Monday, October 01, 2007

Tokyo Day 3 - Roppongi Hills

On our first night in Tokyo, we'd taken a walk around our hotel that eventually led us to Roppongi. I didn't have my camera with me and it was pretty late so we really didn't do much other than walk around a bit and gawk, but we knew we wanted to come back. We did on night 3, after an already-busy day that had earlier taken us to both Akihabara and Shibuya.

Roppongi has long had a reputation as a sort of seedy hangout for people looking for a pickup. In the mid-90's, the government was looking for ways to inject a little upscale living into the area, and that ended up taking the form of the massive Roppongi Hills complex. This is a combined office/retail/residential development that's home to high-priced condos, a ritzy shopping center and companies like TV Asahi, which has its headquarters there. While Roppongi Hills has had its share of hiccups like any major development, by all accounts it's been successful in helping modernize the neighborhood and make it more of a destination for visitors. Both nights we were there, a steady stream of people could be seen walking from the train station directly to Roppongi Hills, and the interior was consistently crowded.

(A new, similar complex called "Tokyo Midtown" has also now opened nearby, but it seemed pretty dead when we were there.)

The main building in Roppongi Hills is the Mori Tower, a 54 story office tower and one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo. (Tokyo buildings don't get much taller due to both earthquake regulations and "sunshine laws".) At the top of Mori Tower is an observation deck, art museum and aquarium, sharing much of the same floor space but each with their dedicated area.

We bought a combined ticket that let us in to all three - you have to buy a ticket at least to the observation deck and aquarium, and the museum is only 300 yen extra. It turned out that the museum was completely taken over by a single exhibit on artist and architect Le Corbusier, who I'd learned about in college but didn't otherwise really have much interest in. My wife felt the same. The museum itself was more interesting; it feels very large but really can't be, as it's only about 1/3 of the 52nd floor of the building. It shares its space with the adjacent aquarium, although the two areas are not directly connected except through the observation deck, which circles the outer edge of the floor. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures at all inside the art museum.

After exiting the museum, you're automatically guided into the observation area. It's really nice and quite interesting - it's not just a ring around the edge but includes a small and a large cafe, several hidden sub-areas, a gift shop, and more.

It's different than the Tokyo Tower observation deck in that it feels like a regular furnished building, not like a purpose-built sightseeing deck (though that's what it is).

The night we were there was crystal clear, a rarity for Tokyo in summer:

One minor disappointment we had is that the deck doesn't wrap all the way around the building - it circles about 2/3 of it and then is blocked the rest of the way by a cafe that was closed by the time we got there. The missing piece unfortunately would have contained the view of our hotel, which I was hoping to get a picture of.

Reaching the end of the observation deck, you're again automatically guided into the Sky Aquarium.

Everything looked really beautiful at night - I'm glad we went at that time. During the day, with all the lights on and full sunlight, I think everything would have been a lot less interesting.

The aquarium is decent size and has a lot of exotic marine life that I've never seen before, although nothing too large. There's no shark tank, for example, and no manitees or sea lions swimming around. It's all stuff that you can fit in a regular size fishtank or smaller - with the small tanks leaving more space to walk around, in turn making the aquarium feel bigger than it probably is. There are some interesting setups, too:

That tank changes colors at random intervals. Incidentally, there are big signs saying "no photos" all over the place here, but you can see there that everybody was taking photos anyway so I did too. I have no idea why you wouldn't be able to take photos of this, except maybe for flash bulbs agitating the fish - and in Japan, everybody's smart enough not to use flash bulbs around living things. (Seriously, I didn't see one flash bulb go off in the entire aquarium.)

Getting out of there is kind of an adventure. There's a high-speed elevator that takes you down to the 4th floor, but it's up to you to make your way out after that, and the place is a maze on its lower floors. We followed the crowd until they all split up in different directions and we realized we were going in the opposite direction we needed to anyway. We ended up in a series of deserted hallways to nowhere before finally finding our way back to the subway station. We were dog tired by that point, having been out walking around for about 14 hours straight, so we definitely didn't feel like walking back to our hotel.

Coming next - Akihabara, Harajuku, Japan fast food part 2 and a little venting I need to do about various things that drive me crazy about the country. Also, I'll be updating this post with scans of the Roppongi Hills brochure, so check back for that if you care.

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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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