July 10 – Tokyo, Shinjuku

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We said goodbye for the second time to Daikichi house and delivered our bags to Granbell Hotel Shinjuku to spend the day until check-in luggage-free and it may have taken us a little time finding the hotel because the instructions off cell apps are just as difficult to decipher as the maps and the google-translated directions. Some big Americans were being loud in the foyer as we arrived in our first boutique hotel about their IT with Japanese translations. The hotel was built 2013. Here we are to see another side of Tokyo: boutique trend in Shinjuku. After the irritation of boho Shimokitazawa, which is irremediably infected with the American virus of soft-sell cultural despotism circa 1950-1980s-ish. I think the first Gulf War may be the cut-off point or use-by date for that particular global ruse but I’ll date it at 1980s-ish for the passing of a world in 1989. The thing that happened was clearly already in progress.

Travelling lighter we ascended into Asakusa to see the very popular shrine, Senso-ji – with the Chinese especially, it seems. We stopped in a good-looking sashimi don place and were quickly ushered upstairs for no clear reason. The smokers made us ask, What?! No difference downstairs, we were told. There came the longest wait we’ve had here. But it’s ok; the company was good. I had the first natto I’ve had since arriving. It all tasted fine, the tuna, the salmon, the warm rice and the miso, but averagely.

So we got onto the street between the thunder gate to the shrine market street and the other at the shrine itself, the two boasting really huge red lanterns. It was a chaos of what is called authentic craft and cheap souvenir with hucksters and hawkers of all descriptions, but those unofficial were selling only orange cape-gooseberry-like stalks of plants. Wondering whether these belong to one of the reputed 28 different seasons reflected in the fabric of the classic kimono: the season of the orange cape-gooseberry-like plant.

I imbued the incense as is done and chucked a coin at the grate. All that could be heard in the shrine’s vicinity was the clatter of falling coinage and the yells of orange flower-sellers. So this is Shinto. Chaos of smoke and fortune-telling, atavism and a surviving animism and the Japanese otherwise so prurient about money here throwing it around will-he nil-he.

(Later found out that a visit during this particular festival is worth 46,000 ordinary visits.)

Less time than we’d hoped to have, we took a slow train to Harajuku, slower than we’d hoped. And we walked through. It was fun and forgettable. It reminded me of Tiqqun: if this is the future it belongs to the figure of the young-girl.

And with barely 15 minutes we checked in properly and possessed our rooms and peremptorily prepared for… it was easer to find than expected: a small young woman in a mask – to protect us from her infection – was making her way through the stage-door; she directed us around to the front. The Robot Lounge and Robot Restaurant.

It appears in the images you can find anywhere of it to be so complex. It’s very simple and very Japanese and therefore difficult to explain. It’s the garish side of the god-world brought forward into a theatrical plastic form. Robots are ciphers for powers that take us beyond the human – and the godly – and are both evil and fetishised. Sky gods are represented here as well as natural forces – all is conflict – so it’s not that dissimilar to the atavism and a surviving animism of the shrine scene: or is that the other way around? That we are robots seems to be a theme…

Our experience began badly. We stood in the waiting area – after a rush to get to Robot Lounge, Robot Resaurant 30 minutes ahead of time as requested on booking through the Granbell – while the girl with the blond and big-titted robot did her limited dance, which included the giant-girl robot’s face moving, winking and smiling, or grimacing, and the chrome-clad robot person drummed, to be joined by a scratched chrome-clad guitarist (hear audio) – and then peace as we were let in to complete the financial transaction. And the bad bit: waiting in the lounge area, which is mirrors and giant snailshell chairs – all reserved – and chrome angels playing songs like the Carpenters’ “Close to You” , while everybody got served not us and when we called a waiter to be told, No, last orders already finished. You see, the service side of the operation sucked.

I went and retrieved drinks myself from the bar, saying, Annoyed. And then we were invited to either use the lift or stairs to reach B2, basement 2, Robot Resaurant. Stairs down. Deep. Maybe a disused metro station.

Second annoyance: a call from centre stage for meal vouchers to be redeemed. What are these? We asked the people behind. We ordered when we made the reservation, said English person. J.’s turn this time to stomp up to the bar on stage until things went show-wise – and she managed to get chips. Robot chips.

The show’s played in traverse and many of the floats and devices are operated by remote control. Is it, as Anthony Corbain suggested, the greatest show on earth? No. But it does have the virtue of making no sense at all. And what sense persists is twisted, sexually and politically, not to speak of ethically and aesthetically. Nipponese mixology.

As much chaos here as at a Buddhist shrine and of the same variety, strangely. And then similarities with the show we saw in Hiroshima. 10 minute half-time, I grabbed a snack-pack. It turned out to be popcorn in a box with chilli something chips and sweat little biscuits.

The show was unlike anything – outside Japan. It was completely worth the cost of entry. But also thin for all the excess of the décor – a reputed $1m spent on it – and dei ex machina. The service is not just disappointing but does give cause for annoyance, because elsewhere it is generally so good, to make you ask, Why not improve? (Review in Time Out Tokyo remarked on the persistence of mediocrity in food department – but service?)

And we wandered around Shinjuku in the neon wonderland and tried a sushi-train place but it smelt so settled on a yakitori, cook-your-own sort of thing. Burdock. Here it was sufferable but it has been difficult to like in some dishes. Sticks with nothing but herbed fat, too. Brain food.