Photographing the Robot Restaurant, Shinjuku, Japan

The Robot Restaurant, located in Tokyo’s red light district and nestled between numerous massage and pachinko parlours has become one of the top tourist destinations for foreigners visiting the city.  If you’ve looked up ‘Things to Do in Tokyo,’ you’ve no doubt seen the pictures; likely because the restaurant encourages photography (but prohibits video).

After buying a ticket across the street, you head into the restaurant’s ridiculously ornate bar to watch the warm-up acts.

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You are then led down to a sub-sub-sub basement where the stage is located.

The show consists of a series of skits and dance numbers in which the cast wears colourful costumes that draw a lot of inspiration from Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.  Apparently, Robot Restaurant began with more sexy / burlesque type numbers, but it has cleaned up its act in recent years for the tourist market.

The skits are broken up by short intermissions where they draw for prizes based on seat number as well as sell drinks and souvenirs.

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For my visit to the Robot Restaurant, I brought my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the 25mm f/1.2 Pro lens. Since the lighting quality is spotty and there’s a lot of fast movement, I opted for Shutter Priority Mode and set it to 1/250 s.

Shutter Priority (the S on the mode dial) lets you choose the shutter speed you want, and then has the camera adjust the aperture and ISO to get the best results.

Shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter stays open to allow light into the image sensor. If the shutter speed is too slow, the subject might move while the shutter is still open, which will cause motion blur.

The downside of a fast shutter speed is that it lets less light in, which can make the picture darker.  To compensate for this, the camera will adjust the Aperture (the size of the opening that light travels through), and the ISO (the image sensor’s sensitivity to light).

The camera kept the lens at its maximum aperture, f/1.2, and set the ISO to 1600.

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The E-M1 Mark II performs well, even at that ISO setting.  The pictures turned out sharp, and it did a good job of preserving the many and varied colours.

The biggest problem I ran into was that the room was relatively small, and the seats were close to the stage.  Having a wider angle lens would have helped to capture more of the scene,  though the lower maximum aperture in Olympus’s wide angle lenses would have created other problems.

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It’s a cool show, and well worth seeing.  We didn’t try the food (and didn’t hear anything good about it) but there are plenty of great restaurants in the area. (And despite by talk about this being the red light district, it’s actually a safe area; as long as you ignore the people trying to call you into a back alley bar.  (Pro tip : Legitimate establishments don’t need people to drag in customers).

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