This restaurant was our favorite fun experience in Tokyo. Considering how much there is to do in Tokyo and this is just a one-man show, that’s saying a lot.
If you are going to Tokyo and want to do something fun and weird, do not read any further. Instead, just make a reservation. Most of the fun is the surprises. It will be far better to just show up having not known what to expect.
I don’t remember how we found out about it. Perhaps a friend told us about it or maybe we found it on Atlas Obscura. I know we never found a website for it. But we knew we had to make a reservation in advance. So if you want to go – make one.
True to whast Tripadvisor posts were saying, Kagaya was very hard to find. The day we went, we had been split into two groups out for the day and we decided to rendezvousat the restaurant in the evening. Which mean two groups had to find a place that was hard to find.
My group got lost. We were running around the block where we thought it was but couldn’t find it. The data on our smartphones didn’t work in Tokyo so we couldn’t just google map it. We were going to be late. Ugh.
Eventually an older gentleman saw us tourists looking clearly lost and panicked and he motioned to us to show him where we were trying to go. He didn’t speak any english and our knowledge of Japanese was muy poco. Thinking it would be right around the corner, we let him lead us.
Our new friend was a very fast walker.
He crossed a few streets, walked through a shopping area or two and went way further than we thought we were from where we needed to be. We started to wonder if we could trust him to know they way. It’s amazing how hard it can be to tell if someone is a little off their rocker if you don’t speak the same language.
Then we saw my brother. He was standing outside a stairwell leading into a basement. Phew.
We thanked the old man profusely and went down the stairs into the restaurant. (This was one of many friendly instances we experienced in Japan).
We were greeted by a normal looking Japanese man who verified in english that we had a reservation and learns our names. He invited us to take our shoes off and sit down. The room had about seven other groups of people – no obvious tourists – who were looking at us with knowing, mischievous smiles.
The restaurant was very basic and simply decorated. It consisted of one main room, a kitchen that was viewable from the dining room and was about the size you’d see in a one-bedroom apartment. In fact I suspected this might have been an apartment at one point. There was also a door to a restroom and an open door to what looked like a closet. There was nothing on the walls.
The staff consisted of the man who let us in and a female cook who never looked up at the guests or left the kitchen the entire evening.
Nothing that said this was going to be a bizarre experience.
The man goes into the closet and appears with a small robot, about two feet high. On its head are the hot towels you are given at the start of many meals in Japanese restaurants. The man has a remote control and directs the robot towards us as he hums the theme to Star Wars. The robot quickly gets to us since it started only three feet away.
The man comes over to us as he continues to sing the Star Wars theme and he gets right into Iain’s face, singing it louder and louder. Iain just stares back. The man begins to massage Iain’s temples as he sings.
He then hands us the drink menu and takes the robot back with him.
The drink menu is a folded page and written in different colored crayons. One one side of the fold it says “choose a country” and has a list of country. On the other side it says “choose a drink” and has a list of drinks.
We debate our choice and decided that we should just all order the same thing.
He returns to us and comes to me and points to the menu, saying my name and asking what the order is. I tell him, “Brazil” and “Beer”. He is now pointing in the crease of the menu and says my name again. And again. He continues saying my name more and more excitedly as he massages the crease of the menu with great erotic gusto. This is awkward.
Eventually he finishes and goes off elsewhere. We continue to talk amongst ourselves.
Then he appears out of the closet wearing a flamenco dress and some plastic lobster claws. Music plays some brazilian music and he performs a dance routine that looks far more skillful than you might expect.
Then we are served beers. The man has an amazing knack for reading people. He must have known Iain was the beer lover of the group because Iain got a special mug. When the mug was on the table, everything was normal. But when Iain picked up the mug it would shake and vibrate, making it nearly impossible to drink.
Iain eventually found the sensor on the bottom of the mug and could turn it off, but throughout the dinner he would forget and we would all get a good laugh.
The dinner menu, like the drink menu, was singular and written in crayon. There were just four numbered choices. None of them were food.
Each “choice” was actually a story told in the first person about your day. The first day was pretty good (Something akin to “Today was a good day. I talked to my coworkers about the tv show…” etc) , the second day was harder, etc. The fourth day was really hard and you were “reallly hungry”. We deduced that the number you ordered determined how much food you would receive, but it’s very possible it made no difference. We assumed it was family style and decided to order number four
The man came over to Wendy to take the order. Wendy said “number four”. But the man said “NO! You must read it to me!”
I should mention at this point that the man would speak english to us and japanese to the other groups. Despite the language barrier, it was pretty easy to understand what was happening.
Wendy reads the order out loud. The man says “Noooo!”
“You must SING it to us!”
Keep in mind this was not a song, but a story about a long day, writeen in crayon. Wendy sort of talk-sang it and the man joined in to duet with her. He kept encouraging her to sing louder and more. The other guests found this very entertaining.
The waiter was not soley focused on us. During the dinner he would go to other tables and do random weird stuff. Sometimes not weird, just talented.
For one group, he took out a small easel and chose someone from the group to draw. We waited expectantly to see something funny. But instead it was just good. (Note to self: this is a good way to make a surprise).
Another group came in and chose “America” and “Beer” for their drink. (It might have been “France”, I don’t remember exactly).
Soon, the bottom half of the closet was covered in a board saying something about a frog. A frog puppet pops up above the board.
The frog introduces himself as pierre or something and says some story I’ve forgotten. Then he says he has a friend that is shy.
The shy friend’s name is “dick”. He asks (in english) if people want to see dick. He asks them again and again until everyone is saying yes. Then he gets everyone to chant “dick dick dick” over and over again.
I’m wondering just how far this guy is going to push it.
At the climax, the sign comes down and the man runs out in a full body frog suit. He lowers the puppet to his crotch and runs around acosting people with it. People are roaring. Then he runs back into the closet.
A group of Australians shows up as we are wrapping up our food. One of them has a long white beard and is immediately christened “Santa Claus” to the hysterics of the rarely-longbearded Japanese.
Before we get ready to go, I get up to use the restroom. There’s some motion-activated items in there and it’s all very weird. My memory is a little hazy (this was after quite a few beers).
One thing that is not hazy is what I saw when I came out of the bathroom.
Iain was standing in the middle of the room in the frog suit.
This seemed impossibly quick. I had only been in there a minute and somehow the man had managed to convince Iain to wear the suit – AND get him into it before I returned.
Settling up the bill, I said exactly what I felt: “I want this guy to have all my money.” It was amazing. I had already started planning how to take the things I had learned to my own experience projects.
The main thing I think took away from this experience was that this guy was a master person-reader. He seemed to be able to take people just to their limits, and then back off. He would pick the right people for the right awkward thing and really knew how to entertain the crowd without really picking on his mark.
I liked the waiter-is-the-entertainment aspect.
The sitting on the ground with shoes off created a special, shared ritual that bonded the guests.
Props and costumes are great ways to make humor happen. (I think of the awesome show Arrested Development and their use of props and costumes for humor).
Extending the experience into the bathroom was bonus.
Having groups of guests experience the same thing, but after one another created anticipation for the group that had already been through it and a sense of “being in the club” or being initiated once you had been through it and the next group showed up.
They (thankfully) did not mess with the food. Or, well, at least I didn’t notice if they did.