Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Robots and Poppies, Oh My...

Have you been to the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo? If the answer is no, you probably should stop reading this right now. This show, like most things in life, is best experienced with minimal expectations. Seeing photos or reading my feeble attempts to explain what I witnessed would adversely affect your ability to be a blank slate and I don't want that. You don't want that. Trust me. Go away. Shoo!!!

Still here? Ok, then you must have been to the show. It was pretty nuts, right? I mean, going in...a restaurant featuring robots...I was already expecting something kind of kitschy or techy or who really knows what I was expecting, but wowza, it was beyond all of that. All I knew was that it was best to book beforehand, both because the show sells out and because you can get tickets cheaper online . Also, I'd read that restaurant part of The Robot Restaurant is kind of a farce and it is best to book just the show without the bento box but that was the extent of my research.

I am convinced that this naïveté was one of the reasons I enjoyed the show as much as I did.  So, if you are only pretending that you have been to the show, this is your last chance to turn away. If you click "read more", there will be pictures. And video.  The web is a giant place. You could simply go elsewhere. Did you know that goat yoga is a thing? Have you ever seen hamsters eating teeny tiny burritos? Vaya con robots and come back once you have seen the show.

Ok, there is just no helping some people.

One other thing I knew, from the online booking, was that punctuality is a big thing. The voucher was very clear that if we were not there by the designated time, we would not be getting in.  This is normally not a big issue for me, but seeing as we were staying 90 minutes outside of Tokyo and that this restaurant, loud and bright as it is, is essentially hidden on a Shinjuku side street, it caused some frantic moments struggling with noncooperative GPS'es.

With minutes to spare, we ran up to the door,  turned in our vouchers, got our show and drink tickets and were escorted into the waiting area. This is where it started getting a little strange. There was a bar, some tables and every lightbulb that has ever existed on Earth. The room was somehow more Vegas than Vegas itself. The decor was the obvious result of a sloppy threesome between Donatella Versace, Poseidon and Ed Hardy.

There was a cover band playing American pop songs, with guys in full-mirror suits as the backing band and yet they just kind of blended into the background.

It is good to see that Daft Punk is still getting work

At one point, during this Liberace tailgate extravaganza, they offered free sake to whoever came up to the stage. Of course, I went. That is just a given, the question is why I was surprised that it was handed to me by a frenetic man wearing a kimono and a Christina Aguilera fright wig. I was actually kind of expecting a robot.

Eventually, we were asked to go back upstairs and into another room, where the actual show would take place. It was much smaller than I imagined so I began theorizing that walls were going to break away to expose a bigger space or possibly our seats were on tracks and were going to move elsewhere. None of that happened. Somehow, they pulled off one over-the-top number after another in this pretty confined space, with nothing more than a warning to hold onto your drinks since the robots might knock them over.

It is completely pointless for me to describe the show. Even as it was happening, after every number, I kept turning to my friends and asking "What did we just see?". Every time I thought I had the show figured out, a dancing robot,  Mutant Ninja Turtle or Kung Fu Panda would jump out and confound all expectations.

The grand finale started off very rah-rah Americana then segued into Viva India with a man in a turban and cartoonish mustache followed by what may have been an ode to Brazil with a dancing parrot and Carnivalesque theme.  I figured this was going to be an It's a Small World celebration of global cultures. Nope. As far as I could see- and in this visual cacophony it is very possible I missed a lot- it was only the US, India and Brazil that got a nod. You would think that Japan would have gotten an automatic pass, but no such luck.

Walking out of this show is akin to stepping off a particularly exciting roller coaster. You are kind of out-of-breath and disoriented but you know that you had a good time. We continued our evening in the Golden Gai district, where you find tiny bars that used to be primarily frequented by locals. Today, the tourists have taken over, for the worse.  Most of the bars had cover charges and very little of the charm that I remembered.  This was especially problematic because the next train back was at 5am. Staying out all night should never be this difficult.

After a couple of hours of sleep back in the burbs, I was ready to return to the city.  It was already noon and the weather left a lot to be desired so we just went to Asakusa to take in the temples and do some last minute souvenir shopping.

One of the things I'd been asked to do at the Senso-ji temple was to draw a fortune for a friend. This is a riskier proposition than it sounds. The omikuji fortunes are known for being kind of crappy, meaning statistically speaking, you have a good chance of drawing something that will clearly declare itself to be "bad fortune". If this happens, you are supposed to tie the cursed strip of paper to an iron rod and leave it behind. If it is good, then yay you.

So, the way it works is that you put a 100 yen coin into a box, grab this silver shaker thing and while willing away all the bad fortunes, shake out a stick. The stick will have a kanji number on it which you then use to find the corresponding drawer.

I was doing this process twice- once for myself and once for my friend- so the potential test of character was going to be what to do if I got a dud and he got a good one. Would I just switch them and leave his tied to a stick? To prevent this, I called on witnesses and announced that the first one would be mine.

I got a good fortune.  It said so right in the heading. It also said that the sick person will not get well soon and that lost article will not be found, so good is kind of relative here. However my favorite line in the whole thing- because I am a 15 yr old boy trapped in a woman's body- is: "Hearing a morning call of a cock, you will have to wait for a chance to come." Is there even a non-perverted way to interpret that? What the hell does that even mean?

I then pulled a second one. He got the best fortune! And since I had witnesses, he even got to keep it. I hope he remembers this when he becomes famous and peaceful.

The next day, I was flying to Hawaii late in the day. I did not have the energy to make the three hour r/t trip journey into Tokyo for such a short stay. Instead I found a nearby park that was in the midst of its Poppy Festival.

Showa Kinen Park is large enough to employ its own little trolley train. There are open fields, a Japanese garden, a bonsai museum, a village display comprised of transplanted historical buildings, ponds with boat rentals, restaurants and everything else that you can think of sticking in a park.

These dragonflies were zipping around attached to each other so I am pretty sure they were doing it but I'm at a bit of a loss to explain what exactly is happening here.

Considering that I started my visit with the spectacle that is dancing and fighting robots- which if I ruined for anyone, that's on you- finishing with a stroll around this serene park felt like the perfect counterpart- the ideal ying to the robotic yang. 

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