Odaiba (お台場) is one of the most popular shopping and sightseeing destinations in Tokyo, and for good reason.
Photo : Beaster725 on Flickr
This huge reclaimed island is packed with every high-end designer shop and kooky nostalgia store any tourist could ever want. On top of that, these are no ordinary shopping malls. Venus Fort in Palette Town, possibly the most famous of themed shopping destinations in Japan, is certainly a far cry from your typical (and dare we say boring?) outlet. From the moment you step through the door you enter not your stereotypical mall but a grand old Italian shopping precinct, large arches and marble-coloured columns creating the feel of a traditional yet trendy place to shop. The ceiling is lit like the sky, complete with moving clouds, and changes colour depending on the time of day. If you stay for a while you might even be lucky enough to experience one of the mall`s `illumination` shows, where the mall, including its fountains and church (yes, that`s right, a church) is lit up for a few minutes in a magnificent light display. If you`re feeling peckish, don`t forget to pick up some fro-yo while you`re there!
For a more Hawaiian feel, visit Tokyo Decks, where the Island Mall and the Sea Mall (this one seems to be more themed than the former) offer a more casual and more back-to-the-norm shopping experience. On the top floor of the Sea Mall is `Nostalgia Town`, a collection of retro sweet shops mixed with Meiji-period Coca-Cola signs and early `90s amusement machines. Pick up some traditional senbei (crackers) or some age-pan (fried bread – tastes a lot better than it sounds), or simply head straight to the highlight of the mall- the Takoyaki (Fried Octopus Balls) Museum. While this may sound like a delicacy best left to the locals, takoyaki is actually simply fried balls of batter and octopus covered with delicious sauces and bonito flakes. If you haven`t tried takoyaki before, there`s nowhere better than here.
Photo : Stéfan on Flickr
Right across the way from Venus Fort is Toyota Mega Web, a great place to check out new car designs and cutting edge technology. Entrance is free and you can sit inside many of the newest cars from Toyota available. There are also simulation rides (free) and a place for you to try driving the newest tech – we`re not talking cars, but upright machines a bit like segways. Of course as the Toyota tech changes, so do the exhibitions, so chances are that whenever you go the tech you can try out will be different. In the same vein as this gateway into cutting edge technology, Odaiba is also home to the Mirai-kan (literally `Future Museum`, or, if you want its full English name, the rather long `National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation`).
Photo: hkase on Flickr
The Mirai-kan is a great place for both adults and kids, and shows off Japan`s technological and scientific skill in a practical and fun way. You can literally `participate` in the tech – for example, as soon as you enter the building you will fill out your name, where you`re from, etc, and a computer will design a special tune for you. This isn`t all – as you enter a new room your own unique tune will play. Other cool exhibits which you can participate in include what the Mirai-kan calls its `Sketch Aquarium` - where you can draw a fish on a piece of paper, submit it, and see it come to life immediately on a huge screen with other people`s creations. You can even `feed` the fish you`ve created by touching a bag marked `food` on the screen. Another interesting exhibit is the `Light Ball Orchestra`, where large orbs of different sizes and colours change when you pat them. Each produces a note and will change colour as soon as it is touched, so you are effectively creating an orchestral piece and a light show all at once! At the Mirai-kan you can also enjoy a casual conversation with a robot and watch a robot reading the news. Welcome to the strange and wonderful future!
Other popular spots include the Fuji TV complex and the giant Gundam robot !
Photo : David Meenagh on Flickr
Photo : HIADA on Flickr
As you`re heading home, consider a long soak in an onsen in Oedo Onsen Monogatari - a theme park in Odaiba centred around Edo Period Onsen (hot springs). Only downside is that it`s a hefty 2,480 yen fee to get inside. However, once you`re inside you`re free to jump into any bath you like. You can even stay overnight if you really want to (for an extra fee, of course).
Photo : 水泳男 on Flickr
If you`re too tired but don`t want to stay the night, at least make sure to catch a glimpse and take some snaps of the Rainbow Bridge before you leave.
On your next trip to Japan, make sure not to miss Odaiba – your one-stop-shop for sightseeing, shopping, eating, and (who knew?) bathing!