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Sega Joypolis

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It was our last day in Tokyo. Although we weren’t leaving until the early evening, we had finished packing by 10am and found ourselves with time to kill. Should we go see one last museum? Take a leisurely farewell stroll through our favorite neighborhood? Or… should we scarf down a final fix of ramen and spend our last couple hours in Tokyo playing video games? Sega Joypolis, here we come!

Joypolis Tokyo

Honestly, I’m amazed that we held off on visiting Joypolis for so long. From the moment we saw this arcade/theme park in the Decks Mall on Odaiba Island, I’d been obsessed. Video games, thrill rides, electronics, haunted houses, music, wonderful Japanese weirdness… Joypolis didn’t just press all our buttons, it mashed on them like a frustrated noob playing Tekken. “Patience,” we told ourselves. “If we survive 91 days in Tokyo, Joypolis will be our reward.”

It was as fun as we had hoped. The place is out of control, with some of the craziest arcade games I’ve ever seen. The first one we tried was Halfpipe Tokyo, a snowboarding simulator that’s equal parts roller coaster and rhythm game. You’re strapped in with your partner and then sent screaming from side to side, twisting in the air as you crest the halfpipe. You’re supposed to tilt your board when you’re in the middle of the ramp, and you score points for how accurately you do so. It’s hard! Four teams race at the same time, and Jürgen and I finished third.

Our performance didn’t improve in the next game, Veil of Dark, a zombie-shooting roller coaster. You’re strapped into a car, given a laser gun, and then progress slowly through a tunnel. Screens pop up in front of you, and you have to shoot monsters. After the final battle, the screen lifts and the car is propelled with unbelievable force into a roller-coaster that zips around the compact quarters of Joypolis. At the end, you get your scores: I finished last, and Jürgen second-to-last.

Joypolis Tokyo

These are the two biggest attractions at Joypolis, but there are many, many others. We played a bobsled game in which you’re rotated 360° (we actually won this one). There are car simulators, rides in which you seem to soar through the air, track-and-field competitions, a “fantasy forest” which tells your future (I’m apparently due for some good lovin’), quiz games, and a number of horror-themed attractions.

Jürgen has a serious aversion to anything resembling a haunted house, so I had to venture into Sadako 3D alone. I was asked to play the role of an photojournalist, investigating grisly crime scenes and taking pictures of the horrific things I saw. As I walked down a long hallway, looking for bloody clues, the lights started flickering and I heard a noise like shuffling behind me. My stomach sinking, I turned around. At the other end of the hall was a long-haired freak lady, straight out of The Ring. Then the lights went totally out, and I heard her approaching… when the lights came back on, she was right in front of me, dead eyes peering from behind her hair, hands reaching toward my neck. Screaming, I ran away.

Joypolis is great fun, and offers more than enough to fill an entire day. We had to leave before even getting to play with half the stuff, and I would have loved a second go at Halfpipe Tokyo or Veil of Dark. As you might expect, the place isn’t cheap; after paying an entrance fee, you have to pay individually for each ride. This adds up quickly, so it’s usually smarter to pony up for the flat-rate “passport,” allowing you to ride anything you want as often as you want. We had made up the cost of the passport within two hours.

This wasn’t the most profound or traditional way to spend our final hours in Tokyo, but we had an absolute blast in Joypolis. And so I suppose it was appropriate: if one sentiment defined our three months in this city, it was “crazy fun.” And as far as crazy fun goes, Joypolis is hard to top.

Location on our Map
Sega Joypolis – Website

Sonic the Hedgehog Speed Energy Drink

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July 14, 2014 at 6:32 am Comments (0)

The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa

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The most popular spa in Tokyo is found on Odaiba Island. The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari isn’t cheap, but it offers more than just hot baths. While inside, you can dine at a variety of restaurants, sleep in a capsule hotel, watch TV, or enjoy the festive atmosphere in a hall designed to evoke Old Edo.

The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa

After paying at the front desk, we were asked to pick out a yukata: a traditional robe which we’d be wearing throughout our stay in the spa. But for the first hour, our yukatas were to be left folded inside the locker… along with the rest of our clothing. It was time to get naked. The bathing rooms of Japanese spas are sex-segregated, no-clothing zones.

