With two big-breasted "robots" wheeling around out front, the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward certainly stands out, even in the neon-lit streets of the popular Kabukicho entertainment district.
Passing the robots, visitors are swallowed up by a stimulating world of color and light. Everything inside the "restaurant" shines in a glitzy golden hue, from the ceiling to the chairs on the floor. The extravagance harks back to the bubble economy from the latter half of the 1980s to the early 1990s.
Reality at bay outside, guests make their way to a waiting area where they can partake of beverages and snacks before heading to the basement for the show.
The audience is seated in rows flanking the central stage. All is calm, then a series of resounding booms signals the start of the show. Shiny floats roll in carrying exotic-looking women pounding away at Japanese wadaiko drums. The performers sported red or white wigs worn by Kabuki actors playing "shishi" lions.
A keen observer may notice that some of the ornamental masks are based on those used in Chinese traditional Beijing opera. Dragon dances modeled after those seen in China towns were also performed.
After people wearing "hannya" horned devil-woman masks finished riffing on electric guitars, performers engaged in staged combat, wielding objects that resembled Japanese swords.
Spectators tend to gape at the spectacle, which seems to bring together every gaudy Oriental object under one roof.
Next, metal robots of various sizes and shapes appeared, reminiscent of the 1987 U.S. movie “RoboCop,” chasing each other under laser lights and fighting each other. A massive shark-like "robot" and a three-meter-high dinosaur opened their jaws, emitting smoke and sparks to the delight of the audience.
Turning things up yet another notch, women in cosplay outfits then danced energetically on wheeled robots, striking sexy poses that drew screams from audience members, many of whom were waving light sticks.
For the finale, dancers and robots performed the tune “Koi Suru Fortune Cookie” (The fall-in-love fortune cookie), a popular number by iconic idol group AKB48.
At least 70 percent of the audience was foreigners. One 50-year-old Frenchman who came with his wife said, "It was interesting--very Japanese. A mix of technology and manga."
A young British couple said the British newspaper The Guardian recommended its readers visit the Robot Restaurant while in Tokyo.
The establishment's operator, Namie Osawa, 37, who is also a dancer, was surprised by the show's popularity among foreign visitors.
"I never thought our performances would catch on with foreigners," she said.
Osawa opened the attraction in July 2012, hoping to create a place where she and other dancers could perform as a group.
So-called "show pub" restaurants, where customers can enjoy dance performances while drinking alcohol, had waned in the district, leaving many dancers without work. Osawa decided to add robots and a tank theme to the mix, and the result was a success.
On travel website Trip Advisor, the Robot Restaurant ranked 16th in a survey of “the most popular tourist spots in Japan among foreigners in 2014,” higher than Kyoto's Nijo Castle and Tokyo's Meiji Shrine.
"Employees of this restaurant think seriously about how to surprise our customers. As we pursued this goal more and more, our performances became gaudier and gaudier," Osawa said with a grin.