Cashless in Weird Tokyo (Part 3 of 3)
6/8/17 9:00 AM
At Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, you can watch women in bikinis battle robots in a show that people have described as “like being on acid without being on acid.” But after the previous night’s double robbery (damn that cactus), I wasn’t willing to fork over 8,000 yen for a ticket.
Surely there are other ways to meet robots in Japan? There are robots and androids (including the adorable Paro) at the Miraikan National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, but I didn’t feel like going all the way to Odaiba again. There’s the newly opened Henn Na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay near Tokyo Disneyland, which has quadrilingual velociraptor robots to help you check in. I wish I had found out about it sooner so I could have booked a night’s stay.
And then there’s Asimo, the humanoid robot who hangs out at the Honda Welcome Plaza (2-1-1 Minamiaoyama 1 Field Honda Aoyama Bldg., Minato 107-8556; honda.co.jp) I arrived too early for the 1:30 demonstration so I walked over to 7-Eleven for a quick lunch. (7-Eleven was also my regular stop for withdrawing cash with my PayMaya card—its ATMs are reliable to use with international cards.)
Rock on, Asimo
Asimo danced, ran, hopped, used sign language and then posed with guests for photos. When it was my turn, the human handler said to me, “Please do not touch Asimo.”
Was my desire to touch Asimo that obvious? Instead, we posed with our hands up, making the sign for either “I love you” or “rock on,” I’m not sure. (But rock on, Asimo, rock on.)
I used my PayMaya card to pay the 1,800-yen entrance fee at the Samurai Museum (Eiwa Dairoku Bldg. 1/F 2-25-6 Kabukicho Shinjuku 160-0021). Our guide led us through the exhibition of armor, helmets and swords. They were cool but I soon found myself feeling like I was on a field trip. Was anyone else bored? Definitely not the American guy who kept dropping terms like shogunate and Battle of Sekighara. Even the 6-year-old girl from Australia was into it. “Mom, I really have to pee but I don’t want to miss anything,” she said, making me feel really immature.
The most exciting part was the samurai demonstration and, if you were fast, you could volunteer to learn how to use a samurai sword.
On my way up the stairs leading to the Ninja Trick Housen (Daiichi Wako Bldg. 4/F 2-28-13 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku; entrance fee is 1,000 yen, cash only), I spotted a sign: “Open. There is always a way to open any door.”
“Hello, Pam-San,” the lady behind the counter greeted me warmly.
I was the only person in our group who couldn’t speak Japanese. I was also the only person there who wasn’t a parent or a little kid. But did that stop me from fulfilling my ninja fantasies? Hell, no.
Our ninja master appeared suddenly from behind a wall. The first thing he did was equip us with ninja swords. Oh no, this wouldn’t be a history lesson. We were actually going to try to become ninjas.
Ninja stars, baseball bats and virtual reality
Our ninja master taught us how to deflect attacks, find hiding places and trap doors and use makibishi to stop our enemies in their tracks. In the dojo, we practiced using our swords to attack a dummy. I was really bad at swordplay—the 5-year-old kid was better than I was. I couldn’t even unsheathe my weapon properly.
The master handed each of us a basket of ninja stars. And I turned out to be pretty good at throwing shuriken. Even the master seemed surprised as I hit one target after another.
I walked to Shinjuku Batting Center (2-21-13 Kabukicho, Shinjuku 160-0021) to indulge in a little baseball, a sport the Japanese love. I found an empty cage and started dropping coins into the batting machine. I don’t know where I got my confidence, I don’t think I’ve ever touched a baseball bat before.
My nerves kicked in after I dropped the last coin into the slot. Holy crap, shouldn’t I be wearing a helmet? What if a ball hits my head and kills me?
But no balls were coming out of the machine. I spoke into the intercom. “Uh, sir, how do I get the balls to come out?”
The man walked into the cage. He looked at me, concerned. “This very fast, is okay?”
“Uh, first time, is okay?” I asked him.
