The streets of Tokyo are cool and quiet as we perform a dash from one Ueno hotel to the next (tip: book Japan accommodation early. We learned this the hard way.) (Another tip courtesy of Bart: it’s more fun saying ‘Ueno’ if you pronounce it like a cockney saying ‘Oo ‘ello!’)
We zip over to Tsukiji fish market. This is one of Tokyo’s most famous sights (and culinary experiences), handling more than 2,000 tons of stuff from the sea every day. We pass open fronted stalls where cleaver wielding chefs carve through fresh fish cuts. A stall owner is handing one of his fresh shrimp rolls to a customer and I’m involuntarily salivating. Pushing further into the market are stalls piled high with gleaming squid, buckets of tiny octopus, rows of metallic mackerel.
We eat a sushi breakfast perched on wobbly aluminium stools, steam from miso and green tea drifting into our faces. It’s probably the tastiest meal of our lives.
A zen moment
Next we’re tubing it to Asakusa and the Senso-ji temple, Tokyo’s oldest.
Outside the station we’re approached by peppy rickshaw drivers, lean and chiselled in knee length lycra shorts. It gives me little flashbacks to London, drizzly Soho nights. It’s also indicative of the fact this is one of Tokyo’s busiest tourist attractions.
Nestled behind Senso-ji is the Denpoin temple and gardens, and we’re lucky to get in as it’s only open March to May. We enter through a gallery of artworks related to the temple. There’s a gigantic painting depicting a samurai fight. The frame is ornately carved with dragons, every curve of their scales realised, inlaid shining marble-y eyes.
There’s a mural telling the story of the temple gardens. Apparently there used to be an inn on the site owned by an elderly woman and her daughter. The mother used her daughter to lure in travellers and then they would murder them and steal their possessions. The daughter committed suicide and a spirit came in her place to torment the mother until she repented her sins.
Having just read this tale I’m a little reluctant to take the free green tea offered us by a smiling Japanese lady on entering the garden, but the tea is delicate and refreshing and not at all poisoned.
The Japanese talent for choreographing gardens astounds me. Wherever you are it feels like every flower, every mossy rock, every trickle of water has been arranged around you. You can stand and be engulfed by a heady sense of stillness.
We move on to the backstreets of Asakusa, low rise open fronted restaurants, bustling with tourists but still neat and navigable.
We stop for the most heavenly tempura, nestled on beds of soy-soaked rice.
But the best of this day is yet to come…..
Maybe, like us, you’ve arrived in Tokyo and you’ve glimpsed mentions of this ‘robot restaurant’. And you’re thinking, ‘hmmm. Could that be fun?’ And then you see the price and you think ‘Woah! On second thoughts we’ll leave it. How good can it be anyway?’
I say to you: ‘STOP FOOL! PUT DOWN THAT CALCULATOR! HOW MUCH DID YOU SPEND ON YOUR WEDDING? OR YOUR CAR? I GUARANTEE NEITHER ARE THIS GOOD.’
Well, that’s if you like shiny robots, neon, glow sticks and extra-terrestrial costumes. Which we do.
It’s not a typical ‘restaurant’. I mean, there isn’t even any food included in our tickets. We enter through a door guarded by two giant busty bikini clad robo-women. We traverse a narrow staircase glowing from top to bottom with every colour you can think of, down and down and down. We reach a room lined either side with rows of seats. Popcorn is scooped from a robot’s belly and handed to audience members.
The show begins. I can’t really describe it. Imagine if robot wars and power rangers had a bunch of really weird kids, talented, some human, some robot, some half and half, some sexy as hell, some centaurs, and they’re doing that thing where you put on a play to impress your parents and it doesn’t really make sense to anyone but you but it’s still vastly entertaining for adults to watch because they secretly wish they were still kids. That’s what it’s like I guess.
Here’s a glimpse, but I promise you this captures but a snippet of the psychedelic antics.
After the show it’s necessary to take a phased return back to the normal world, so we go to the bar round the corner, run by the same people and which takes a similar approach to décor. There’s a jazz band dressed in white performing Beatles covers.
We slowly reconnect with this dimension, where most makeup is not fluorescent, leather bikinis are the exception rather than the rule, and drinks are served by humans.
It’s both a relief and a bitter disappointment.