You can feel it in the air. Summer is winding down. For people in and around Tokyo, you may be ready for the heat and stickiness to be over, so you're just looking for somewhere that's cool to spend some time. Or maybe you still want a little more beach time, but don't have time to travel too far from the city.
Odaiba, the island just across the Rainbow Bridge from Tokyo, is a great place to spend a late summer day. There are outdoor activities and attractions for those who want them, as well as comfortably air-conditioned shopping, museums, amusements and more.
Sitting on reclaimed land at the mouth of the Sumida River, just a few decades in existence, Odaiba could rightfully be called one of Tokyo's newest neighborhoods. But in fact, the reclamation was begun by the Tokugawa shogunate in the 1850s when six man-made islands were created in Tokyo Bay as gun emplacements intended to protect the city from foreign attack. Two have been preserved intact as a park and a nature preserve, while the others have disappeared in further postwar landfill projects resulting in Odaiba.
Many of Odaiba's offices and business buildings, such as the Fuji Television headquarters designed by Kenzo Tange and Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, are gleaming examples of futuristic architecture. The Yurikamome Line's fully automated elevated train contributes to the overall sense of modernity, as does the wide availability of free Wi-Fi.
Outdoor things to do
Odaiba Seaside Park: A strip of greenery and sand facing the Rainbow Bridge, you can enjoy the beach, beach volleyball, and even windsurfing. Wading is permitted, but alas swimming is not.
Statue of Liberty: When France gave the Statue of Liberty to the United States, it made a quarter-scale (22 meters) replica which was placed overlooking the River Seine in Paris. In 1998, Paris loaned that statue to Tokyo for a year and she was placed at the west end of Odaiba Seaside Park. She proved to be so popular that when it was time for her to go home to Paris, a 12.25-meter replica took her place in Odaiba.
Shiokaze Park: This beautifully planned park on the west end of the Odaiba island facing Tokyo Bay will be the site of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic beach volleyball competition. But for now, content yourself with greenery, spacious walkways and nice views over the bay toward Tokyo's port area. The park is divided into two areas, north and south, bisected by the Wangan Expressway. The north area is better. Must see spots are Sunset Tower (Yuhi no to) -- the sun sets between its spires on the equinoxes -- and the sculpture known as "Sunday Afternoon at Shiokaze Park", which sits on the Coast Deck. The cleverly constructed sculpture changes its depiction depending on the position of the viewer.
Daiba Park: One of the two original gun emplacements, then known as the No. 3 Battery, this green park has been joined to Odaiba by a causeway. The outlines of the original fortification, as well as some of the foundations and cannon mounts can still be seen. Great views across the water to the rest of Odaiba, too!
Rainbow Bridge: Connecting Odaiba to the "mainland" since 1993, the Rainbow Bridge has become a Tokyo icon. Pedestrians can make the 1.5-kilometer crossing on the north or south side of the bridge from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer (10 a.m. to 6 p.m .in winter). The nearest train station on the Tokyo side is JR Tamachi.
Indoor things to do
Decks: A shopping mall, to be sure, but much, much more. Don't miss the Showa retro shops and amusements (including a "takoyaki museum") on the 4th floor of the "Seaside Mall". Besides the shopping and restaurants -- great views from the upper levels and al fresco dining on the deck level -- amusements include Madame Tussaud's wax museum (2,300 yen from Sept 1, with discounts for online purchase and after 5 admission), Legoland Discovery Center (2,300 yen, with discounts for on-line purchase and parent/toddler paired tickets) and Joypolis, a futuristic indoor amusement park (all inclusive "passport": 4,300 yen, with discounts after 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.; or just purchase admission (800 yen) and pay separately per ride).
AQUA CiTY: More shopping and restaurants -- because you can never have too much of either! Among the restaurants is a group of ramen shops that form the ramen theme park: Tokyo Ramen Kokugikan Mai. There is also a 13-screen multiplex movie theater, a shrine, and Sony ExploraScience -- a hands-on science experience for children (adults, 500 yen; children, 300 yen).
Fuji TV HQ: Various parts of this futuristic building are open to the public. The "Hachitama" observation platform on the 25th floor, inside the sphere, is especially fun on a clear day (adults, 550 yen; children 300 yen). One level down you can visit the set of morning variety show "Mezamashi TV" (when recording is not in progress). The 7th floor roof top garden, accessed from ground level by a series of long escalators, gives visitors an excellent perspective on the building's design. On the 5th floor is Fuji TV Wonder Street, a free exhibition of memorabilia of various Fuji TV programs. Throughout the complex there are also ... predictably ... shops and restaurants, albeit with a Fuji TV theme.
