Robot Restaurant is a dinner show in Tokyo, Japan’s Shinjuku nightlife district, and features an array of dancers, special effects, and even robots. In this review, we’ll assess whether the Robot Restaurant is worth the money, what you should expect from visiting it, and also share a ton of photos from our experiences. (Last updated August 29, 2017.)
We had heard about the Robot Restaurant a few weeks before our first trip to Japan, and I was immediately gung-ho about the idea. The video I saw combined dinosaurs, robots, tribal drums, and a variety of other oddities. It seemed like what you’d get if you gave a 10-year old boy a blank canvas and checkbook (the restaurant reportedly cost over $100 million USD to build) to design a restaurant, and he threw everything “awesome” into it, without regard for how those things meshed.
As we’ve now been to Robot Restaurant four times on subsequent trips to Japan as of 2017, I’ve returned to this original review of the Robot Restaurant to provide some additional tips for visiting. I’ll start with those in this first section, followed by my initial reaction to the show. Suffice to say, I view this as an absolute must-do for anyone visiting Tokyo. The fact that we’ve gone 4 times (and will likely go several more) probably is all the review you need. Still, here are some tips for visiting the Robot Restaurant, as well as a full review and photos…
But first…a question: have you ever done LSD? Me neither. At least, that’s what I thought until I went to the Robot Restaurant, when I had an experience that can only be explained as an acid trip. What, exactly, the Robot Restaurant is (it really doesn’t involve food or robots) is sorta beyond description. The Robot Restaurant defies categorization, but it’s ultimately best described as a campy dinner show straight out of the mind of Hunter S. Thompson.
Before our first visit, we had heard that the Robot Restaurant often sells out, so we made reservations with the concierge at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, and tickets for the show were delivered to our room around an hour later. Since then, Robot Restaurant tickets are actually sold online, and can be purchased via Voyagin for 23% to 36% off, depending upon the show. That’s how we purchase our tickets now, and we’d recommend doing likewise before you travel to Japan.
The full price of tickets was around $50/person the first time we visited, and eclipsed $75 on our second visit. As of our most recent visit, full price was around $100, with discounted tickets being in the ~$60 range. I don’t know what my price ceiling on this awesome experience would be, but we’ve visited multiple times and haven’t batted an eye at prices yet–and we’re normally pretty frugal. You can also purchase via the restaurant’s official English website, but it’s difficult to navigate and the prices are higher.
Another thing I’d recommend is eating before you arrive at the Robot Restaurant. While the meal options have differed with every visit we’ve made to Robot “Restaurant,” there is one constant truth: the food there is awful. As of our most recent visit, food was an optional add-on (one drink is included). I have no clue whether this will remain the case, but we’ve never had a good meal here. Even the most basic snacks have tended towards being awful. With a surplus of nearby restaurants in Shinjuku, there’s no reason to pay for garbage food at Robot Restaurant.
One final tip: the show is now relatively family-friendly. There’s still plenty of robot violence, but it’s too cheesy to be taken seriously. Most of the sexualization has been removed from the show, so if you’re watching videos to determine whether Robot Restaurant is appropriate for your kids, be sure to watch ones from the last couple of years. As Robot Restaurant has increased in popularity among foreign tourists, the show most definitely has been toned down.
With that said, Shinjuku in the late hours, particularly on weekends, is not the most kid-friendly place. If you have kids and are considering Robot Restaurant, I’d highly recommend one of the first two shows, and doing it on a weekday, if possible. Weekends at 9 p.m. are fairly raucous, and worlds away from what you’d find elsewhere in Tokyo. That’s just my take, though…to each their own!
The Robot Restaurant is located in what’s probably best described as the “neon district” of Shinjuku, and is about a 15 minute walk from the Shinjuku Station. All around the Robot Restaurant were the types of seedy things you might expect to find in parts of Vegas or New Orleans, except with a Japanese twist.
With all of that out of the way, here’s my original review of Robot Restaurant, fresh from my first visit to this glorious land where robots and dinosaurs frolic together in a sea of neon fun…
Initially, everyone else in my group was not sold so easily on the Robot Restaurant. This was “back in the day” before it was plastered all over commercials, television specials, etc. At that time, it was just another show several flights down below a building a random Shinjuku alley. (What could go wrong?!) They were all a bit apprehensive, wondering what kind of nefarious place I was trying to convince them to visit. In their defense, the videos I showed them did have a lot of scantily-clad women and not much else.
I didn’t want to watch a ton on YouTube (I had made my mind up that I wanted to go upon hearing a description of the restaurant) as I didn’t want to spoil the show, but what I did see didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The videos were mostly incoherent, save for a lot of movement, drums, dancers, and occasional “robots” and “animals.” After much persuasion, they were on board, ready for the greatest experience of their lives.
We received a pamphlet with the tickets, and it promised greatness. According to it, there were “no rules,” and you could get on stage with the dancers and touch the robots. Cool. We spent the rest of that day physically and mentally preparing for the Robot Restaurant. Shinjuku is an interesting place. Business by day, party by night. Well, in different parts, but same idea.
The Robot Restaurant itself is pretty difficult to miss in all of this–it has the giant dinosaur out front. We waited in a glitzy lounge-type area while the previous show emptied (there are multiple per night) and the crowd was a good split of Westerners and Japanese. This is noteworthy because it was fairly rare to see this many Westerners in one location in Japan. I’d hazard a guess that a good chunk of the Westerners were heavily intoxicated, too.
My only intoxication was the surreal happenings all around me, and I’m fairly sure that doesn’t count. After being herded downstairs through narrow hallways into an area that surely would have been our grave had there been any sort of fire, we were given boxes of food.
