I came to Japan for the second time on a very strict budget. It didn’t bother me too much, as I’m perfectly content to wander the streets people watching and window shopping while dining at cheap restaurants. Yet I promised myself one splurge outing while there, because even if it’s starting to become an annual thing, a trip to Japan is still special.
I’d originally planned a visit to Lake Kawaguchi at the edge of Mt Fuji. Even at the base of the mountain visibility can be spotty so I wanted to arrive early in the morning for a chance to see the iconic mountain. Unfortunately morning proved problematic as the abrupt switch from sweltering 70s to frostbitten 40s threw my body into hibernation mode. It’s hard to crawl out of bed when you can’t feel your toes. With the journey to Kawaguchiko taking several hours and the sun setting around 4pm, it just didn’t make any sense to go if I couldn’t drag myself out of the house before noon. And so the trip to Fuji was abandoned. For the next few days I pondered about what my “big splurge trip” should be. Nothing too splurgy, something I could enjoy by myself and not be stuck with a three hour train ride at the end of an exhausting day. DisneySea was considered and just as quickly declined at the realization that I’d have to rush to make the last train home. The final decision came on a whim, and after a few hours of research and preparation I was on my way to Odaiba.
A man made island perched in Tokyo Bay, Odaiba is a quirky mix of futuristic sky scrapers and peaceful parks with a good measure of shopping and entertainment thrown in. I traveled there on the Yurikamome transit line, an elevated train with spectacular views of the city as it curls around the island from mainland Tokyo. Hopping off at Telecom Center, I made my way purposefully toward the great ferris wheel in the sky.
At over 300 feet high, the Daikanransha or Giant Ferris Wheel doesn’t fail to live up to its name. Fully enclosed cars, painted in bold primary colors, circle the wheel at a slow but steady pace; as night falls, the structure illuminates with colorful pulsating lights. Although I was fascinated by the enormous structure, I decided against riding it, as I feared the 16 minute trip might get tedious alone despite the breathtaking view. Instead I wandered aimlessly through the surrounding Palette Town complex, a conglomeration of shops, restaurants, arcades and entertainment. There was a little dog park out front, a small enclosure with a scattering of tables and chairs where dogs could prance and play while their owners relaxed or socialized; accordingly, many of the shops inside catered to pet owners, from treats and supplies to fanciful outfits.
At one point I stepped into an arcade, alive with lights and sounds and laughter, but when I walked through the next door I found myself in a sea of pink. This was Hello Kitty Kawaii Paradise, a miniature theme park complete with food and merchandise, live entertainment by costumed characters, interactive activities and crafts, and even a little theater. The decor was classy and classical, with Hello Kitty cherubs and carved fountains and pink everywhere. Yet the clientelle wasn’t confined only to young girls, and as I left the park I caught an outdoor food vender dancing along with the live show. He smiled at me as I passed.
On the opposite side of the ferris wheel is Toyota Mega Web, a great open building with driving tracks wrapping in and around the walkways. The clean metal lines and abundance of digital screens gave a very futuristic feel as hybrid cars drove past on the elevated tracks. I’m not fond of driving, so I declined the opportunity to test drive one of the latest Toyota cars; in actuality I’m not really a car person at all, so I only gave a cursory tour of the place before heading out. The sun was setting, and I had somewhere to be…
(to be continued..)