DiverCity Tokyo Plaza: More shops and restaurants, including many brand names and duty free shops aimed at foreign visitors. One of the most interesting features here is the "life size" statue of Gundam standing outside the complex at the bend in the "West Promenade" green space that runs east and south from here.
Museum of Maritime Science: The museum is in a building shaped like the Queen Elizabeth II ocean liner that is currently closed for renovation (re-opening date currently unknown), but the icebreaker Soya that is moored alongside the museum is open to explore. Admission is free, but a donation is requested. You can also rent kayaks from here.
Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science): Another of Odaiba's futuristic buildings, and this one is full of futuristic concepts. Chances to interact with cutting edge science and technology to learn more about our planet and its place in the cosmos, as well as various technological innovations. Meet Asimo, the robot, and ask an android if she dreams of electric sheep, too. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Tuesdays). Admission: 620 yen (adults) and 210 yen (children). Be sure to download the free "Miraikan Notebook" app for an audio guide and other features to enhance your visit.
Telecom Center: A communications hub housed in another of Odaiba's futuristic buildings, visitors can ascend to the observation deck (500 yen) for expansive views, though not as good as the views from Fuji TV.
Oedo Onsen Monogatari: This is a giant bath house decorated to look like old Edo. With foot baths, saunas, massage and aesthetic treatments, games, restaurants and souvenir shops as well as the usual hot springs baths, both indoor and outdoor, one can really relax and forget the outside world. Open all night, this can be a handy place if you get stuck on the island for some reason. Between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m., there are also shuttle buses running to Tokyo Teleport Station, Shinagawa Station and Tokyo Station (Yaesu Side). 2,480 yen on weekdays; 2,680 yen on weekends with discounts for late entry and a surcharge for overnight stays.
Venus Fort: Yet another mall full of shops and restaurants, the main floor, Venus Grand, is decorated to look like Renaissance Italy, complete with a statue of David. The ceilings are painted with clouds and the light changes periodically to represent the passage of time. The top level is an outlet mall and the lower level focuses on family and lifestyle goods. Play with the puppies at the pet store.
Toyota Mega Web: Toyota's "Car Theme Park" offers a chance to get acquainted with just about any Toyota car you like. Sit in them to get a feel; ask wandering attendants about them. In the "Ride Studio," it's possible to test drive the Toyota vehicle of your choice with up to 5 passengers, for just 300. Advance online reservations (http://www.megaweb.gr.jp) and a valid Japanese or international driver's license required. Also be sure to check out History Garage (actually located in Venus Fort), a free museum of cars, particularly from the 1950s to 1970s (with some exceptions).
Leisureland/Ferris Wheel: Just behind Mega Web is Odaiba's giant (115 meters) ferris wheel (920 yen). If you really like heights, there are a limited number of glass-bottomed cabins. Leisureland is another indoor amusement park with games, a bowling alley and batting cages. There is also a ninja illusion house, a haunted house and...you guessed it...food.
Getting there and getting around
Bayside Shuttle: A free shuttle bus running a circuit around the island every 20 minutes with stops at Tokyo Teleport Station, DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, Hilton Tokyo Odaiba, Aquacity Odaiba, Fuji TV, Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba, Aomi Rinji Parking, Miraikan, Fuji TV Wangan Studio and Palettetown/Venusfort. There are busses approximately every 20 minutes between 11:30 and 19:30.
Community Cycle: Shared bicycles are becoming quite popular across Tokyo and Odaiba is particularly suited to them, with a dozen "ports" across the island. There are various rental plans from a single ride of up to 30 minutes to a one day pass. If you're a registered Community Cycle user in any of several cooperating municipalities, you needn't re-register to use these.
Yurikamome Line: The fully automated train that serves Odaiba from Shimbashi, this is a great way to get to various parts of Odaiba.
Rinkai Subway Line: The JR Saikyo line becomes the Rinkai line from Osaki and runs under Tokyo Bay to reach Odaiba and goes beyond to terminate in JR Shin-Kiba.
Suijo Bus: There are a number of ferries running from Hinoda Pier near Hamamatsucho Station up the Sumida River and across the river to various parts of Odaiba, including Odaiba Seaside Park and Palette Town (the Venus Fort/Mega Web district of Odaiba)© Japan Today