TOKYO BAY AREA
Everybody knows that Japan is an island country, but it is often forgotten that Tokyo is itself a major maritime city.
Indeed, the ‘new’ area today known as “Tokyo Waterfront City” is even attracting as many tourists as Shinjuku, Ginza and Asakusa – all stalwarts of the tourist industry in Japan’s capital.
The Yurikamome Line was completed in March of 2005 and now includes stops at Shiodome, Odaiba, and Toyosu – 3 of the main areas on Tokyo’s waterfront now pulling in the crowds.
Shiodome, long ago served as a samurai residential district and was subsequently named with this function in mind – ‘shio’ meaning ‘tide’ and ‘dome’ stopping – the term can be translated as ‘embankment’; a service the samurai here provided for Edo castle; the current Imperial Palace. In 1872 this area was developed as the starting point of the first railway in Japan, and now its redevelopment is proceeding. (* Shimbashi Station as the starting point is not the current Shimbashi station, rather it was in Shiodome.)
The name of Odaiba is itself derived from a series of military batteries (Daiba) that stood here around 150 years ago fully equipped with cannon pointing seaward to ward off unwelcome visitors.
Toyosu (meaning “rich ground”) meanwhile is an industrial region formerly centering on shipbuilding but now looking more towards serving as a residential-cum-start-up business area. Like a young teen, Toyosu is still growing and in the process of settling down.
Bay Area… TV stations
Odaiba in 1997, Shiodome in 2003 – the years in which two of Japan’s biggest private TV stations moved to the Tokyo Bay Area – in the process forming the two largest businesses and shopping complexes in the area. Today, many Japanese tourists visit just to view events they can actually watch at home on television but even if you know little or nothing about Japanese TV the instructions provided do make the events and sights you see easy to understand and enjoyable.
At Shiodome, in the center of the Shiodome Sio-site (a business & shopping complex) stands Nippon Television with its full complement of shops, restaurants, and cafes. Of particular interest to many is an increasingly popular ramen (Chinese noodle) restaurant – have a look for the long lines come lunchtime as they await a helping of “Shiodome Ramen” with its rich and unique taste.
“Well, it’s pretty futuristic here,” said one Italian walking around Odaiba when I asked him for his opinion of the area. Later, a group of visiting Taiwanese I was able to talk to at Palette Town informed me that their own image was one of “science and technology” or “a district on the advanced side of life.”
And when you look up the sky, running almost above there is the “Yurikamome”: – a forward looking train if ever there was one running without a driver and fitted with rubber tires to cut noise to a bare minimum. Indeed, the whole Yurikamome system is so completely automated that should you be able to sit at the very front, the view enjoyed by a driver on similar systems elsewhere will be yours alone to enjoy.
*The Yurikamome 1-day Pass can be purchased for 800 yen (adult fare) and permits unlimited stops around the Tokyo Bay Area. For more information about the Yuri-kamome, call 03-3529-7221 (English option available, 9am-5pm on weekdays), or check their homepage at: http://www.yurikamome.co.jp
The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) is the tip of the iceberg in Japanese science and technology. Separated into 4 areas, it is known for offering such a level of interaction with a humanoid robot ASIMO that visitors can quite easily imagine the day a robot becomes a ‘member’ of the family. Records of the early days of deep sea and outer space exploration is another popular attraction with its space station mock module which enables those entering the chance to feel just like an astronaut if only for a short time. Above hangs a globe-shaped display reflecting the image of the earth, which seems to underline the importance of “coexistence with Mother Nature.” The museum is just 4 minutes on foot from Telecom Center Station.
As much as it would thus far appear, the Tokyo Bay Area is not all future and forward looking. Walk just 2 minutes in another direction from the Telecom Center Station and you will reach the extremely popular “Oedo-Onsen Monogatari” with its range of baths and of course ‘onsen’ (hot springs). Take a bath, (everything you need is provided) and in the process relax your tired body. Several types of Japanese cuisine can be sampled in the facility so why not go the whole hog and eat after bathing.
For more local history, get off the train at Odaiba Kaihin Koen Station, walk into “Daiba 1-chome Shotengai” (on the 4th floor of DECKS Tokyo Beach shopping complex) and you will come across a scene reminiscent of Japan in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The 1960s birth of the Shinkansen (bullet train), classrooms as they once stood and even a well for drawing water are all displayed for those fond of the ‘I remember when…’ catchphrase.
