Where to meet robots in Tokyo

Ever wanted to check into a hotel staffed by androids, stroke a fluffy white robot seal or drink coffee brewed by a giant red robotic arm? You’re in luck in Tokyo: here is where to meet robots in the Japanese capital.

You’re probably going to meet a few robots in Tokyo on your trip: the first one we bumped into right at Haneda Airport after landing. SoftBank stationed its sleek white humanoid robot Pepper at the entrance of the Keikyu Line train station to provide train information in English and Japanese to travellers. Here’s a video of him in action:

While Pepper may not be stationed at the train station right now, you’re almost certain to see him on your trip. There are Peppers in SoftBank’s shops in Ginza and Omotesando, and they pop up from time to time in shopping malls, fancy fashion boutiques and other locations that can afford their initial cost of £1400 plus the montly subscription fees (currently around £200).

A great place to meet Pepper is the new SoftBank café Pepper Parlor in Tokyu Plaza Shibuya, where Pepper robots take orders and entertain customers at their tables. Another SoftBank robot, NAO makes an hourly appearance, performing choreographed dances on top of the counter. And while the humanoid robots take their well earned rest, Whiz, the lowly vacuum-cleaner robot makes it sure that the floor is spotlessly clean for the next day of opening. 

Pepper Parlor (Photo: SoftBank)

While they are employing Poursteady robots to create batches of drip coffees at once, it’s actually human baristas who run the show at the Pepper Parlor, making sure you get a decent cup for your ¥800 (£6). However, another place in Shibuya employs a robot as a barista.

The Henn na Café is located inside the H.I.S travel agency in Shibuya Modi mall. Its staff and main attraction is robot barista, Sawyer, who oversees a similar Poursteady ensemble like the one at the Pepper Parlor. It’s not the best coffee you can get, but for ¥390 (£3) you can watch the robot take the cup you place on the counter, then make and serve your drink. Watch a video of Sawyer working here:

The company behind the Henn na Café, H. I. S., runs a hotel chain where robot receptionists are greeting and checking in clients, in-room assistants respond to voice commands and cleaning robots roam the floors. Henn na Hotels were until recently staffed by over 240 robots per establishment; however H. I. S. decided to fire half its robotic workforce as they had trouble understanding customers and kept breaking down. The robot receptionists are still there though, with humanoid robots staffing most branches and robotic dinosaurs operating the Tokyo Bay hotel reception.

Henn na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay

If you’re not afraid to face the uncanny valley, the permanent exhibition ‘Create your future’ at the Miraikan (the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) is a great way to meet and interact with various slightly spooky-looking androids and friendly robots. Honda’s child-sized astronaut robot ASIMO demonstrates its skills four times every day at the museum, kicking a football and dancing and singing. Paro, the robotic baby seal is lying on a platform, waiting for visitors to stroke its fluffy white fur. This cute robot was developed to provide animal therapy in places like hospitals where live animals are not allowed in. (The museum is currently closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, so check their website before setting off.)

Paro, the baby robot seal at the Miraikan

In the run up to the Olympic, robots provide a great marketing opportunity for companies, so we expect to see more pop-up events and cafés featuring robots soon. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for news and updates!

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