Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tokyo 2013 Trip Highlights: Day 1 - Giant Gundam in Odaiba, Sumida River Cruise, and Tokyo Skytree

Arriving in Tokyo from North America usually isn't too bad for jet lag as it always feels like you've arrived later the same day (albeit a long day).  Stay up a bit and then crash to get a fresh start the next morning.  This time I was with a few people so the experience was a little different with a slightly easier pace and different dining options.  I was also hoping for warmer weather, but we had typical February weather with highs around 8 degrees Celsius with some good variation.
West side Ikebukuro Station

http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/p/my-sf-writing.html


This time we stayed at the Metropolitan Hotel in Ikebukuro as it was one of the few deals I could find for a triple room.  We woke up the next morning a little tired, but ready to go, and headed down for breakfast.  One of things I usually avoid is the hotel breakfast as the price of one meal could often feed the three of you at McDonald's, a bakery, or other cafe.  There is also the option of eating from the convenience store or konbini - but I usually save that for a late night snack or a meal on the go as it is nice to get off of your feet when you eat - not only that - in Japan it is considered rude to be drinking or eating on the go.

We tried a place near the south exit by Lumine that made Beignets and coffee.  Not the cheapest menu, but the deep fried pastries were nice, fresh, and tasty with a coating of powdered cinnamon and sugar.  We originally went to a Doutor, but the reality of Japanese coffee shops set in quickly.  Many of these coffee shops have high quality drinks and food products, but they are often smoking and non-smoking.  However, there is no real divider between the two sections so the smoke goes everywhere.  It is like being in North America in the 1980s or 1990s when smoking was still allowed in restaurants.

See my post on the Shiodome.

After this, we took the Yamanote Line down to Shimbashi Station and the Shiodome.  We just missed the playing of the Miyazaki Steampunk Clock as it is a long way around to get there from Ikebukuro.  The clock  no longer plays every hour and plays on a spaced out schedule every two or three hours now since the earthquake as a power saving measure.  The Shiodome has a very high tech vibe to it with the modern buildings, giant walkway platforms, and monorail.  A very neat place to walk around to experience this type of feel and there are many malls at the ground and below ground level in the various buildings to explore.  The feel for the place is big and expansive - even underground.  You have to remember the Shiodome, like many Tokyo megaplexes works at the +10 metre level (walkway), then ground level, then one or two below ground levels so you are exploring a space designed to work on multiple levels.
Shiodome Walkway.  This is a walkway, not the street at groundlevel!
Shiodome
After a brief exploration, we headed off to see the Giant Gundam and Gundam Front over in Odaiba via the Yurikamome monorail.  The monorail runs on a pretty interesting path as it circles up to get to the Rainbow Bridge to cross over to Odaiba.  The monorail is also driverless and if you can get front seating in the first car you can have a pretty nice view out the front windows.  Even at 10 in the morning the train was pretty crowded and standing room for us.  This was foreshadowing as we were often on pretty crowded trains, getting seats maybe half the time (tried to miss rush hour in the morning when you are a sardine in a can).  I kept thinking that everything seemed to be more crowded this time from trains to restaurants, but the last time I was here was in the middle of the H1N1 scare, so I'm probably seeing normal this trip.  With 50 million people in the greater Tokyo area it has to be a pretty busy place!
Diver City
Giant Gundam
Closeup of Giant Gundam
Over in Odaiba we debarked from the Train just south of Aqua City and the Decks then walked east towards Diver City Mall where Gundam Front is.  I was a little anxious to catch a glimpse of the big Gundam and you can only see it after you turn the corner at the mall as it is on the East side (the front of the mall).  The 20+ metre tall 1:1 scale model of the RX-78-2 was pretty impressive, and pretty darn big once you get up close.  There were a few people there for it, but no big crowds.  There was a big crowd for a pop group concert there though.  The assembly and detailing of the Gundam is so good that you could imagine it coming to life and walking around.  Too bad there are limited head animations and a light show only for it.
Strike Freedom Gundam
We then went inside the mall to visit Gundam Front.  Gundam Front is on the top floor of the mall and is a small theme park for Gundam.  On the Sunday we went there were no lineups and tickets were easy to get at the front counter.  It consists of a:
  • Gunpla (Gundam model museum)
  • Clothing gift shop
  • Regular gift shop with exclusive items
  • Dome theatre with short film (with some original CG)
  • An exhibition area that contains a rotating display of art (for Gundam Unicorn at the time of the visit)
  • 1:1 scale bust of the Strike Freedom Gundam you can see up close, and that you can pay extra to have your photo taken in the cockpit.
  • There is also a photo area where you can choose a Gundam character to have your picture taken with for free
  • 1:1 scale model of a core fighter
  • A large model of the A Baoa Qu asteroid base with hundreds of little mobile suits fighting it out on its surface
One small part of a big room with probably a thousand models in it.
Like many anime related attractions, this one is for the fans - Gundam fans, and I enjoyed it in that spirit and had a great visit.  Afterwards we tried to get some lunch in the mall, but the place was packed with people and it was hard to find a place without a waiting line or a place to sit in the food courts.
Gundam Taiyaki
Haro Meat Bun
We went to the Gundam Cafe and found out it was a gift shop with a snack bar.  We picked up a Gundam Taiyaki (curry meat) and a Haro meat bun as a small snack and went over to visit the Toys R Us in Aqua City.   The Toys R Us always carries different Japanese toys and is worth a pass through just to see the things you don't see in Akiba.

