Day 8: Odaiba, 115m above the ground in a fishtank

Trip Start Nov 23, 2011
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10
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Trip End Dec 15, 2011


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What I did
Fuji TV Building
Aqua City Odaiba
Rainbow Bridge
Venus Fort
Toyota Megaweb
Odaiba Ferris Wheel

Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We're exhausted. It was a busy one today. Not content with travelling halfway across Japan, we decided to also continue the day with an extensive wander around the largest captive audience tourist attraction in Tokyo, the man-made island of Odaiba (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odaiba).

The day started out with packing the last of our bags, folding up our futon mattresses, and getting the hell out of the Budget Inn in Kyoto. Don't get me wrong, it isn't the worse place we've stayed (well, it is on this trip, but I digress) but it wasn't clean, wasn't well positioned with the exception of it's proximity to the train station, and it was overpriced. Oh well. Win some, lose some. 

Battling through the crowds at Kyoto station "The Ants" as the girls now call them, we found a ticket office, and booked our seats on the 8am Shinkansen to Yokohama, over 2 hours away. With 45 minutes to kill before our train we found a coffee shop for strange breakfast sandwiches (such as a "hamburger" which was half a sandwich with a very thick cooked but cold beef pattie and bbq/teriyaki sauce. No I'm not kidding), croissants, toast, boiled eggs and rocket fuel masquerading as iced coffee (I really have to stop ordering the stuff. You'd think I'd learn by now).

With our unusual, expensive and overpriced breakfast out of the way, we made our way up to the platform and waited for our train to arrive, exactly on time, to the second. I'm still enjoying the novelty of bullet train rides, even though the fog was so thick today that any worthwhile scenery that was screaming past was completely obscured. One thing I didn't enjoy was the heat inside the train. In what seemed to be more of a pattern than a coincidence, while the temperature today was in the mid teens (cool, but quite comfortable) sitting inside the train felt like a tanning salon. For some reason the Japanese think this is normal. Again we stripped off all clothing that we were legally allowed, and started fanning ourselves with whatever solid fannish instruments we could find. We were the only ones doing so, which makes me wonder why we Australians, who in theory should have a higher tolerance for heat, notice this temperate stupidity more than the natives. 

After stepping out of the 250km/h mobile sauna, we walked to our hotel (another Toyoko Inn) and checked in, at around 11:30am, only to turn and head straight back out the door and back to Shin-Yokohama station to get a light lunch because we weren't sure when we would be eating again, and then onwards towards Odaiba. 

Veronica, I think, hates Tokyo. I don't find the crowds any different to any other city. From what I've seen, if anything, Kyoto is worse. She's still nervous though. Our trip today involved 2 train swaps at Tokyo train stations to get from Shin-Yokohama to Odaiba. Despite Veronica's fears, we handled them like pro's, and were soon disembarking on the manmade island of Odaiba. 

Our final train journey on the Yokohama --> Odaiba journey is worth a special mention. The train that connects Odaiba to Tokyo is a fully automated, electric, driverless train, which runs on rubber wheels instead of tracks. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yurikamome). I thought this was cool. I still can't understand why Veronica wasn't as impressed as I was. 

My first impression of Odaiba was that it was, in comparison with every other tourist attraction on this trip, fairly empty. We wandered through a few of the waterfront shopping arcades looking at different shops, with plenty to keep the 3 girls entertained, while I struggled to resist the urge to swim back across the bay to Tokyo. The only notable mention in these first stores was a Le-Mans car display set up, which housed a Le-Mans winning 1924 Bentley, Ferrari 330 and D Type Jaguar. Many millions of dollars worth of machinery, and again I seemed to be the only one impressed by this.

