The little boy barely reached midway between my knee and hip. I didn't even know he was there. But as I got off the train, he followed me with big eyes. It was only then that I realised it was him that I felt behind my leg for the entire 30-minute train ride.
That was the worst train ride we’ve had thus far. This time it was me who was the last person to squeeze into the packed car. Like the Japanese, you turn your back to the car and use your hands to push yourself in and away from the closing door. Sometimes with the help of a metro worker pushing you in from the outside. This day it got even worse than the usual. At the very next stop, even more, people stuffed themselves into the train. At that point, it was not even possible to wriggle your foot. You were considered lucky if you were able to move an arm. The upside is that it’s almost impossible to fall over!
After our last couple of weekend excursions, we had decided that weekdays would be better suited to some of our outings. Fellow travellers and locals alike just add too much to the chaos over weekends.
It was Wednesday morning and the sun was shining brightly. It was an absolutely wonderful day and we were looking forward to cruising down the Sumidagawa River by water taxi. We had a nice early start and managed to reach the Azumabashi Waterbus Terminal in Asakusa at around 10 am. The waterbus cruises down the river, passing under 12 bridges before berthing at the Hinode Pier. From there you can take a connecting waterbus to Odaiba which in turn passes under the Rainbow Bridge.
The whole journey takes around 80 minutes and really is lots of fun. As an engineer, Lisa was totally preoccupied with the numerous bridges passing overhead; taking loads of photos in the process. There were very few other people on the boat and we were on our own for most of the journey.
We landed at Odaiba at the Seaside Park moorings and had a coffee on the (man-made) beach.
Daiba, literally meaning "fort", refers to some of the man-made islands in the Bay of Tokyo, which were constructed at the end of the Edo Period for the city's protection against attacks from the sea. During the extravagant 1980s boom in the Japanese economy, a spectacular redevelopment of the islands into a futuristic business district was started, but development was slowed down after the burst of the "bubble economy" in the early 1990s. It was not until the second half of the 1990s, that Odaiba developed into one of Tokyo's more alternative and interesting tourist spots with a highly popular shopping and entertainment district, which it is today. Further development of the area is still underway and can be seen everywhere.
Among the attractions of Odaiba are several shopping and entertainment centres, theme parks, museums and the futuristic architecture and city planning. It’s a different world to the Tokyo we’ve seen thus far.
In Tokyo, it is rare to see daring architecture but in Odaiba, it’s clear that little of the same restrictions ever existed. There is plenty of land available and most of the extravagant buildings seem to be a showroom for the large companies it houses.
We strolled through “Decks”, the first of several big malls which in turn is next to “SEGA Joypolis” an indoor amusement park. The name still puzzles me.
After lunch, we took a stroll to the Statue of Liberty on the beachfront. “Statue of what?” you ask. Yip, the Japanese are at it again. Or so I thought also.
We learnt that the scale model, used by French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi as a blueprint for the Statue of Liberty, were shipped to Tokyo to take part in Japan's yearlong festival of French culture during 1998. The 14-ton statue was divided into six pieces for its month-long journey from Paris, where it is normally on display near a bridge on the Seine River. It was then reassembled at Daiba Beach Park in Tokyo. What I’m not sure of is whether it still is this original model standing there or not. Apparently the original was supposed to be returned to the French the following year. I suppose it’s likely that a replica was then put in its place. Or maybe they kept the original and gave back a replica.
Walking towards one of our primary destinations on Odaiba – The Museum Of Science & Innovation or Miraikan, we noticed how terribly quiet most of the area was. Very little activity in terms of traffic or pedestrians. We studied our travel guide and noticed that some of Odaiba’s attractions are closed on Tuesdays. Oops. Why was I under the impression that today was Wednesday? Bigger oops.
We walked to the museum anyway and stared longingly through the big glass doors before venturing on to our next stop - Palette Town!
Perhaps the most striking of all the landmarks in this area is the massive Ferris wheel, which at 115m is one of the largest in the world. Palette Town brings together a diverse range of attractions. ZEPP TOKYO, right under the Ferris wheel, is one of Tokyo's biggest live music venues and the second floor includes a restaurant with an emphasis on beer.
Between the Ferris wheel and the plaza is MEGA Web, an enormous Toyota showcase. Virtually all of Toyota's leading models are on display here but that is only part of MEGA Web’s appeal. You can actually drive an electric car around the premises and even some yet unreleased models. All the vehicles on display are open and you are free to actually get into the vehicles and check them out. We both tried out a game designed to test F1 driver’s reaction time and hand-eye coordination as well as to drive the rally simulators. I use the term “drive” loosely here because Lisa went into walls more than I could count and eventually ended up driving around the track in the wrong direction. Even the operators, who presumably see a lot of mayhem every day, had a couple of chuckles.
Across from MEGA Web on the second and third floors of West Mall is the extraordinary Venus Fort, which simulates the experience of walking around an 18th-century town in southern Europe. The first level is the Floor of the Sky. The second is the Floor of Alleys. Our stroll on the first level took us past a fountain and on to a plaza in front of a large church. You can also watch as the sky is transformed by the "setting sun" from blue to pink, before ultimately being replaced by a starlit firmament. All of it incredibly cheesy. Apparently the whole mall and its shops were designed specifically to appeal to a woman and it contains mostly fashion and accessory stores.
It turned out to be a fun and interesting day even though we missed out on Miraikan - but we'll return on another day to complete the mission!