Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Minato Mirai 21 - The Future Is Now

18th August, 2010 - After a long, hot day in at Chinatown and then the Anpanman Museum, we walked over to one of our other favourite places in Yokohama. Minato Mirai 21, a typically Japanese entertainment district / business district / port facility that was developed out of land reclamation of Yokohama harbour. Actually the idea came out of the heady 1960's, when the future of Japan beckoned... but had to wait till the 80's when Japan's finances and near-orgasmic-desire-to-build knew no bounds. And thus, out of the sea was born a concrete and steel vista of grand proportions.

The tourist guide has a lot of information on Minato Mirai 21 here, and there's a lot to see and do (more so than we had time after a very busy day). 

View Tokyo Map in a larger map

Still, it was surprising just how rejuvenating it was for the sun to start setting... and as we approached Minato Mirai, the air cooled (not by much), and yet, the streets became strangely quiet. This part of MM21 is much more business oriented I guess, and by 6:30pm the streets were not quite a ghost town, but by Japanese standards it was pretty close.

Our first stop was World Porters, a large shopping complex on the "island" part of MM.... unfortunately no photos, so Google StreetView has come to the rescue. World Porters has a pretty extensive food court available, and is worth popping (along with the much larger Queens Square Towers).

Care of Google StreetView

Food court's are pretty well the same all over... the only thing that changes is the cost, the crowds and the cuisine (ok... that sort of means that every food court is different).

And if you're interested in what sort of prices food court meals are in Japan... well here you're looking at somewhere between 600 and 800 ¥ - in Aussie Dollars that would be approx AUD $7.50  - $10 based on today's rate (about 80 ¥ for each AUD).... drinks separate. 

Well, there was a pretty good selection here, though we went for something traditional. Steak! That's right people, not all Japanese food is the same. Then again, even a dishes like steak tend to take on a different, asiatic, flavour as you might expect.... and the verdict. Well, coming from Australia, where we like our steak big, thick and juicy, it was... ok.

Next stop was Cosmo World, a small amusement park that sports a couple of smallish roller coasters...
It's nice to see Australia front and centre!

 ...and one BIG Ferris Wheel... oddly named the Cosmo Clock.

From this angle it might seem slightly less odd... but for such a big Ferris Wheel (measuring around 100m) you'd think that putting a relatively small clock would not a HUGE clock make).

And some more gratuitous night shots...

L-kun was still a little tired after his long day...

Now, speaking of BIG... one of Yokohama's popular attractions is the Landmark Tower, which stands approximately 296m in height and is currently (at writing) Japan's tallest building and 3rd tallest structure. That's pretty impressive, given that Japan's constant earthquakes have tended to limit the construction of the super-skyscrapers that have developed around the world (in fact, this is only the 80th or so tallest building in the world today). There's a very good observation deck, known as the Sky Garden, on the 69th floor - and 273m high. This is reached through the fastest elevator in Japan... all designed to get you to the 360 degree panorama as fast as possible. That and to quickly unload you of the ¥1000 per adult (between ¥200 and ¥800 for children depending on the age). As we arrived here very late, we decided to give the Sky Garden a miss this trip.

When there's so many other places to visit - like the Ice World attraction, where you too can experience -30 degree temperatures, all whilst it's a hot sweltering 37degrees (with about 80% humidity) outside. With a wife coming from Sapporo, this was not something that we felt a great desire to experience.

One of the attractions that did interest however was this glorious Carousel as part of the even smaller amusement park, known as the Kids Carnival Zone. It actually astounded me that in the middle of a hot Japanese summer (one of the hottest on record back in 2010) that at 8:30pm, there was almost not a soul to be seen around MM21. I'm not sure if this was a sign of the economy, the weather or just the fickle Japanese punter, but for us it was a great night to be out and about. Even as tired as we were, hot summer nights can be fun. And this carousel captivated me, and my camera.

With such an inviting stairway, who could resist taking a ride?

But there were other things to do... a chat with Anpanman and Doraemon (two of L-kun's favourite Japanese children's anime characters)...

Or perhaps ride on a Baikinman (also a character from Anpanman) car... let's just say that this was one Japanese roadway that wasn't congested. At all.

Just down from the Carnival Zone, there's also a beautiful old four-master, the Nippon Maru, permanently moored in Yokohama harbour as a museum. The ship was made in the 1930's as part of Japan's merchant seaman training program. Eventually it was replaced in the mid 80's and since then has been gracefully educating us land-lubbers. Unfortunately opening hours are 10:00am to 5:00pm - so we'll have to take a rain-check on that as well (¥600 per person for high-school students and above, or ¥300 for younger students).

Heading back towards the Landmark Tower we came across a great little ampitheatre that was the home of some very funny and enjoyable street-performers... definitely worth checking out for some 'free' entertainment, but I'm not sure how regular it is. Right next to the ampitheatre is a wonderful modern sculpture known as the "Moku-Moku Waku-Waku Yokohama Yo-Yo" designed by Hisayuki Mogami in 1994. It, along with the Landmark Tower, is a symbol of the Minato Mirai 21 - which was actually a popularly voted name that means the roughly the Future Port of the 21[st century]. MM21 is a modern development and there's much to like about it... but the name also tells you something more... this is, after all, a working port. As we walked around, it certainly felt more like a business district than a life-centre. But perhaps we saw it on a bad night (it was a Wednesday after all).

So as we made our way back to the train station in the Queens Square Tower complex, it was interesting to reflect on our first full day in Tokyo this trip. It was an amazing day - but also exhausting. As we travelled down one of the longest escalators I've been on (and not that enjoyable for someone who doesn't like heights), I looked up to see a happy care-free Snoopy floating past, suspended mid-stride. There are many things that inspire in Japan, and also things that defy explanation. Japan is an amazing country however, filled with many different possible experiences all able to be enjoyed in a single day. Yokohama is one such place, a short train-ride out of Tokyo (though you may not realise that it's a separate city) that is well worth visiting if you've got a spare day - or night. 

Like many places in Japan, built on the promise of an the inexhaustible Future (during the hey-day of Japan's prosperity) there is a sense of modern exuberance and flamboyance... but as the Future collides with the Now in these places (such as MM21 and Odaiba in Tokyo), you realise that Japan is as much a contradiction in perspective as culture. It was the dream of a cleaner, brighter, taller and stronger tomorrow that drove it to build... but one also can imagine that sometimes, just sometimes, people were not always the most important (or even necessary) in that vision of the future... and then again, sometimes that vision needs to be re-interpreted to meet the needs of an increasingly changing Japan.