Leaving the shopping behind, we headed across the road to the Fuji TV building (http://www.happyjappy.com/tokyo/odaiba/fuji_tv_building.html). This unusually shaped building, while visually impressive, with a giant ball and lots of shiny surfaces, I think loses lots in translation. The entire tour involves the tourist paying their entry fee, being trainsported to the 25th floor to the inside of the giant ball, and then working their way down through Fuji TV halls of memorabilia and pictures of celebrities, obviously from the network. Now the views I can understand, they are universal, and quite nice, but the rest of the tour, not knowing or recognising anyone or anything plastered on the walls as we made our way down from the 25th floor, made this a pretty dull amusement. The kids were kept entertained by a book requiring stamping at specific points on the tour, after which they would receive a "present" at the end. So while we took some pictures, and then did our best to work towards the exit, they ran from stamp booth to stamp booth collecting stamps, looking forward to their reward at the end. After a very long and frustrating walk through a big shiny building we emerged, and the girls triumphantly presented their stamp books. The excited cashier handed each girl a small blue plastic clip (like a spring loaded paper clip). That's it. The girls looked at their clips, then at me, then at the cashier, then at me again. Angela (uncensored as always) exclaimed, in her loudest most disgruntled voice: "IS THIS ALL WE GET????". I sincerely hope the Fuji staff behind the counter were able to understand English.  

After leaving the Fuji building, it became apparent that Odaiba was essentially abandoned. Everywhere we'd read talked about how popular a tourist and shopping destination the island was, and yet we were able to walk for literally 20 minutes from the Fuji TV building another section of the island, palette town, without seeing another person. We wondered whether the island had closed while we were inside the Fuji building, but after half an hour of wandering we eventually made it to palette town, and found some other people. Not many, but a few.

While Palette Town sounds like a giant costco style factory outlet store where all products are sold off palettes, it is just a varied, and quite attractive, shopping arcade. After coffees, the girls decided to explore some of the more girly stores, while I decided to go off and wander around Toyota Megaweb (http://www.megaweb.gr.jp/About/en.html). Megaweb is, for the most part, a giant car yard where Toyota show off each of their new models, and congratulate themselves for being masters of the universe. Some interesting items were present, such as a few race cars and sports models that we don't get in Australia, but other than that it was a forgettable visit. 

After Megaweb, we decided to go inside Venus Fort (http://www.venusfort.co.jp/multi/index_e.html), which, contrary to anything the name might suggest, is a Venice themed shopping mall. It was just on dark when we arrived, and The light displays inside the shopping mall was just getting started. I'm not usually to impressed with pretty lights and shiny things, but this was by far the prettiest shopping mall I can remember seeing. Light displays hung from the ceiling and lit up in choreographed displays with the music playing in the background, and in centre court a giant fountain lit the room with hundreds of lights cascading from the ceiling, making it appear as though it was raining with the use of the lights. Very cool effects.

With Venus Fort done, and time ticking away from us, we decided to move on. After all, we still had to get from one side of Tokyo to the other, at night, with 3 tired girls. To top it off Angela was starting to feel sick, and a headache that had been coming on all day was slowly getting worse.

Veronica, to my complete surprise, suggested that we go on the ferris wheel. Considering we went on the ferris wheel at Osaka bay a few days ago, and my wife is horribly afraid of heights, I wasn't going to suggest it, but considering she offered to go up I wasn't going to turn it down. Again, she surprised me by suggesting that we book a "clear carriage". A clear carriage is, essentially, a perspex fish tank. It costs a little more, but the 360 degree view is magnificent. I think the idea of being suspended in a clear fishtank 115 metres above the ground is fantastic. After getting more than 15 metres off the ground, Veronica didn't. But the views of Tokyo, lit up on a relatively clear night like tonight, were beyond spectacular. I wont be forgetting that view in a hurry. 

All too soon (for me anyway) the ride was over, and we disembarked, and headed for home. One sight I was looking forward to seeing, and photographing was the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Odaiba to the Japanese mainland. The rainbow bridge was...just a bridge. No rainbow. If you squint, the while lights sort of looked yellow, but nothing like the blues, greens, reds and oranges I've seen in photos (e.g. http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuhicks46/3256046309/in/faves-ertaipt/). No big deal, but a little annoying that they were saving their coloured lights for a special occasion.

So leaving Odaiba, and a couple of painless train rides and station swaps later, and we found ourselves back at Shin-Yokohama station. Dinner of Coco curry at the station, and then back to the hotel to fall into bed (or write a blog entry, depending on who you are).

Tomorrow we're planning on attacking Hakkeijima Sea Paradise (http://www.seaparadise.co.jp/english/). It is going to be another *big* day.
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