Carla and I took a one-week trip to Tokyo. It was my sixth visit to Japan's capital, and it was my favorite so far. For the next few days, I'll be writing about recommended things to do there. See them all here.
We got back to Shibuya after our day on Mt. Takao at about 5 pm. That gave us enough time to get cleaned up and have dinner in Shinkjuku's "yakitori alley" before heading to Kabukicho for the Robot Restaurant show.
The official name for the yakitori alley is Omoide Yokocho (memory alley). It's also known as Piss Alley, but I didn't smell any piss. The grid of narrow pedestrian alleys, crammed with tiny bars restaurants, was as clean as Disneyland's Main Street USA. We got there around 6:30pm and it was already crowded with people ready for beer and grilled meat.
We found a place with a couple of available seats around the counter. It was called Ucchan. We sat down and were greeted by a busy staff. We asked for sake and they served it in glasses of crushed ice. This was the first time I had it served that way, and it was wonderful. I noticed that the glasses of beer that people were drinking had ice in it, too. One of the staff spoke a bit of English and I asked for a combination of grilled meats. He said it was pork only, and I said that was fine. Carla is not a huge fan of pork, though. She saw a menu with a picture of sashimi. "Sashimi kudasai," she said. A few minutes later I got my plate with six skewers of pork, described on the menu as "gibblets, innards, and organ meats." I'd never eaten pig offal before and didn't know what to expect. But everything was mouth watering, spiced and grilled to perfection.
Carla got her sashimi and it didn't look like sashimi she'd ever had. It was a tougher, more rubbery, and stronger tasting than fish she's eaten in the past. We decided it was not fish. It was from a mammal of some kind. She ate a few slices, and I polished off the rest, washing it down with my sake. It was not bad, but I don't think I'd order it again.
Here are a few photos and a video of the highly recommended Ucchan:
Our bill came to about $20:
We then took a five minute walk to Shinkjuku's "red-light district," a neon lit area called Kabukicho. It's loaded with bars and hostess / host clubs. We had reservations for a show there called Robot Restaurant. We were led into the pre-show area, a large, outrageously appointed room that looked like something Liberace would hallucinate on a scopolamine overdose. Carla was still hungry so we looked at the menu. The offerings were straight out of a 1985 Barstow gas station: chicken nuggets, caramel popcorn, onion rings, french fries. They did have edamame, and Carla ordered that. This place gets our vote for the worst food we had. (Everything else we ate in Tokyo was fantastic, with the exception of the Robot Restaurant and a restaurant at the National Museum in Ueno, which I'll get to in a forthcoming post.)
The pre-show featured a young woman singing ballads, backed up by musicians in vaguely robotic costumes. It lasted much longer than I expected. By the time we were herded downstairs for the main event, we were exhausted. It probably wasn't a great idea to mix an early morning hike in the mountains with a loud, flashing-lights evening in Kabukicho.
The show room was long, dark, narrow, and warm. There was bleacher-like seating on either side. Luckily they were selling drinks, so I bought a couple of bottles of water for Carla and me. After about fifteen minutes the show started. Big wheeled vehicles with people in costumes rolled across the floor. They were shouting and hitting drums. Other people were dancing on the floor. Bright lights pulsed in time to the loud music. The dance number lasted about five minutes. When they cleared the stage, we read a story that scrolled on large computer monitors. It was a detailed description about a war between bad people with bad robots and good people with good robots.
The next dance was similar to the first, but it involved dinosaur robots spitting sparks at each other. When it was over, a man walked up to me and said, "Mark?" I started, not expecting anyone in Japan to know my name. Before I had a change to register who he was, he said, "It's Ruben Bolling! I thought I recognized you!" Ruben, as you know, is the creator of Tom the Dancing Bug, which we feature every week on Boing Boing. Ruben was my frequent host on the Gweek podcast and I had lunch with him in Los Angeles. He was here with his family and it was his first time in Japan. I got to meet his wife and kids, and I introduced them to Carla. We had a few minutes to talk about the things we'd done in Japan and what we were going to do in the days to come, and then we were instructed to return to our seats for the next dance.
We watched it, and left during the break, saying good bye to Ruben and his family. I wouldn't say we hated the show, but we didn't especially enjoy it. The performers were talented, and the staff was friendly, so I'm not going to be overly negative about the place. Also, people told me that the show used to be sleazier and more salacious, so I probably would have liked it more back then.
(Chris Arkenberg wrote about his visit to Robot Restaurant in 2104 for Boing Boing, and had a better time.)
When we got back to the sanctity our our Airbnb, I had an email waiting from Ruben: "In case you were wondering how the robot show ended, I think the evil robots were defeated, but I'm not sure."
In my next installment, I'll write about our visit to the famous Tsukiji fish market and our sushi making class.