See my post on Gundam Front at Diver City.

Yes there is a Statue of Liberty at Aqua City
We ended up having lunch in the food court of Aqua City and had a pretty tasty chicken curry and some Takoyaki Octopus balls.  Both were yummy and the extra time it took to get there meant the food court was less crowded.  There are also many restaurants in the Decks along with a cat cafe.  There is also a Takoyaki museum in the Decks where you can eat many different kinds of Takoyaki.
Taiyaki combo that came with soft drinks 1000 yen
One of the things I like about the Japanese food courts is that many of the shops use real dishes as the customers are supposed to return the tray and dishes back to them when they are done.  This is a pretty eco-friendly concept, but something I suspect that wouldn't fly over in North America as things would always go missing.

Another food item we had as a snack today from a convenience store int he mall was riceballs or onigiri.  I love these Japanese sandwich replacements and they travel fairly well in a pack if you need to carry them.  When you go visit a museum, there is often a sitting area to eat, but either no cafe or an expensive cafe - bring your lunch (e.g. National Museum).   Onigiri are fun, they even have a 3 step unwrapping process for the triangular ones (follow the numbers on the back) that keep the seaweed separate from the rice so it stays crisp.  They come in many flavours like tuna, salmon, cod roe, chicken, etc., and a couple will do you for a quick lunch.  Just remember to buy a drink.
Refrigerated Cabinet at Konbini with Riceballs on the top shelf.
Onigiri, Rice Balls You Can Buy At A Convenience Store For A Snack / Cheap Meal
Your Guide To Onigiri - this is a handly little guide to rice balls, but it still is hard to interpret the labels unless you read Japanese, but it works!

After the meal we bought tickets at the boat dock just outside the Decks for a river boat cruise up the Sumida River towards Asakusa.  I never had the chance to do this last time.  Two of the river boats, the Himeko and the Hotaluna look like spaceships and are very sleek looking boats.  The ride north was uneventful with many interesting views of the shore.  You pass these great big floodgates and the back side of Tsukiji Fish Market and get to see the city from another angle.  It was a nice relaxing trip up the river.  You have comfortable bench or table seating and there is a snack bar on board.  Many Japanese families were treating it like an outing and having beer and desserts.
Himeko Spaceboat
Boat View of Rainbow Bridge
Tokyo Tower From Boat
Asahi Beer Building
At Asakusa (this is also where the Sensoji Temple is) we walked across the bridge where the boats dock and checked out the Asahi Beer Building with the big gold thing on the roof (I don't want to call it a big gold p**).  Nice architecture there.  We followed the east side of the river north and cut inland just after the first waterway to beeline east (as much as possible on these streets) to the Tokyo Skytree. Hard to miss the tallest land mark in the area, not to mention the world's tallest tower at the moment. It is a 30 minute walk to the tower.
Skytree
There are some great views of the tower as you head towards it and when you arrive at the Solomachi Mall at the base of the tower, you realize just how tall the tower is.  It is massive and reaches for the sky.  The tower itself is 634 metres high, well taller than the old Tokyo Tower.  Only the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is taller than it by another 200 metres.  So today was future day with big robots and big towers.  Inside the mall we went to get tickets to ascend the tower and found there was a 4 hour wait to go up.  Fortunately have a quick line to get the entry passes for a certain time that is scheduled in 1/2 hour batches. When your time comes up, you line up and are allowed in to buy tickets to go up at that time.  You really have to crane your head up to see this tower as it is tall tall tall.
Looking Up The Skytree
Having a four hour wait meant we had a fair bit of time to kill and we decided to shop in this fancy new mall that has a beer museum/pub, restaurants, fancy food floors, an aquarium, a planetarium, and many very nice shops. The fourth floor of the Solomachi Mall is bursting with really good shops with unique products.  There is a Hello Kitty shop, sweets shops, other shops full of interesting folk art / toys / gadgets / souvenirs, and very nicely laid out too.  They are not over priced either.  It was easy to pass the time and explore the mall.  We had dinner in the food court there at an udon noodle shop where they hand made their noodles in the back.  Again, you get the real dishes and you need to return the tray.  Other shops here for toy fans included a Tomica Store, Shonen Jump Store, Takara Store, Rilakuma Store, and a really nice Studio Ghibli Donguri Garden store with Totoro!  There is even a QPOT jewellry kiosk in the mall.  Skytree souvenirs are overruning this mall so you should be able to pick up something a a momento.

