Haneda, Shinjuku and the Robot Restaurant

We flew Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and then on to Tokyo (Haneda). The flight to Hong Kong was packed. Because I couldn’t check us in until about 2:30pm we were stuck right at the back of the plane. While a little cramped, we downed a sleeping pill and slept for about six hours, waking up for food, of course.

When we landed in Hong Kong we had about 50 minutes until our next flight. Transfer information flashed up on our screens and I took photos of it and read it about five times, anticipating a fast run through Hong Kong airport. Fortunately, when we disembarked, an airline representative was waiting for us and the three other people on the flight to Haneda.

He led us on a brisk walk through the airport, through the crew security line and then to our flight, which we boarded almost immediately. I’d asked whether he thought our luggage would make the transfer (Bec had a similar short transfer and her luggage didn’t make it in time) and he said yes – famous last words.

The flight was only three hours but felt a whole lot longer. I dozed, feeling worse with each passing minute, and vowing never to take overnight flights again. They’re just not worth it. You arrive feeling like crap, even if you do manage to get some sleep.

We disembarked at Haneda, went through customs, with me breaking out a few very rusty Japanese words. I learnt a bit of Japanese in year 7. Only a few words have stuck but luckily they’re the important ones. Also, Swee at work had been reminding me of a few in the lead up to my trip. We got through passport control and waited for our luggage.

‘Oh look, that’s us,’ Glen said, pointing to the sign that one of the staff was holding up. You guessed it. Our luggage was still in Hong Kong and they needed to take down our details. It would arrive sometime that morning (between 2am and 5am). This didn’t seem to faze us much.

We were staying in Tokyo for a few days, we had enough clothes on and some things in our luggage, we’d be fine. In actual fact, it worked out really well as it meant we didn’t have to lug 20kg suitcases through the Tokyo subway (something we were very grateful for later).

We then breezed through Customs and then went in search of Suica cards to use on the trains. Many people have told me over the years that Japan is very confusing because ‘everything’ is written in Japanese characters. It’s not really true, not now anyway. While everything is (and should) be written in Japanese, there’s also a lot written in English. All the important stuff, at least.

Catching the train to Godzilla

So we found the JR East office, muddled through purchasing our Suica cards, and then went off to pick up the portable wi-fi device we’d ordered prior to our departure and got reconnected to the internet. We probably could have survived without it as there’s free wi-fi in the hotel, subways, department stores and probably most other places but it helped with Google Maps and stopped those annoying ‘do they have wifi?’ and ‘what’s the password?’ questions. (Yes, we could just not be connected but it’s not that kind of holiday.) Sadly for us, this wifi device has a faster connection speed than our internet back home, about three times as fast. On ya, Australia.

Armed with our Suica cards, internet connection and a couple of directions, we caught one train line and then another to emerge at Shinjuku Station. The trains weren’t too crowded but they’re a hundred times busier than the Midland line in the middle of the day.

When we got off the train at Shinjuku and got underground to where all the platforms meet, we both went ‘wow’ at seeing the mass of people swarming to catch their trains. I think the large number of coloured signs suspended from the ceiling also added to the overwhelming nature of the place. We found the exit we needed and then walked through Shinjuku to find our hotel (Hotel Gracery), helpfully topped with Godzilla’s head.

We happened to check-in at the exact same time as Bec. I heard her, in her Australian accent, telling the receptionist that she was staying there with some friends, and I turned to see that it was her. Perfect timing! We checked into our rooms at the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku.

The room is small but that’s to be expected (I’m sure there are whole apartments in Tokyo which aren’t much bigger than our room for two). Either way, it was clean, nicely decorated, in a great location and had one of those Japanese toilet seats that has a warm seat and bidet. Tempted to get one at home. Oh, and the shower is its own room where you can either wash Japanese-style over the floor or shower/bath in the bath like a Westerner. It’s all pretty cool and different.

The hunt for sustenance

We didn’t stay put for long. We went outside to look at Godzilla’s head, which roars (screams, in the words of the receptionist) four times a day – though we’ve yet to be around at the right time to hear it. We wandered the brightly light and crowded streets of Shinjuku, trying to find somewhere to get some food. This is, unfortunately, where Tokyo has been a bit of a trial for me.

As I don’t eat red meat or pork, and I’m not super adventurous with things like skin and gizzards, my food options are pretty limited. That is, if I want to eat Japanese. There are quite a few Italian restaurants around but that seems a bit sacrilegious. Ramen is pretty much out as it’s mostly made and topped with pork. There is, of course, plenty of fish to eat but if we’re not going for sushi, then it’s not all the prominent.

Either way, we found a place, encouraged inside by one of the touts on the street. One thing to remember about Tokyo is that because everything is so cramped, you also need to look up. We tend to only look at what’s visible from the street but a four storey building will have about five restaurants in it (basement being one).

The first restaurant we went to we had chicken yakitori. Glen bravely tried the deep brown one, which turned out to be gizzards – but what gizzards we’re not sure. He thinks it might have been heart. Another stick was just skin which I couldn’t eat (oh, how precious I am), and there was one that was meat-like. There were also some vegetable ones and some kara-age. We got through most of it, and then people nearby started smoking so we left.

Smoking in restaurants and bars is A-OK here. Smoking on the street, however, is not the done thing. There are cordoned off areas outside where people go to smoke but you won’t see people wandering the streets with a cigarette in their hand. We’ve also noticed that some restaurants won’t allow smoking over the lunch period. It’s made us realise how deconditioned we’ve become to smoking in Australia over such a short space of time.

From this restaurant we then wandered the streets looking at various shops and generally taking in the brightly-light atmosphere. It’s all a bit crazy and full on, and creates quite a contrast to the mostly plain-clothed and straight-laced Japanese. We did go in search for another round of food but then stumbled across advertising for the Robot Restaurant.

Oh god, why?

Our fiends in Canada, Cam and Vince, had been to it when they were last in Japan. I assumed it was an actual restaurant where robots brought you food. That is most definitely not what happened.

We bought our tickets – ¥8000 (more than $100) – and went through with all the other tourists, a mix of Americans, Australians and some Japanese. Two robots were positioned out the front that we had our photos taken with, and then inside it’s all bright colours, different models of lizards and flowers and other psychedelic things, mirrors and general garishness.

We went downstairs to the basement and took our seats in rows which lined the room, leaving a space in the middle for the ‘robots’ to come in and entertain us. We could order snack type food like fries, popcorn and crisps, as well as drinks. This was definitely not going to be a fine-dining experience. Our 90 minutes of entertainment then began.

The evening consisted of a number of shows with live dancers moving about on the floor, either on their own legs or some mechanised mode of transport. There was a drumming segment at the start (the beat was pretty cool actually), then something else, followed by dancers dressed in black and covered in glow in the dark tubes (also cool), before a robot-like battle began between the creatures of the forest and alien invaders, before the final song and dance of robots moving around the space. The whole thing was one long, confused ‘where are we?’ moment and it was definitely not what we expected.

Some people really enjoyed it, including one guy across the way who was standing for most of it and filmed the whole thing on his camera phone. Don’t really think it was worth it for us and not sure I’d recommend it to anyone, but to each their own.

Afterwards we went to find food, going into the basement for a ridiculously expensive and not very nice meal. This was after about 30 minutes (if not more) of trying to find somewhere that I could eat. Glen was about ready to bite me I think, he was so hangry. After dinner we headed back to the hotel, definitely ready for a sleep after our first few hours in Tokyo.

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