Odaiba, Odaiba, two plus two equals Odaiba

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Odaiba_Statue_of_Liberty.jpg

Yesterday was our day trip to Odaiba. Odaiba is a man made island sitting in the middle of Tokyo Harbour. Building started around 1985 and went full steam ahead, spending $10 Billion USD, until 1991 when the housing bubble colapsed. Nothing much happened on Odaiba until it was rezoned for commercial and residential, and now there’s a few crazy buildings and a little bit of empty space.

That about sums up the Wikipedia entry on Odaiba. We took the Sobu local line to Akihabara, and then caught the Yamanote line to Shinbashi. Little did we know that the Asakusa Subway line also happens to go from Asakusabashi directly to Shinbashi. Either way, from Shinbashi you can connect to the Yurikamome, which is the New Transit Waterfront Line.

The Yurikamome is a driverless train, and is pretty much fully automatic. The train pops up to the station, the station doors open, the train doors open, and you pop inside, and then they all close, and all so politely, and then it’s off to the next station. I did wonder why the monorail at Ueno Zoo wasn’t fully automatic, considering it just goes back and forth over 300 meters – what’s the driver have to do? We still on the rail – check. Are we moving – continue to end. Are we at the end – start moving.

Anyways, we took the Rainbow Bridge over to Odaiba. The views of the harbour are really awesome, well worth the 300 yen or so to catch the Yurikamome. The train line crosses below the bridge and does a 270 degree turn before going on the bridge, showing you most of the harbour. Everything looked big and constructed, and felt like man was dominating over nature very much. The water in the harbour looked a little rough – floating scum and all.

Finally we made it to Daiba station. After existing, to your left is a little Statue of Liberty. Pretty much like the one in New York, but about 3m tall.

After that, we walked to the Fuji TV Broadcasting building. For 500 yen you can catch an elevator to the top of the building (25 floors) or you could just catch the free elevator to the 24th floor…

The view was much the same as the view from the train – but a little taller. The Japanese have really just domainated the landscape, they’ve terraformed the land, to the point where they’re creating land where they wasn’t any before.

There’s a whole bunch of pretty tacky gifts and things you can buy, and there’s a free green screen where you can read a Japanese story and appear on a television. About my only regret on the trip is not doing this, but alas, I’ll come back.

After the Fuji TV building, we then headed to Venus Fort. Venus Fort is a large most woman-only shopping center in the middle of Odaiba. The entire second floor is dedicated to woman’s stores, Zara, Burbery, Lego. Well, the Lego store was pretty cool for guys as well, but the rest of it was just for women. We did head up to the third floor for an Italian Lunch Set meal – a light pizza for Kathryn, and a Shrimp Spaghetti for myself, two coffees and a salad for 2700 yen. Not too bad.

After that we headed to the History Garage where you can see a pretty impressive free car museum. What it’s doing in the middle of a woman’s mall I don’t know – it’s probably the place where husbands and boyfriends go to hang out. I didn’t see any women in it. Anyways, if you’re a fan of old Japanese or American cars, like the original Skyline GT-R, or Ford Mustangs, then you’ll get a kick out of this place. One of my highlights had to be the VW Kombi Van, and also the Treuno from the Initial D Movie.

The bottom floor of Venus Fort was pretty good, with shops for both men and women, and dogs. Weirdly, dogs are allowed in the bottom floor of Venus Fort, but all the dogs I saw were about 30cm or smaller, so not to worry. I headed into the Second Hand Clothing store, where everything was 735 yen. While I did pass on the sweet Dennis Rodman naked t-shirt, I did find myself an old school vintage Adidas sweat shirt. I think it’s sweet, and Kathryn hates it.

Meanwhile, Kathryn was hanging out in the Games store – much like Timezone, except say 10 times bigger. One of the games was like pinball but without bumpers, and was similar to Pachinko. Kathryn not knowing what to do managed to win 22 coins, which was pretty impressive, all from 100 yen. I managed to lose about 400 yen doing nothing. I even lost 200 yen while waiting for a drink by doing one of those crappy lift a panda out of a box thing. It didn’t work.

That was it for Venus Fort. The next port of call was the Toyota Showroom. There is truckloads to see and do in here, if you like cars. I did, so we went in. Probably the highlight was E-Com, which for 200 yen each is an electronic commuter car that drives itself. We jumped it, pressed the Start-o button, and then headed around the building. Well fun, and good to see a car that doesn’t require steering. It was a little disconcerning when it stopped for no aparent reason, but it started back up again without problems. Also in the Toyota Showroom was a driving simulator showing what it would be like to drive a car with and without Toyota’s safety technologies. I was rubbish and managed to crash heaps of times, and also get stuck up a hill. It was awesome, and free.

Between the two Toyota buildings is a big ferris wheel. It used to be the biggest in the world until recently, with the Millenium Eye overtaking it in size, but it’s still awfully impressive. Then entrance fee was 600 yen, and you can choose between a normal gondola, or a transparent one. We picked a transparent one, and waited the four minutes it takes for one to come along. After getting in, we started freaking out on our way up. It gets pretty tall, and being able to see up, down, left, and right means a lot of information going to your brain saying this may not pan out so well. However, the views from the wheel were amazing, you really got to see most of the city from the point of view of Odaiba. The new bridges being built, the thousands of trucks at the port, just the general bustle of Tokyo.

We then headed into the Design building. This showcases how the design of cars happens. I didn’t know that the engineers specifically made sure that engines make different sounds depending on the type of car – it’s no accident that sports cars sound different to luxury sedans. Chairs that adjust in 8 different places, radar bumpers that sense people, and dashboards specifically designed so 70 year old people can see them, a lot more goes into the design of a car than I thought. If you have an international drivers license and are wearing closed shoes, you can take any of the latest Toyota cars for a test drive here for free.

After that, we walked towards the Tokyo Big Sight, which is a famous convention center in Odaiba. It looks like four upside down pyramids, and the architecture (like most of the buildings on Odaiba) is simply beyond belief. Very impressive. We walked past a wedding venue place, which is like an old romantic village, specifically designed to have weddings in – but built right in the middle of the city. I can just imagine the cost of having your white wedding in a place that appears to be rural, when in New Zealand having your wedding in a rural setting seems to be something of the norm.

Finally we caught another Yurikimome back to Shimbashi Station, then back to Anne Hostel for the night.

We did however finally eat something that was remotely Japanese – Yakitori. Yaki means sauce, and Tori chicken, so Saucy Chicken Kebabs. For the records, Teriyaki means Glaze Sauce. Anyways, we went to a little Yakitori bar about five minutes walk from our house. The place only has about eight seats, but the Yakitori was good (for 190 yen each). All the food and beer names and prices were in Katakana, but thankfully my poor Japanese managed to get us through asking for roku-yakitori, and ni-gohan – six yakitoris, and two bowls of rice. They did sell beer here as well, a bottle of Corona going for about 500 yen. A weird beer to see is the clear beers, brewed to be transparent. Why, I don’t even know.