A short stroll, (around 5 minutes) from Shiodome lies Hamarikyu Teien, a former garden reserved for Japan’s ruling elite. A sea of green in a vast ocean of concrete, it is the perfect place to relax and recuperate. A huge pond, walking areas and colorful scenery – depending on when you visit – this park is for the adults rather than the kids. Visitors can enjoy macha (powdered green tea) and sweets inside the small building at the center of the pond – accessed via a wooden walkway.
Past and future, two opposite aspects of humanity co-exist with some interesting results so why not sample a bit of both and learn a little of the history of Japan while you are at it?
For generations Tokyoites took to the water to get around. Numerous canals once served as transportation arteries in eastern Tokyo in particular so why not go the way of the early residents of the area and try modern day sightseeing from the water? A number of Suijo Buses crisscross the bay with popular routes starting off from Odaiba, Toyosu and Ariake etc. There is no need to book in advance and if in the mood or heading that way, why not ride the ‘bus’ up to Asakusa in the heart of Tokyo’s shitamachi downtown area.
Other services are available from Palette Town (Aomi Station), The Museum of Maritime Science (Fune-no-Kagakukan Station) or Hinode Pier (Hinode Station) but to check: http://www.suijobus.co.jp is your friend.
Are you traveling with your family? If so, “KidZania” in the LaLaport shopping complex in Toyosu may be for you. Using Japanese, kids can now experience various jobs – pilot, doctor, artist etc and ‘earn’ a little money that can then go on buying something they want or in exchange for locally provided services. A full 5 hour programme enables the adults of tomorrow to learn a valuable lesson today – one that may just help them understand the life of us larger folk a little more.
Alternatively, for those more into the open air and outdoors, “Odaiba Kaihin Koen (beach park)” may be for you. Play games, walk around or just sit and enjoy the view. Fishing is also permitted for a limited number as is beach volleyball.
Another recommended park would be Shiokaze Park near Daiba station. With advance bookings, even barbecues can be held – a rarity in Japan.
A Shopping Paradise
Need to buy some souvenirs for the family and friends back home? Odaiba has it all and then some in a range of themed shopping complexes – enjoy the browsing.
The Shiodome Sio-site is jam packed full of entertainment options and among them the Gekidan Shiki Theaters stand tall with a range of shows on offer throughout the year. For the peckish – Western, Japanese and Chinese cuisine is also on offer.
Aqua City Odaiba:
Accessed directly from Daiba Station, all in the area is not technology and shopping some may be pleased to know. For the culinary types, Odaiba’s Aqua City is the place to go although a wonderful ‘down-side’ is the experience of having to choose from 50 (yes – 50!) restaurants all offering different takes on food from around the world. Sushi, Japanese, Western, Italian, Chinese, Korean barbeque and ramen in the ‘Ramen Kokugikan’ (a ramen based theme park); all are served here and alongside the cafes scattered around and even a food court – little you could hope to sample will be noticeable by its absence. Plus, everything comes with the globally famous backdrop of Tokyo Bay.
With over 80 shops selling a unique variety of goods, fashion related items, food, and souvenirs you won’t be disappointed. The shops have a wide range of interesting goods for children and adults alike and take into account both genders. Useful, and easy to understand floor guides are available in English, Chinese and Korean and announcements in the facilities are made in English, Chinese and Korean as well as Japanese.
The Mediage Theater contains 13 screens and is one of the largest theaters in Tokyo. Visit the Science Museum to see Sony’s latest digital technology and for products currently available to the public – head to the showroom.
On Wednesdays in Japan, the fairer sex can enjoy ‘Ladies Day’ with its discounts on movie tickets. Cinema Mediage is no different to the nationwide norm and in offering a number of other benefits at Aqua City Odaiba. Enjoy it ladies.
DECKS Tokyo Beach:
In the heart of this huge amusement arcade stands a new theme park: Mustle Park. Newly opened this past December, why not pay it a visit after shopping or work?
For a modern Japanese take on the buildings and streets of Europe around the 17th & 18th centuries, all housing shops or dining options – this is it.
Opened on October 5th 2006, LaLaport, home to 190 shops and restaurants continues to play its part as the symbol of the ongoing redevelopment of the Toyosu area.
“So, what do you think about this place?” I asked a Portuguese guy standing waiting for a train. “Fantastic! … though a little bit cold” he answered. Yes, it is winter now so don’t forget to wrap up warm if you will follow in my footsteps on this Yurikamome trip!