Sunday, October 21, 2012

Odaiba - City of Lost and Found Dreams

20th August, 2010 - Today was going to be a bit of a strange day for us... we were visiting friends. Well, I should say my wife, T-chan was visiting her Japanese friend who had recently returned to Japan with her Australian husband and son (and who were living in Saitama, but commuting into Tokyo). It had been a while since they had caught up in Adelaide, so had planned a girls afternoon out. Not really having anything in mind for the boys, the idea of basing all of ourselves in Odaiba came to mind....

The island sits off to the east of Shinagawa, and is famously connected to one end of the Rainbow Bridge...and is often reached using the equally (in)famous Tokyo monorail. 

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Odaiba is an artificial island in Tokyo Bay and was initially developed at the end of the Japan's introspective Tokugawa (Edo) era... to defend Edo (Tokyo) against the threat of the Western nations. However, the promise of protection was short-lived and Japan capitulated against the threat of the American "Black Ships" of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853. The islands were grown further through reclamation, converted to a port, then finally in the heady days of the 90's was decided to become a mini-megapolis within the mega-megapolis (a plan that had grown in the 60's dream of the perfect post-industrialised society). Supposedly the development was going to house 100,000 people.. which to my mind is hard to believe (it's only 1.5 x 2.8km in size... so that's some serious population density, and hardly my idea of social perfection). Thankfully (or not) the Japanese economy collapsed, in a giant bursting of the property market bubble, and much of the audacious (or crazy, or both) plans for Tokyo were suddenly put very much on the back burner. Odaiba the city within a city was one of those cancelled plans.

Now Odaiba sits amidst Tokyo Bay, a beacon for dreams lost, not really knowing what it is. There's a strong mix of the recreational and the industrial. Neither reality really dominating. But there area a few things are noteworthy. For instance Venus Fort which is a paper-mache style shopping mall, highlighting the best of chic (or is that cliche) Japanese tradition. And who could forget Daikanransha in Palette Town, the 100+m Ferris Wheel that is one of the night-time highlights of Tokyo.... perched alongside the Rainbow Bridge.

Then there's a number of smaller themed attractions, like the Toyota Megaweb (no, it's not an 24x7 booth of  youtube Toyota commercials... it's one of their promotional halls for future tech stuff). One of the highlights is the trumpet playing robot - though it's been blowing tunes out for the last decade or so. Actually, it only has a few shows every day, each lasting for a few minutes only. Miss it and you've got to wait a long time. Both my son and I were looking forward to seeing it, but  it left us a little disappointed (does it do anything else, Daddy?)

From a musical robot to an automotive one... you can jump into one of the autonomous cars that drives around the centre. It's an odd drive, sitting there watching the car do it's thing. Was very tempting to see if I couldn't grab the wheel and score really amazing souvenir of the day... Once again it's sort of neat, but technology hasn't stood still - like Odaiba - and this is now a little old hat.

And it wouldn't be Tokyo, and Odaiba, if it didn't have the obligatory "high tech" concept vehicles. Hmmm Toyota... I think I might stick with our Yaris (or Vitz as it's known in Japan) for our second car. It may be small, but at least it can fit more than a slightly emaciated gender challenged alien mannequin in it. 

I wonder if people in 30 years time will look back at these designs and wonder what the hell we were all on...

Need I say more?.... I can see this would make walking to the cafes all that more enjoyable (as long as it came with a cup holder).

But of course, it's not just futuristic vehicles that sets Odaiba apart... the landscape screams futurism, with a vast array of experimental avante-garde architectural wonders from the period of Japanese design where the world must have seemed to have only one purpose - to be a playground for architects to have fun in. Actually, there's more buildings than I could poke a stick at, all very interesting indeed... and these are just a sample of them.

Telecom Centre

Fuji TV

Close up of Observation Deck in the Fuji TV building

Tokyo Big Sight Convention Centre


Now, there's another post coming, specifically on the Miraikan (above)... but I'll end this post by saying that Odaiba is one of Tokyo's confusing moments. A social-experiment-turned-theme-park-turned-some-times-graveyard. There's lots to do here, but also, it can feel like there's not much going on. I'm sure there's crowds, but the day we went, there weren't that many people at all walking around (I later found out where they were)....

It's worth visiting if you've got a spare day in the itinerary, and the weather's good. The dream of a the perfect city-within-a-city was lost, but they found another dream. The dream of a time when the economy was strong enough to be adventurous and bold. Even that dream has become elusive... but we found a way to at least see what the dream looked like in Odaiba.