Can I help you?”, asks a smiling airport employee. I show her our directions: take SkyLiner 44 to Nippori Station, and then transfer to the JR Yamanote line. She herds us and our luggage upstream to the ticket desk. We each receive two tickets and follow the signs for the SkyLiner until our path is obstructed by a row of ticket machines. We gladly accept assistance after several unsuccessful attempts at entering our tickets, then fight our way through the crowd to the queue for car six.

The SkyLiner is air conditioned, quiet, comfortable, and provides us with forty-five minutes to develop a strategy for arriving on time to our first activity in Tokyo. We previously purchased tickets for the 7:30pm Tokyo Robot Evening Cabaret Show at the Robot Restaurant. Instructions state attendees must be present at least thirty minutes prior to the show time or no admittance. We exit the SkyLiner, easily find the JR line, insert our remaining ticket, and wait for the next train to Shinjuku-Obuku.

We exit Shinjuku-Obuku station and cross the street. It’s 6:00pm. Following instructions, we turn left at a convenience store down a narrow, unlit alley that will feel like a scene from murder mystery later tonight. At the end of the street we spot several white brick buildings. Feeling the pressure of time, we bravely begin walking into buildings comparing the entrances with the photo in our welcome instructions. Entering the foyer pictured in our welcome guide, we feeling a rush of excitement as we quickly get our key, and find our room on the first floor.

We step into a small foyer containing two neatly placed pairs of slippers leading into a kitchen containing a sink and a camp size stove. Beside the stove sits a microwave atop a dorm size refrigerator separating the kitchen from a room containing a bed and small vanity. Across from the doll size kitchen is the bathroom. We quickly freshen up, grab our maps, and are on our way to the Robot Restaurant. It’s 6:30pm. We walk back to Shinjuku-Obko Station and purchase our JR tickets. After one stop, we arrive at Shinjuku Station ten minutes later. 

We look around at the many exit signs: west gate, central west gate, south gate, south east gate, new south gate, and east gate. Wandering in a circle staring up at the signs, we rush towards the east gate exit. Outside, buildings with signs and advertisements climbing seven stories high light up the city. We take out our DK Eyewitness Travel Guide map of Tokyo with only ten minutes remaining. Not knowing exactly where our current location is, we scan the nearby buildings and map. Seeing Studio Alta down the street and on our map, we run towards our projected location of the Robot Restaurant. Ahead, we spot an enormous white sign one of the buildings with colorful letters: Robot Restaurant 20M with an arrow pointing straight ahead. With one minute remaining, we continue running in the direction of the arrow as the gaudiest building we’ve ever seen comes into view.

Robot Restaurant

Outside the Robot Restaurant (left) and the Lounge, Tokyo

We walk by two giant robots, at the entrance of the Robot Restaurant to join the line for the show. After receiving our tickets, we are directed across the street to a staircase with lights, mirrors, chandeliers, and mismatched décor to the lounge. We order our complimentary drink, and settle into our rotating, gold conch shell chairs while musical robots serenade us. Our polite hostess becomes much more assertive as 7:30pm approaches. She plucks us from our musical abyss and herds us to a different, but equally flashy staircase.

Robot Restaurant Show, Tokyo 

We emerge inside a rectangular showground with three tiers of seating on opposite sides. Showing the hostess our tickets, we are directed to our front row seats. As we wiggle in through the narrow aisle, the crew forewarns the front we will be very close to the show, at times requiring us to lean back. We practice this a couple of times. The third time we lean back, the crew walks along the edge of the stage with their arms out straight as their fingertips become within centimeters of our face.

Robot Restaurant, Tokyo
Robot Restaurant, Tokyo

After the crew feels we have succeeded in our practices, they begin closing the aisles with chains. An announcement is projected onto one of the showroom walls instructing us to place any drinks in the recessed cup holders and to remove all objects from the small table in front of us.

Robot Restaurant Show, Tokyo

As showroom darkens, we stare wide eyed into the void. The room is brought to life as a stream of drummers, dancers, and performers atop giant floats enter the stage. We feel like we have been transported back to Brazil and are attending a drugged version of Carnival. As the last float disappears behind the curtain, the aisle chains are removed and we are permitted to exit if necessary. We look at the audience sitting on the opposite side of the stage and assume we wear the same dumbfounded expression. 

Robot Restaurant Show, Tokyo

As we wait for the second act, the crew begins installing a chain link fence between the audience and stage. What we need protection from, we aren’t sure. As the next segment begins, the room darkens. On the wall we watch a story of sea animals living a joyful, peaceful life abruptly destroyed by invading robot aliens resulting in war.

Robot Restaurant, Tokyo
Robot Restaurant, Tokyo

We are laughing and very confused. The video ends, darkening the room when sharks, crabs, lobsters, clown fish, and other aquatic creatures emerge on stage to battle an evil, robot alien. The last wounded sea animal scampers off stage, as the crew dismantles the chain link fence.

Robot Restaurant Show, Tokyo

After a brief video introducing tonight’s star performers, the third act begins with singers entering on a float matching their outrageous attire. Suddenly, the lights turn off. As a Michael Jackson mash up fills the room, the performers are replaced with dancing people wearing glowing strands of lights affixed to black body suits. Bicycles, wheels, and other lighted objects accompany the dancers. The lights return as tribal dancers, clowns, singing fish, Kung Fu panda, and human size bouncing parrots replace the neon dancers. Just abruptly as the madness began, it ends and the show is over. We read many reviews before booking the show and watched Anthony Bourdain’s reaction in Parts Unknown. As we slowly file out of the showroom, we agree there are no words to describe what took place during those ninety minutes. 

Chef at a Restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo

We walk toward the train station in a robot trance, humming Thriller. Waiting to cross the street, we see a small ramen restaurant to our right. We take a seat at the small wooden bar wrapping around a stove. The cook hands us an English menu to order, while continuing to toss a skillet. We watch as he prepares our delicious bowls of ramen and then eat in silence as we digest our first day in Tokyo.

September 2017