Before the show started, we were given several warnings, including several stern restrictions, including warnings that “big cameras” weren’t allowed to take “up-close” photos of the dancers.
Apologies for the photo quality here, not only is the area dark, but I took these photos quickly so as to avoid having any issues. We were also warned not to touch the dancers and to not get out of our seats.
Quite the contrast to the “no rules” touted in the brochure. It was no big deal, just a bit comical. In the restroom, another American who was a regular of the restaurant, advised me not to make eye contact, as some of them were Yakuza girlfriends.
Rumors have spread online that the Robot Restaurant is owned by the Yakuza…as best I can tell, these rumors are false, and in fact, the establishment is anti-Yakuza.
As for the show itself, I don’t really know what to say about it. It started out with a somewhat serious tone, with dancers engaging in what seemed to be ritualistic dancing and drum beating, and then descended from there into utter insanity.
The first insane scene was robots v. animals, which culminated in a knock-off Kung-Fu Panda riding a bull through a lineup of robots.
Another scene involved Captain America, fembots with Thor hammers, and a dinosaur (or maybe it was a giant armadillo…or that dog-like creature from John Carter…it’s tough to be sure) fighting robots, in a scene dubbed “Robots v. America.” (There were actually a lot of references to American culture in the show.) After that, the dinosaurs came out in full force and battled robots, winning handily.
Around this point, the giant chain fence went around the audience.
It was at that moment that we all collectively realized that “shit was ’bout to get real” up in there. A battle of epic proportions (or not) then took place.
Later, they passed out glow sticks and giant fembots were driven around by some dancers, possibly battling one another. Robots on scooters and Segways were also around then.
This was a more lighthearted scene as compared to the “intense” battle scenes before it. This was all set to, what else, but Gangnam Style.
They also allowed the audience on stage after this scene for photos with the robots and dancers. Despite the rules that there be “no touching” of the dancers, most of them touched guests while posing.
The dancers again touched guests when they flew right over the audience in some odd, assembly-line style riders that circled on the ceiling.
Random side note: the excited Japanese businessman to the right of me giving the thumbs up with a fembot and a masked dancer flying above in the background totally makes this photo, I think.
This one photo basically embodies the randomness that is Robot Restaurant.
As the dancers “flew” around overhead, a giant tank came out. I might be messing up the order of some of these scenes, but I don’t think there was really a linear storyline.
It was basically: awesome stuff happens…then more awesome stuff happens…then more–you get the idea.
I’ll stop with the descriptions now, as they shed very little light on the scenes in question. I would say that the photos speak for themselves, except in this case, I’m not quite sure what they say.
For lack of an articulable summary of the Robot Restaurant’s show, here’s my best description: crazy stuff happens, and it’s beyond awesome.
Awesome in ways you wouldn’t expect to be awesome, but it just works.
While this review covers the basics of what happened during our show, it only scratches the surface of a show that must be seen to be truly understood. The crazy on-screen graphics, the restrooms, the excitement of the audience, the seriousness of the stage-hands, the everything.
We talked to a regular of the show after it was over, and he said that each show he has been to has been different. He was particularly impressed with the different dances they manage to learn (they were well done), which makes sense given that everything but the dances seemed very loosely scripted. Staff had surveys for guests after the show, and they took these surveys very seriously.
It’s clear that they want to improve the experience. (Perhaps the food will be better in the future?)
With all of that said, is the Robot Restaurant worth it? EMPHATICALLY YES. I don’t care if the price has jumped in price to $150/person by the time you read this, it is absolutely worth it. That evening was the most we’ve laughed in a long time, and was incredibly fun. This review makes light of the show (and for good reason), but it’s absolutely a ton of fun. We literally laughed the entire time we were there, and although it was corny and totally bizarre, it was also totally fun.
If you like lighthearted, fun things and have a sense of humor, you will enjoy this. It’s not for everyone, and definitely has some mild sexuality to it and violence, but both are fairly benign and its all so comical that it’s tough to take any of the “bad” elements too seriously. Ultimately, there’s a reason why Robot Restaurant is so incredibly popular: it’s flat-out awesome. It epitomizes the “bizarre” side of Japan, and is a distinctly Japanese experience…even if it is touristy. Just be sure to purchase Robot Restaurant tickets in advance to get them at a discount and make sure to grab something to eat before you attend the show! (Robot Restaurant is a bit of a misnomer.) With all of that said, we highly recommend Robot Restaurant, and it’s an absolute must-do for anyone visiting Tokyo who loves fun. Going to Tokyo without seeing the Robot Restaurant is distinctly unpatriotic.
UPDATE: As of 2017, we’ve returned to the Robot Restaurant a few times, and things have changed a bit. Read our “Robot Restaurant Redux” post for info and new photos. Suffice to say, Robot Restaurant has become more family-friendly and tourist-centric than it once was. Rest assured, though, it’s just as zany and totally bizarre as it has ever been…
If you’re planning a visit to Tokyo, Japan, please check out my other posts about Tokyo for ideas of things to do (or not do) while there. Tokyo has a lot of things to see and do, so I also highly recommend the Lonely Planet Japan Guide to help better develop an efficient plan while there.
If you’ve been to Robot Restaurant, what’s your review of it? Any additional tips you’d offer for a first-timer to Japan visiting Shinjuku? If you haven’t been, on a scale of 1 to INFINITY AWESOMENESS, how great does this look to you? We’re interested in hearing your thoughts on this amazing show, so please share in the comments. If you have any questions, be sure to post those, too, and we’ll do our best to answer!