Veteran employee has been quietly serving customers for decades.

Japan has no shortage of beautiful and unique restaurants. Whether you’re relaxing in a cafe built into the boughs of a tree or chowing down on Moogle-shaped desserts in an eatery with Final Fantasy weaponry on the walls, every meal out is an opportunity for a memorable culinary experience.

So you might be kind of surprised to know that recently we stopped by this extremely drab-looking restaurant in Okayama City, called Shinju, for lunch.

Shinju’s plain sign simply says the name of the restaurant plus its specialty: Kansai-style okonomiyaki (a sort of flat-grilled pancake/crepe). Had we been in charge of making the sign, though, it surely would have had “THERE’S A ROBOT WORKING IN THIS RESTAURANT” written in the largest font we could fit, and Shinju’s techno-employee is the reason we chose to eat there.

But our sci-fi fantasies were splashed with a cold dose of reality as we stepped inside the building and were greeted by a human employee. As she led us to our table, we took a look around and saw that not only is Shinju’s interior design not futuristic, it’s not even particularly modern. Instead, it looks like something out of a 1970s TV drama playing on the TV in a barbershop on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

There is one unique point to the interior design, though, Running down the center of the restaurant is an elevated pathway that dead-ends at the back wall. While we were deciding what to order, though, two panels in the wall opened up…

…and Shinju’s robot finally made its appearance!

“Welcome,” it said in Japanese as it approached our table. “Thank you for waiting. Please take these,” the robot continued, turning to extend a tray with glasses of water and hot towels for us.

▼ It looks a little like R2-D2 (wearing a knock-off Minnie Mouse hat), making us wonder if “a galaxy far, far away” was actually referring to Okayama.

Once we’d taken the items off the tray, the robot displayed its admirable work ethic by turning around and heading back into the kitchen to await its next task.

That wouldn’t be the last we’d see of the machine servant, though. After placing our order with the human waitress, she relayed it to the kitchen, and in moments the robot was dispatched again.

In addition to the English proclaiming the metal waiter to be the “number-one robo,” the Japanese text warns customers not to touch the robot, for safety reasons.

▼ And it’s a good thing they told us, because otherwise we would’ve just immediately started patting it on the head.

Since Shinju is a Kansai-style (as opposed to Hiroshima-style) okonomiyaki restaurant, customers cook their food themselves on flat grills set into each table. Because of that, the robot’s second delivery was of our uncooked ingredients in bowls.

We were sad to see it go as it whirred away and we got to work. Luckily, though, the robot serves the entire restaurant, so we got to watch it take care of other customers too, brining food to their tables and smiles to their faces.

▼ Trust us, there are smiles under those privacy-protecting blurs.

▼ Our finished (and delicious) Shinju Special, with pork, shrimp, squid, and plenty of bonito flakes, all for 700 yen (US$6.30).

Feeling a little confused by the contrast between Shinju’s outdated vintage decor and high-tech waitstaff, on our way out we asked the human cashier how long the robot has been working at the restaurant. “Oh, it’s got to be more than 40 years now,” she told us. In other words, by the time Rocky IV gave it’s titular protagonist a robo-maid, Shinju’s robot had already been on the job for years, dutifully coming in to work every day and, because this is Japan, never asking for a tip.

Restaurant information
Shinju / 真珠
Address: Okayama-ken, Okayama-shi, Higashi-ku, Higashi Hirajima 87
Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Closed first and third Monday of each month

Photos ©SoraNews24
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