My Trip to Japan, Odaiba Seaside Park

Today was a good day. Not that other days have been bad by any means, but when you can sit back and reflect and feel really good — that’s a particularly good day.

Chris was up early to meet Kaz at Tokyo station. We had loosely planned to hit something interesting in Tokyo today, but Ellesen and I needed to sleep in a bit. (Where Chris finds all the energy he’s got lately, I’ll never understand.)

When we finally awoke, we started to receive instructions from Chris over Ellesen’s keitai (the Japanese word for their uber-fancy cell phones). It was pretty simple: get your butt to Odaiba. Okay, there were slightly more complicated than that, but for now it’ll do to say just that.

Before we left Yotsukaido, I needed to get some money. I had, no word of a lie, about 2,000 yen left of my 50,000. That might sound like a lot, but it’s not. When the trip from Tokyo to Hamamatsucho is about 870 yen, a trip up the World Trade Centre is 620 yen, and the ferry to Odaiba is 400 yen … there ain’t much left. With a movie yet to come, not to mention general spending habits, like eating, money became a necessity.

The Post Office in Yotsukaido was closed. It might be due to a national holiday, due to the weekend, or just ‘cuz — I don’t know. But I did know that there is a post office in the World Trade Center. I only hoped that it would be open when we got there. Otherwise, I’d be begging for a loan for a couple of days.

And I was right. Mostly right. The post office itself was closed, but access to its ATMs was open. This was good for both Ellesen and myself, as she needed money, too.

And so we went up the World Trade Center. This was my third trip up, but I was showing the view to Ellesen. Chris had reported the weather to be better than the last time we were up, and we could (theoretically) get better pictures. Although it was sunnier, the haze over the city was none too thrilling. Pictures weren’t much better to be had for me. Ellesen hadn’t seen this before, though, and took full advantage of it. The thing that impressed Ellesen most, though, was the size. Tokyo is immense, and you can only see that from the top of a very tall building.

A better view from the World Trade Center, Hamamatsucho, Tokyo, Japan, 3 May 2003

A text message from Chris wondering where we were sent us down the tower to catch the water taxi. Chris’ instructions had been to go to a makeshift ticket counter set up in the JR Hamamatsucho station, then have them draw us a map to find the dock so we could take the ferry. The clerks, however, figured out that we didn’t know Japanese, and provided us with a photocopied map. Although we couldn’t read the signage, the directions were pretty clear. We had seven minutes to catch the ferry.

Surprisingly enough, despite not reading Japanese and entering the wrong dock terminal (the directions weren’t clear as to which terminal), we made the ferry just as it was about to pull away from the dock. As it turns out, this was the same terminal Chris and I had come through only days before when we’d done the bus tour.

The trip across the bay to the Odaiba Seaside Park is quite enjoyable. The taxi is not just for moving people around, but also doubles as a tour boat. A voice track in both Japanese and English pointed out some of the sights as we went along.

The Odaiba Seaside Park is partially built on an old cannon fortification built to protect Tokyo from the “black ships” of the American merchant fleet. (I love hearing historical spin from another perspective.) The old walls are still intact, having neither been fired upon or fired from. (The Americans signed a Friendship Treaty that eventually led to the fall of the shogunate.)

Added onto the cannon fortification (now just the walls) is an artificial island that includes two very large malls (one for shopping, and one for food), a very interesting-looking building for Fuji Television, and an amusement park with what had once been the largest ferris wheel in the world (a record held by a mere two months until the British opened the Millennium Wheel).

Chris and Kaz met us at the dock, and we proceeded to wander. Almost immediately, we headed for perhaps the strangest and most unexpected thing you’d think to find on an artificial island in the middle of the Bay of Tokyo.

A reproduction of the Statue of Liberty. (Quarter-size, of course.)

Why is this here? Got me. Ellesen says there are two of them in Morioka. The Japanese have always seemed to have a thing for America, but this is almost ridiculous.

Although in terms of Odaiba itself, this almost makes sense. It’s hard to describe what Odaiba is like, just because of how it is set up. It’s a combination of amusement park, water park (lots of beach, even though no-one was actually dressed in swim suits) and food court from hell, all rolled into a giant case of Japanese excess.

We opted for lunch relatively quickly. Ellesen and I had skipped breakfast to catch the train, and Kaz was hungry (she always seems hungry — I gotta find out where she puts it all). This led to a monumental search through the food court mall looking for something interesting. And something that didn’t have a half-hour line-up.

We eventually found something on the 6th floor. It was Japanese (sounds silly, I know, but the food court proffered food of many kinds), but nothing particularly special or fancy. It was a little on the pricier side, but our hunger overtook our thrift.

We didn’t get to do much else other than have lunch. The plan was to catch the subtitled release of X-Men 2 in Chiba, and since the only showing (with the subtitles — the dubbed version was not really appealing to us) was at 18:25, we needed to head back.

Now here’s where you see service. As we were heading out of the building, I suddenly realized I’d left my sunglasses in the restaurant. Chris and I sprinted back upstairs, only to be met by the restaurant’s manager with my sunglasses in hand.

I guess not many gaijin leave things behind.

We caught the first water taxi back (which conveniently started boarding when we got to the dock), hopped the first train to Tokyo station, and transferred to the Chiba rapid train. A little over an hour and a half after we left Odaiba, we were walking down the streets to Chiba to Parco.

Interesting note for those of you catching movies in Japan. Check with your local Parco department store, at the information desk. It seems to be a service where you can purchase your movie ticket (well in advance, if so desired) for most popular movies for about 5,000 yen cheaper than at the theatre. Why? Dunno. But I ain’t gonna complain!

We went directly from Parco to the theatre. Ellesen and I went in to hold seats (not that we had much to worry about — I guess not many people want to see the subtitled version when they can see the dubbed version) while Chris and Kaz waited for one of Chris’ former students, who likes action films. Naome supposedly was also to come, but ended up seeing a friend of hers instead.

The popcorn was stale, but the seats were comfortable, the sound system quite good … and the theatre served beer. The movie wasn’t any better as the result of beer, but I think North American theatres should take a hint and start licensing.

Following the movie, the four of us (Chris’ student had other plans) went for sushi, at the same restaurant Chris and Kaz took me to the first night I was here. In fact, we sat at almost exactly the same place. Though perhaps not as tasty as the sushi restaurant at Tsukiji, it was still very good, and hit the spot. The world is good, so long as there’s sushi.

Returning to the apartment, we sat down to watch one of Chris’ more recent favourite films, Ping Pong. It’s a Japanese film based on a comic series. It’s a very engaging film about … well, it’s not so much about the game of ping pong so much as it is about people discovering their roles in life. If you can hack the subtitles, I recommend a viewing.

Time for bed. Tomorrow’s probably going to be a long one…