He shook his head and led me out of the cage. Then I saw the sign on the door. The balls on that machine would have hurtled at me at a speed of 120 km/h. The top speed. I had no idea there were even different speed settings. Sometimes my confidence is just another word for stupidity.
He walked me to a batting cage with a lower speed—60 km/h. But there was a line of mostly young Japanese couples waiting to bat. Apparently, the slower batting cages were a place for dates. I tried to wait but after watching yet another guy teaching his girl how to hold a bat, I decided to find another game to play.
VR Park Tokyo (4/F, KN Shibuya Bldg., 13-11 Udagawacho, Shibuya, Tokyo; 3,300 yen for 80 minutes of unlimited play; it’s cheaper if you book online: www.adores.jp/vrpark/) is a playground for virtual reality gamers. You put on a headset and suddenly you’re in a different realm where you can meet ghosts, fight against monsters in the desert, bungee jump through a jungle, ride a flying carpet and more. If you are a VR newbie like me, no worries, there are guides at each station. I had fun killing a few ghosts and goblins.
I was drawn into a luxury fruit shop in Shibuya. I grabbed a little box of Japan’s precious white strawberries and a mighty Dekopon, which is possibly the most delicious citrus fruit you will ever eat.
I handed my PayMaya card to the guy behind the counter. He slid it into the reader, shook his head and slid it in again. He repeated this a few more times: slide card in, wait, rip out receipt, shake head, slide card in, wait, rip out receipt.
My phone was buzzing with notifications from PayMaya. I looked at the messages and saw that I had already been charged for the fruits. Twice.
The guy handed me back my card, motioning that I should pay in cash.
“But you already charged me. Twice,” I said.
“No, no,” he said. “Not working.”
“No,” I said, showing him the texts.
He kept shaking his head. I logged into the PayMaya app so he could see. “This is you, right? You charged me twice. Money has already been deducted, what are you going to do?”
I didn’t mean to but I think I scared the guy because the next thing I knew, he was handing me money so I would shut up. He refunded me for the second charge. I walked out of the store, saying a silent thank you for PayMaya’s notifications feature.
Without it, I would have believed any salesperson who tells me that their machine didn’t work and I would have handed over more money without a peep. I knew at that moment that PayMaya had become my new favorite travel buddy.
I love that the PayMaya app also helped me keep track of my spending. I usually vow to list down all my expenses on trips, a plan that usually goes awry after only a couple of hours. I love, too, that it shows me the charges in pesos—one of the dangers of spending foreign currency is it usually doesn’t feel real to me so I end up throwing it around like it’s Monopoly money.
Kawaii Monster Café
“Ready?” asked the guy before opening the door to Kawaii Monster Café in Harajuku (YM Square Bldg. 4/F 4-31-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Tokyo, cover charge is 500 yen). My jaw dropped. “Whoa,” I said, staring at the enormous carousel that was decorated like a cake. You know those places that you think exist only in your dreams? They exist. In Tokyo.
Designed by “king of kawaii” Sebastian Masuda, Kawaii Monster Café is like a Lisa Frank artwork come to life. It’s pink, it’s purple, it’s unicorns and strawberries, giant lips and rainbows, mushrooms and bunnies.
At Kawaii Monster Café, there was a one-drink-and-one-dish minimum on top of the cover charge. The Monster Girl served my Colorful Rainbow Pasta with smidgens of different sauces made to look like paint on an artist’s palette. My Strawberry Shake Hip Shake was tasty.
But, let’s face it, people don’t really go here for the food—they go for the crazy cute interiors. Even the restroom is insanely cute.
There was another theme bar I was planning to check out that night: The Vibe Bar Wild One, because really, who doesn’t want to drink while surrounded by 300 vibrators? But it was closed on Sundays. So instead, I decided to go to the strangest place on my list.
Remember that rumor about vending machines in Japan that sell dirty panties that had been worn by schoolgirls? Not a rumor.
Near Shibuya 109 is a little office supposedly packed with used uniforms, used shoes, used school supplies and used underwear—ukay-ukay for people with a schoolgirl fetish. I had to see if it was real.
