A camouflaged Hummer has been prowling the streets of Tokyo this summer, with a curious cargo in tow: a pair of giant female automatons, raising their arms as if to say 'irasshaimase'. It's a peculiar advertisement for an even more peculiar place – Robot Restaurant, which opened in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district in July.
With a name like that, you're probably conjuring images of a futuristic eatery where cyborgs serve up the food – but that's not what Robot Restaurant is about. The eponymous 'borgs are actually enormous battle machines, operated by bikini babes who fight it out each evening for the benefit of a paying audience. Now that's entertainment.
You could call it a 'theatrical restaurant', but this is a long way from the glitz of Las Vegas or the adults-only eroticism of Paris's Crazy Horse cabaret. Robot Restaurant doesn't aspire to any Western kind of sensuality – it's got more of a homemade feel, and a far cuter brand of kinkiness. The end results, it must be said, are unlike anything I've seen before.
Just look at the halftime 'Sekushi Kotekitai' (literally, Sexy Drum and Fife Troupe) show, performed by a female marching band whose outfits leave little to the imagination. It's based on the video for Alex Gaudino's 'Destination Calabria', but the differences between the two are telling.
Calabria's version gives us razor-sharp choreography and a troupe of immaculately sculpted European models, but while it's certainly sexy, it's not exactly going to get your heart fluttering. The local lasses at Robot Restaurant, on the other hand, are a good 20cm shorter and rather less tightly drilled, with looks that are more girl-next-door than runway model. And – wouldn't you know it – they left me weak at the knees.
If this was the Bubble Era, they probably would have done things differently. There'd have been VIP seating, champagne aplenty, and foreign choreographers and dancers attempting to recreate the highbrow hijinks of Crazy Horse. But this is 2012, and things have turned out a bit differently. Forget VIP booths: customers here sit crammed tightly together on stool seating. Gourmet cuisine? The bento meals on offer are indistinguishable from cheap convenience store fodder.
Then again, there are plenty of other places you could go if you wanted great food and drink and some one-on-one service from dishy female attendants... and they'll cost a lot more than the ¥4,000 charged here. They also won't have robots, but you'd probably figured that out by now.
Robot Restaurant, B2F Shinjuku Robot Bldg, 1-7-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
A giant robot in the waiting room; they've made 20 such figures so far
Left: Close-up of the wall. Right: Gold bling galore in the men's bathroom
Gourmet this ain't: a typical bento box at Robot Restaurant
Dancers perform with giant taiko drums; the logo on the wall says 'jyo-sen' (girl fight)
Bikini-clad girls pilot their robots by joystick
A pair of cute girls join the fray on a motorbike
Wherever you sit, you're never more than a few inches away from the action
No performance would be complete without an LED-decked tank, of course
Dancers dangle over the audience's heads
Job well done: dancers give spectators high-fives at the end of the show
Kyoichi Tsuzuki is the author of books including 'Roadside Japan' and 'Tokyo Style'. Official website: www.roadsiders.com
Text/photos by Kyoichi Tsuzuki