Luckily, we had been acclimated to the Wonderful World of Male Asian Nudity during our time in Korea, which has a similar spa culture. At our first such experience in Busan, I had been shy, but after visiting a few spas, I eventually became accustomed to it. And today, I have no problem running around naked in front of total strangers. (See, Mom? See how travel has helped me grow?)

So where were we? Oh yes, naked in the bathing room. In Japan, it’s important to be exquisitely clean before entering communal pools, so we sat down on stools in the shower stalls, and scrubbed ourselves thoroughly with soap and water. And now we could enter the hall. There were a couple tubs of piping hot water, one that was extremely cold, an inferno-like sauna which I could tolerate for only a couple minutes, and an outdoor pool of pleasantly warm water.

The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa

After our bodies felt sufficiently relaxed, we donned our yukatas and returned to the main hall of the spa, where a traditional neighborhood has been re-constructed around an artificial stream. We took a tea break in the tatami room, and then went into a outside garden for the foot baths. Gingerly, we stepped into a pond whose floor consisted of rocks of varying sizes, designed to massage your feet as you walk through. This was painful, but after emerging, my feet really did feel like new.

Unfortunately, the foot-torture was just beginning. The Ooedo Onsen also has (at additional cost) a tank full of Garra rufa fish, a kind of small Turkish carp that loves to eat dead skin. We paid for fifteen minutes, and sat down at the tank. As soon as I submerged my feet, they were covered in fish. It felt weird as they nibbled away my detritus, like mild electric shocks. Jürgen loved it, but this was not for me, and I had to quit before our time had expired.

We finished our day with a long nap in the “relaxation room,” where at least a hundred cushiony black recliners were lined up, each with a personal television. I flipped around for a couple minutes, but soon fell into a deep sleep. After waking, we took our leave of the Ooedo Onsen, totally refreshed, with cleaned bodies, relaxed muscles, nibbled feet and lightened wallets. Though a few hours had been enough for us, you’re allowed to stay for the whole day, and I imagine most visitors do.

Weird Japanese Health And Beauty Products

Location on our Map

The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
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The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
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The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
The Ooedo Onsen Monogatari Spa
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July 8, 2014 at 6:09 am Comment (1)

Cosplay at Tokyo Big Sight

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Tokyo Big Sight is an exhibition hall which opened on Odaiba in 1996. In addition to its strange name, the complex is known for its radical architecture: four interlocking, upside-down, titanium pyramids. We approached against a tide of anime fans, all of whom were going the opposite way. A convention called Comic City had wrapped up for the day, but we noticed that the crowd was made up almost entirely of women — this convention had been dedicated to manga written for the female market. There were guys here, too, but they were all photographers hoping to get portraits of the cosplay girls. We joined in.

Location of Tokyo Bigh Sight on our Tokyo map

Sailormoon Cosplay Costume

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June 19, 2014 at 10:22 am Comments (2)

Other Sights of Odaiba Island

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There’s so much to do on Odaiba, you could never hope to see it all in a single day. Even if the attractions aren’t always impressive on an individual basis (and many are simply malls), the very fact that such a large section of Tokyo has been given over to leisure and shopping is amazing. We’ve written quite a bit about Odaiba already, but here are some other sights which warrant mention.

If you’re into the Mobile Suit Gundam series, you might want to put on diapers before visiting Diver City. Because stationed in front of this mall is something which could make you wet your pants: a full-scale 1:1 Gundam figure, eighteen meters in height. This is part of the Gundam Front museum found on the mall’s top floor. The museum’s entrance fee of ¥1000 is too expensive for those who aren’t already fans, but the Gundam Cafe on the ground floor is free, as is the museum shop where you can buy plastic models to put together yourself. [Location]

One morning, Jürgen asked me to meet him in the church plaza, where he was enjoying the sunset with a glass of wine. Hmmm, a sunset in the morning, and there aren’t exactly a lot of church plazas in Tokyo. So I figured he must be calling from Venice. Or at least, Tokyo’s version of it. The Venus Fort mall is a Vegas-like attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the Floating City. It’s as delightfully horrible as it sounds. [Location]

Until the opening of the London Eye, Odiaba’s 115-meter Daikanransha Ferris Wheel was the tallest in the world. The wheel can be seen from across Tokyo and makes a lovely sight in the evening, when it bursts into color. Although we had planned to take a ride, we were distracted by the giant arcade found at the foot of the Diakanransha and opted to instead spend our money on a few rounds of Mario Kart. Maybe not the best decision, but one I would probably make again. [Location]