See a post on viewing freak weather from the Skytree
See my post on the Tokyo Skytree.
Read about my concept of a World Tree in an excerpt from my next SF novel.

Shop Display
Japanese Nanoblocks Shop Display
Ghibli Store - Big Totoro and Catbus in the Windows
QPot Jewelry - Looks like chocolates
Udon Noodles
 When it was our turn to ascend we got in line and were quickly let in to purchase tickets.  Not long afterwards we ascended in a fast elevator to the lower viewing deck or the Tembo Deck which is at a height that is equivalent to the tip of the Tokyo Tower and had fantastic night views of the city.  We made our way around to look out in all directions and then headed back down to pick up some final souvenirs from the big gift shop at the base of the tower.  Well worth the wait to go up and about a million Japanese a year agree so the place is packed every day.
Skytree Lit Up At Night
 On the main floor of the mall at the base of the tower (which has the largest Skytree gift shop too) is an amazing multimedia mural of Tokyo by Teamlab.  Regular murals are combined with a fantastic computer graphics display to bring the city to life with fantastical figures and animations. Well worth seeing as there is so much detail.  They need to sell this as a screensaver!
Lower Viewing Deck
Tokyo At Night
Animated Mural by Teamlab
We took a Tobu Skytree train back from the Osiage Station right at the foot of the mall back to Asakusa to spare us another walk.  At Asakusa we transferred to the Ginza subway to get to Ueno and then the Yamanote Line back to Ikebukuro for the night.  Not the easiest place to get to from Ikebukuro, but not bad.

Related Links
View Day Two of the travelogue here.
View the Tokyo Travelogues Master Page here.

More Tokyo Highlights
More Japanese Pop Culture


3 comments:

  1. Someone asked me for the directions for this day from Ikebukuro and I've posted them below.

    #1 Get a train pass so you can just scan through the turnstiles and not count change. Get either a PASMO or SUICA card. Getting to Ikebukuro using the NEX Express from Narita is a pain (depending when you arrive you might need to transfer to the Yamanote Line in Shibuya). Much simpler and quicker to use the other Keisei Skyliner to Nippori and then transfer to the Yamanote Line. But you get a better deal on the Suica NEX at the airport. The cards can be used on either train line.

    BTW, on the way back to the airport, get off the train to the Skyliner at Nippori again - do not go to Ueno as the stations are actually separated by city streets.

    http://www.ausbt.com.au/travelling-to-tokyo-grab-a-suica-or-pasmo-travel-card

    Sunshine City to Ikebukuro Station
    Ikebukuro Station to take the Yamanote Line to Shimbashi.
    At this station look for signs to the Yurikamome monorail towards Odaiba (Toyosu)
    https://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=203034122747410647625.0004bc13c6611ec63b3af&hl=en&ie=UTF8&t=m&ll=35.664218,139.760567&spn=0.003051,0.00456&z=17

    Get off at the Decks / Aqua City Mall / Fuji TV at Daiba Station.
    Walk east past Fuji TV to Diver City. You will see the Gundam on the east side.
    http://www.tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/2012/02/gundam-front-tokyo-at-diver-city-in.html

    To get to the Skytree by Spaceboat. You need to go to the Aqua City mall. There is a walkway in the middle of it that crosses over to the shore where you can buy tickets for the boats down by the docks nearer the Decks Mall. Watch your times for them.
    http://www.suijobus.co.jp/cruise/index.html

    The boats go to Asakusa. Here you can walk to the Skytree - it is a bit of an expedition, but I did it by using the Skytree as a landmark. You can take the Tobu Skytree Line subway from Asakusa Station to the Tokyo Skytree Station.

    Now you will need to queue for a time slot up on the 4th floor of the Solomachi Mall. It is a great mall to see as I showed in the travelogue as there are so many anime and other gift shops here. Once you have a time you come back then to buy tickets and ascend.

    After seeing the Skytree, take the Skytree Line back to Asakusa, transfer to the Ginza subway to get to Ueno Station and then the Yamanote Line back to Ikebukuro.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the directions and advice. We're looking forward to our trip! I'll let you know how it goes. Also, I bought a couple of your novellas and I'll be reading them on the plane. Cheers

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Feel free to leave a comment after you get back from the trip. I'm not an expert, but I try to help. BTW, if you have kids along, double check the massive gashapon aisle in the Akihabara Yodobashi Camera, and do check out Kiddyland or Yamoshiroya toy stores. The Evangelion Store in Harajuku is also fun. Also, there is a Shonen Jump theme park in Sunshine City, so you might want to see that too - but I think that one means you need to be a real fan. There is also the new Animate store in Ikebukuro to see, not the old one across from Sunshine City. Have a good trip.

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