Japan Today

5 places to meet a robot in Tokyo

By Aaron Baggett, Tokyo Cheapo

If growing up with anime, video games, "kaiju" flicks and other interests of the like that are suddenly mainstream now that would have once made you a social pariah in high school has taught me anything, it’s that Japan owns the monopoly on robots. That being said, where the heck are the robots? I mean schoolgirls, Pikachu and strange appropriations of English? Sure. You can’t turn around without bumping into those Tokyo staples. But where are the rock 'em, sock 'ems? Where can a cheapo shake hands with a real life future mechanical overlord?

1. Gundam

Towering over the entrance to Odaiba’s Diver City Tokyo stands a 1/1 scale RX-78 V2 Gundam piloted by none other than Amuro Ray. You don’t need to understand that specific string of numbers and letters to know that the Gundam series is kind of a big deal. You don’t even need to particularly care about robots to marvel at the thing. It’s massive! You can watch multiple projection shows between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. featuring characters from the anime in battle, and the cockpit even opens up to reveal old helmet hair himself. True, just its head moves, and it takes a little bit of imagination to enjoy the mock battle, but wow, look at it steam! If the non-mobile suit isn’t doing it for you, then there is only one robotic menace that can match the raw power of a Gundam.

2. Pepper

What the hell is that? It looks like Johnny Five re-engineered by Care Bears. Its name is Pepper? Jesus, Chappie wasn’t this cute. Pepper comes to us from the mobile phone company SoftBank. It can analyze your facial expressions, guess your current mood, and just be an overall cool dude to talk to when you’re feeling bummed out. SoftBank claims Pepper isn’t technically a fully functional robot though, and that Pepper’s purpose is to “enhance lives, facilitate relationships and connect people with the outside world.” All for the low, low price of 198,000 yen. If only there was already some kind of technology that could “inter-connect” people with one another to the outside world. A “net” if you will. Regardless, you can check out Pepper for free at flagship Softbank shops in Ginza and Omotesando, as well as occasionally rolling around Labi Department stores.

3. Asimo

Remember this little guy? It’s been 15 years since Asimo was unveiled to the public, and I got to say, I’m beginning to lose my interest. Back in 2000 we were all flipping out over the thought of having our own little robot butler astronauts walking around, but it’s 2015. I’m jaded from Call of Duty and iPhones. What can Asimo possibly do now that could—holy crap he can open bottles! Well, I’m sold. Bring on retirement if it means mini-cosmonaut here making trips to the fridge for me. Asimo can be found showing off for free at the Honda Welcome Plaza in Aoyama, and according to online reviews the Go-bot is a technological wonder to witness. Demos and picture ops are normally 1:30 and 3:30 on weekdays, and 11:00, 1:30 and 3:00 on weekends, but you should check the calendar of events just to be safe.

4. The Miraikan National Museum of Science and Innovation

The Miraikan National Science Museum in Odaiba boasts a number of fantastic exhibitions dealing in robotic and earth sciences. The aptly named Robot World features the aforementioned Asimo, robotic vehicles, interactive humanoids, and even a robotic baby seal because of course Japan has a cute baby robotic seal. Then, after comforting your new mechanical pinniped friend, experience the horrors of uncanny valley in "Android: What is Human?" To which I answer, who even knows anymore? We just stepped out of "Wall-E" and straight into "West World."

The exhibit features advanced robotic androids so lifelike that they would make Deckard nervous. Kodomoroid is a robot resembling a human child having escaped from a mental ward, which continuously recites world news in multiple languages with a “detached voice.” Which is really what you want to look for in murderbots. Another is Otonaroid, an android that can be operated by visitors while other guest attempt small talk. This is “free conversation mode.” The museum calls the mode in which she silently stares at you making subtle facial expressions “normal” mode. Finally, complete your nightmare by caressing an emotionless and limbless baby crash test dummy named Telenoid, whose neutral appearance “enables people who communicate with it to feel that they are with anyone they wish.”

I am of course being completely facetious in my automatonophobia. The Miraikan National Museum of Science offers visitors a unique opportunity to learn and interact with real life robots (as well as dedicated earth science exhibits). The exhibits do seem to be aimed at kids, but I don’t want to even meet the guy that doesn’t turn seven the moment he comes face to face with a robot. Plus for just 620 yen admission, a cheapo really can’t go wrong. Also, I really feel like we’re just a few years off in technology from marrying meeting my boyhood crush.

5. International Robot Exhibition (Dec 2-5, 2015)

The International Robot Exhibition (IREX) is the largest robot convention in the world. State of the art service and industry robots from all over will be on the show room floor of Tokyo Big Sight to amaze and inspire hope and innovation in mankind for the years to come, or maybe just enslave us all. I can’t be sure. It’s definitely one of the two. The expo sees tens of thousands of consumers and creators alike converge for four days, and in case your picturing something like your high school science fair, the last event that took places in 2013 attracted over 100,000 attendees. There’s a good chance that anything from the robotics world that will makes headlines in the future will probably be seen here first. This year, IREX runs from December 2nd through the 5th, and entry is free if you pre-register, otherwise it’s 1,000 yen at the door. IREX is the real deal for hardcore robotics enthusiast, but casuals will surely find the experience worthwhile. Let’s just hope some robot doesn’t kill everybody.

Read more from TokyoCheapo -- Top 10 Picks for Winter Illuminations in Tokyo -- Where to Buy Inexpensive Makeup in Tokyo -- Where to Go for a Kimono Experience

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6) In the office

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Darn, you beat me to it lostrune2

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