It took me a while to find Rope (2/F 2-20 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku) and when I finally did, I walked in hesitantly. There was a man seated in one corner, the shopkeeper, and he paid me no attention. I crept past racks and racks of uniforms, piles of shoes and then saw them: used underwear. A lot of used underwear. Some were in piles and bags. Some were on hangers with matching bras. But the more expensive ones were propped up on shelves, each one in a little plastic sleeve, and on the front of each sleeve, a photo of a girl taking off her panties—the same panties you would find inside the package. And then I saw an even stranger sight: photos of girls standing over toilets, peeing into the panties that were in the package.
I noped the hell out of there. Even I have my limits. Besides, if I wanted to see used underwear, all I had to do was look inside my luggage. And I really had to because I had to pack for my flight.
Most disturbing restaurant
Before that, one final stop: Alcatraz ER (2/F Harvest Bldg 2-13-5 Dogenzaka Shibuya), which has been called Japan’s “most disturbing” and “most hardcore” restaurant.
“Come back tomorrow,” the staff told me when I walked in less than an hour before they closed.
“But I’m leaving tomorrow,” I said.
“Drinks only,” they relented.
I saw a sign that made me pause. “Don’t forget your shoes.”
“Uh, why will I forget my shoes?” I asked, suddenly feeling nervous about begging to become a prisoner at this hospital for the criminally insane. The dark hallway and little mannequin wearing a dildo didn’t scare me. But what was about to happen that I might forget my shoes?
They waved off my questions, led me past bloody X-rays and a corpse entombed on the ground and made me take off my shoes so I could climb a second-floor jail cell. In the other cells, fellow inmates were laughing and eating. I looked around my own filthy-looking cell. On the wall was the word “vagina” written in (fake) blood.
A demented nurse held a hot towel in front of her crotch. “This is a soft dick!” she said, handing it to me through the prison bars.
Before I could order, the lights went out and sirens started blaring. Some people screamed. My heart pounded. And then, it started. Singing. Some guy—I guess an inmate who had escaped—was singing “Part of Your World” in Japanese. I never thought I’d ever be creeped out by The Little Mermaid’s song.
The screaming turned to laughing and cheering as he started another song, The Backstreet Boys’ “As Long As You Love Me.” I’m pretty sure the guy was flashing the prisoners below me. I turned on my phone’s flashlight just in time to catch a glimpse of his bare butt.
The lights went back on. Soon, the demented nurse arrived with my two drinks: Brainshock, a mix of tequila, Coke and ginger ale served in a mannequin head, and Vibrator Play, a “passion fruit and pine” cocktail that came with a vibrator on the side. (And these aren’t the naughtiest drinks on the menu. Alcatraz ER is definitely not for the easily shocked.)
The nurse handed me the pink vibrator so I could mix my cocktail with it. “More more more!” she commanded.
“More more more!” she hollered again and I mixed harder, making the ice cubes and the lone blackberry in the drink jump.
“Are you coming?” she demanded.
“Uh, yeah?” I said.
“Suck it!” she demanded.
By the time she left, I really really needed those cocktails.
I flipped through the menu and discovered that their food was just as inventive as their drinks: the seared beef salad shape like a brain, a red omelet that looks like a resected liver (served in a surgical basin, of course), a red jelly dessert served on a sanitary napkin and roast beef that someone with serious origami skills folded to look like female genitalia (hilariously captioned “rost beef pussy”—yes, with no A).
I went to Tokyo in search of strangeness and I had found it.
“Do you think you’ve seen all the strange things Tokyo has to offer?” someone asked.
Are you kidding? I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Tokyo is weird and that makes it wonderful. I can’t wait to return and stay in a capsule hotel, rent a friend, eat canned goods at Mr. Kanso, walk goats in Shibuya and find out why “Frog Is Stranger Than Fiction” at Kagaya Izakaya.
The pursuit of weirdness never ends.