Friday, November 03, 2006

Japan - Odaiba, Sega Joypolis, Trip End

I'm up to the end of the trip; this might be my last "real" post. (I might still sandwich one on Tokyo transportation in the middle somewhere at some point, and my brochure scans are still coming.) I haven't written about everything we did - some things involved family or friends and either wouldn't be interesting to anyone else or should just remain private. But I've written a lot, and it's been good to get my memories down in print. I almost feel a little wistful - just as I did at the end of the trip itself - reaching the last chronological post of this report. Now the trip for me is truly over and committed to the past.

On our last evening in Japan, we went to Odaiba. Odaiba is an artificial island in Tokyo Bay that has only recently been developed. Over the past decade, there's been a concerted effort on the part of the government to build and make it a place that people want to live in, work in and visit. One of its benefits is the fantastic views of Tokyo from just across the bay (see above), so apartments there are pretty expensive.

The downside is a comparative lack of transportation - the Wangan highway runs through Odaiba, but until recently there was no train service to the island. That has now changed with the opening of the Yurikamome line, a pseudo-monorail that runs from Shinbashi to Toyosu, and the JR Rinkai line, which also makes stops in Odaiba.

We took the subway from Asakusa to Shinbashi, then took Yurikamome line to Odaiba. I've taken this line once before, on my first trip to Japan six years ago. It snakes a bit around Tokyo at about 8 stories up, then winds around and over Rainbow Bridge on its way to Odaiba. It's a nice trip if you're a tourist, giving you a perspective on the city that you can't really get any other way. It's kind of like taking the tram out to Roosevelt Island in New York City - although with a lot less danger involved!

Odaiba has changed a lot since my first visit - the Joypolis didn't exist then, for one thing (though there was one in Shinjuku, now closed), nor did the mall that contains it. The mall itself is called DECKS Tokyo Beach:

It's in the model of Pier 17 at South Street Seaport in NYC - the interior and waterfront exterior are styled as a beachfront boardwalk, albeit an urban one with multiple levels of shops, restaurants and other attractions.

What is the Sega Joypolis? Honestly, I wasn't sure before visiting either - I'd heard about it, and I'm a big gamer so obviously I know Sega. I was half-expecting it to just be a giant arcade, of which there are still many in Japan. But the Joypolis bills itself as an "amusement park", despite being contained inside a waterfront mall. I was curious to see what this meant.

When you first enter the Joypolis, you're greeted by a girl in uniform who hands you a pamphlet (in either English or Japanese) showing the attractions and "rides". You then pass through what I can only assume is an airlock. It is very odd. Coming out the other side, it's like you're in a totally different, self-contained little world that was obviously designed to make a small space look as large as possible. It's really pretty amazingly effective. The room itself can't be more than 100 yards across and 3 stories high, but it's completely hollowed out inside, with staircases added at odd, irregular angles and each story built as a ledge against the inner walls - leaving a high ceiling and a lot of open space. The room is then lit darkly so it's not really clear where anything is. The total effect makes the place look huge in person, and like there is a lot to explore, even though in reality you know you're looking at one small corner of a mid-size mall. (It is probably the size of an average mall anchor store.)

There are various themed areas inside containing either virtual-reality or full-on real rides. All of these involve some sort of user participation - my favorite kind of ride. They are basically games. There's a car racing "ride". There's a flying "ride". There's a tube snowboarding ride that really is a ride, and an amazing one to watch indoors. There's a lot to do, and I really wished we'd gone earlier or on a different day so we could have had the full experience. (You can pay per ride or one flat fee for everything; since it was late, we had decided to pay per ride.)

That's the airlock on the bottom left. I believe that's some sort of couples photo booth on the bottom right, but it appears to be out of order.

In the end, we walked around a bit, had some crepes, watched the tube ride, and finally went on a hang-gliding race VR ride - which was really fun! I've never been on a VR ride before, and have always been skeptical - but I was a believer afterwards. They strapped us into a contraption that looked like a real hang-glider, slid us into a small room, dimmed the lights and presented us with a giant screen showing the virtual world. A powerful fan blew wind at us as we flew, and the glider itself provided some pretty awesome force feedback, including the effects of turbulence and wind gusts. We really had to put some muscle into it! The race was really fast and frenetic, and we were laughing all the way through it - and at the end, for finishing in the top 60, we got some free tickets for the UFO Catcher games they had near the ride. (Unfortunately, we didn't manage to pick anything up.)

It was a great date ride, and I noticed that probably 80% of all the visitors there that day looked to be couples. It's actually kind of a romantic place, as most of the rides involve two people working together in tandem, and they're obviously a lot of fun. It's dark inside the Joypolis, so pretty much everybody looks good too, and there are plenty of little areas where you can sit and be basically alone. The overall atmosphere is kind of nightclub-ish, with rides. (There's even a nice looking cafe on the top floor with private booths overlooking the city - though it was closed when we were there.) Unfortunately for Sega, there weren't a whole lot of people there in general, but that may have just been because it was a weekday evening. It's probably pretty packed on weekends. I will say it was more crowded than it looks in the photos above - I didn't realize how 100% empty all my photos turned out. There were people there, just not large crowds. We actually had to wait about 30 minutes to get on the one ride we tried.

This is definitely at the top of my list for the next trip to Tokyo. The Joypolis is a fun place, and our only regret was not going earlier and enjoying more of it.

After the Joypolis, we'd really just planned to head back to the hotel, get some cheap food and call it a night. But it was our last day in Japan and we didn't want to waste it. It also happened to be a beautiful night - about 70 degrees, no smog, clear skies - so we found a little outdoor cafe on the boardwalk and sat down to eat.

Odaiba's really quiet, and with the great view and the crystal-clear evening, I started getting pretty depressed about leaving Japan and coming back to New York (and work) at this point. It was definitely a time and place conducive to reflection, and I felt like I had a lot of things to think about as we sat and ate. I took the time to enjoy the friendly Japanese service one more time (not to mention the lack of a tip requirement!), to enjoy some people-watching, and to take some photos...

Yep, that's me trying my best to wipe the melancholy off my face. I'm sure my wife said "smile" and this was the best I could come up with under the circumstances - this was right before we left, and I didn't want to go. This is the only photo you're going to see of me here - though I obviously have plenty of clearer ones than this from the trip.

Afterwards, it really was off to the hotel and then to the airport early the next morning. But it was the perfect end to a great trip. Over my four long visits to Japan, I've come to think of it as a second home, and in many ways I feel more comfortable there than I do in the United States. I can't wait to go back.


  1. Anonymous9:26 AM

    It amazes me how many different maps of the train system there are, all different. I like the wall-sized ones in Tokyo Metro stops best, though, as they try to not be so schematic. Any idea where I can get a large system map to hang on my cube wall when I get back?

  2. The largest system maps we found were two-page spreads, basically magazine size. I'm sure you can probably find a poster-size one somewhere but I don't think these are sold or given out officially by the Tokyo Metro, so it'd be an unofficial reprint (which may not matter to you). I think it might be just as easy (or difficult) to find a map like that on the net when you get back, though, if you can't find one while walking around there.

    The two-page spread maps are in little stands in most stations. They don't look like maps; they look like some sort of advertisement, and mostly they are. But that's just the way the official subway maps are; the map itself is part of a larger brochure.

    You know, I might still write a post on getting around Tokyo - I basically just forgot I'd planned to do that! It's confusing even to a New Yorker, but after five times visiting now (I forgot one visit when writing my last paragraph in the above post), I think I've pretty much figured it all out. Hope you're managing well enough.


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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