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Monday, July 30, 2018

Exploring Japan Vol. 8 - Robot Show, Monster Cafe and Kaiju Sakaba!

So to wrap up this short series on cafes in Japan, I want to focus on what are hands down, three of the most outlandish in all of the ones we’ve tried.  The first is pretty famous.  It's been featured on Food Network and Travel Channel shows repeatedly.  Of course, I'm talking about the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku.

Now, a quick word of warning.  The Robot Restaurant is located in a slightly seedier area of Tokyo.  Shinjuku has some seriously cool stuff to see if you're there with your family.  Aside from the Robot Restaurant, they also feature a gigantic Godzilla which I'll cover in another post.  However there are also a plethora of bars, host clubs, video stores and the occasional adult toy shop.  

If you've got issues with walking past any of that, put them aside because this place is absolutely worth it.  You'll present your ticket and be escorted up to a bar area where you can get your one free drink and purchase more if you're so inclined. 

There's a robot band playing which leaned toward jazzy versions of funk songs when we were there.  Soon you're led down into a room with bleacher style seats along two sides.  If you're eating here, you'll be served before the show, but the great thing about this place is you don't have to buy a meal.  Your ticket pays for your admission completely.  The show is long but there are breaks in between "acts" so you'll probably want another drink or two, plus they do have some killer popcorn.

What takes place over the next hour or so is supposed to tell a story, but we couldn't really follow it.  It didn't matter though.  Giant robots parade through the room, sometimes doing battle with each other, sometimes just leading or carrying parades of musicians.  Everything is lit in neon and the effect is sensory overload.  Once it's over, you're likely to ask yourself, "What did I just see?" and that's usually not a bad thing.

You do generally have to buy your tickets in advance for this, so if you're looking to go you may want to look them up online or get your hotel concierge to help you.
Let's say though that you want something similar but don't really like the idea of traveling to Shinjuku at night.  There's a pretty good alternative right in Harajuku.  The Kawaii Monster Cafe ("Cute Monster Cafe") celebrates weirdness on every level!

Yes, that's a giant rabbit drinking from an inverted milk bottle... you know, like they do in the wild.  Imagine a place so colorful and outlandish that it seems like it sprang from the imaginations of Sid and Marty Krofft  during their most surreal acid trip ever.  It makes the set of H.R. Puffinstuff look like  a police procedural  show.  

During your meal, you’ll get to see the hostesses perform on this rotating stage.  If you’re not careful, you may be called up to help them sing and dance. In between the shows, you're encouraged to get up and walk around to other areas.  Every inch of the place is strange.
However, I wouldn’t be writing about this place if it weren’t also for the lengths they go to in order to make their food just as colorful and outrageous. 

The plates above look like artists' palettes and what’s really cool is that each one of those “paint smudges” is actually a different sauce.  Color does not necessarily indicate what it is.  For instance, the blue is just butter.  Others may be ranch, mustard, etc.
If you’re there, splurge on a drink.  They are just as outlandish and if you have someone who has a sweet tooth, then get this beast!  Each color of icing is a different flavor!

The Kawaii Monster Café is very close to Takashita St. in Harajuku.   They suggest you make reservations but we just walked up around 2:30 on a Sunday and got right in for a late lunch.  Also, if you like what you see but think it’s a little too kid-like, then make it a point to reserve a spot in the evening.  The Kawaii Monster Café is adults only at night where they take the same theme and steer it toward a more mature direction.

So yeah, we all loved both of those places but there's only one that is my hands down favorite.  It's a very special bar/restaurant in Suzuki called Kaiju Sakaba.  Themed after the Ultraman TV show that’s been airing in Japan (in one incarnation or another) since the 1960’s, the premise is just awesome. 

Basically, every enemy that Ultraman has ever fought has finally gotten tired of losing.  Instead of world domination, they've gotten together to form an exclusive club where they only serve other evil doers. The result is one extremely fun place!  

Upon entering, each person has to stick their hand in the mouth of this wall decoration.  It then tells the server if you have any “hero DNA”.  If you do, then you can’t enter.  If you don’t, then you’re more than welcome! 

You’ll walk by a bunch of models and some memorabilia from the Ultraman shows, but once seated, the real fun begins.  In the main room, there is a wall to wall mural of Ultraman’s enemies in battle.  

The TV monitors show bits and pieces from different Ultraman episodes (but only the parts where the bad guys are winning).  There are also videos that show the villains starting the restaurant and what it looks like when they all begin to party there together. 

How’s the food?  I’m glad you asked.  This was the best food (in my opinion) of any of the cafes we visited. The portions are big and intended for you to order for the table and yes, the food is themed.  For instance, a sausage that we ordered was coiled on the plate like a snake with a plastic dragon head on one end and the tail on the other.  It also smoked when the cover was lifted.  A cheesy dip served in a bread bowl bore the logo in cheese on top.

Beer is served in Ultraman mugs (available for purchase also) and for each entrée you order, you get a special coaster featuring a different villain.  It’s the perfect place to go if you have a group of 4 -5 people and you want to party for a few hours. 
There are tons more themed places that we haven’t visited, including ones that recreate Edo era experiences, gothic churches,and of course the vampire and prison cafés.  We’ll probably hit one of those next time.

Still, I have to wonder why something as cool as these haven't sprung up in this country.  It seems like with the right theme, it'd be a slam dunk.
Next week, we'll look at how you can spend a day celebrating all things Godzilla.

See you then!

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