Venus Fort, Daikanransha and the arcade are part of an entertainment complex known as Palette Town, which also is home to the Toyota Mega Web. Both a showcase for Japan’s largest manufacturer and a theme park, Mega Web is a must-see for anyone into cars. There are attractions like a rollicking moving theater, and you can test-drive some of Toyota’s newest models. Also impressive is the History Garage, which showcases a number of old models from various manufacturers. [Location]

Has your whiny brat of a kid been misbehaving? Then cancel the excursion to the Miraikan and take her to Odaiba’s Sewage Museum. We visited, hoping to discover one of those museums so weird that they manage to be awesome, but it wasn’t so in this case. The Sewage Museum is aimed at small children and it’s dreadfully boring. The subject of waste, and especially waste management in Tokyo, is potentially fascinating… just think of the crazy exhibits possible with such stinky material! But the museum can’t be recommended, unless you have a kid who needs to be punished. [Location]

Odaiba Island Tokyo

We usually reached Odaiba with the elevated monorail, but a more romantic method of transportation is offered by the Water Bus. You can board at Asakusa, and then take a leisurely hour-long boat ride down the Sumida River until arriving at the beach. [Location: Asakusa Departure]

Own Your Very Own Giant Gundam

More Pictures from Gundam Front
More Pictures from Venus Fort
More Pictures from Palette Town
More Pictures from Toyota Mega Web
More Pictures from the History Garage
More Pictures from the Sewage Museum
More Pictures from the Ferry To Odaiba Island
Odaiba Island Tokyo
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June 19, 2014 at 9:23 am Comments (2)

The Rinkai Disaster Preparation Park

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Mom always said that it’s best to be prepared. “Hope for the best, darling, but plan for the worst.” And in earthquake-prone Tokyo, the worst can be very bad indeed. Since we always listen to our moms, Jürgen and I dutifully visited the Disaster Preparation Park, on Odaiba Island.

Earthquake Center Tokyo

It’s not a matter of whether a mega-quake is going to devastate Tokyo, but when. The city lies on the intersection of three continental plates: the North American, upon which it’s built, the Pacific, which is being sucked underneath the North American by the forces of subduction, and the small Philippine Plate shoving its way into the mix. Scientists are in agreement that at some point in the near future, another massively powerful earthquake is going to rock Tokyo.

The city is doing its best to be ready. Strict construction laws ensure that all of its newer buildings can withstand powerful rumbling. Schoolchildren are drilled in how to behave in the event of a disaster. There are detailed evacuation plans and dedicated parks in which people are to congregate. September 1st is National Preparation Day, when everyone pauses their normal lives and participates in drills.

We had been flippant about our own preparedness, but on May 4th at 5:18 am, a strong quake shook us out of our beds. I was terrified, convinced that this was the big one. Whaddo-i-do, ohgod, whaddo-i-do… I had no idea! Do I run outside? Do I duck under the table? Do I get dressed? Do I scream?

Earthquake Center Tokyo

Our ignorance about proper procedure was almost as scary as the quake itself, so it wasn’t long before we visited the Rinkai Disaster Preparation Park. This is a headquarters for Tokyo’s disaster planning, and when something happens, it’s from here that relief and rescue efforts will be coordinated. In periods of calm, visitors can enjoy the park’s green spaces, or test their survival skills in a mock disaster zone.

We decided to try out the disaster simulation. At the entrance, we were each given a Nintendo DS, then asked to step into an elevator. Soon, the lights flickered and the elevator began shaking. When the doors opened, we stepped into what looked like a war zone. An elaborate neighborhood disaster scene had been staged in the center’s basement, with fake fires raging, damaged air-conditioning units dangling above our heads, sirens and flashing lights. Our task was to look for clues and information that would help us survive the first 72 hours, which is approximately the length of time citizens would have to fend for themselves before help arrives.

Of course, when the earthquake does hit and a huge concrete block falls on your head, no amount of planning is going help. So, it probably comes down to luck. But still, after visiting the Rinkai Disaster Park, we began spending more time in Tokyo’s wide-open parks and its most modern buildings. Just in case something should happen, these are probably the safest places to be.

Location on our Map

Travel Insurance For Your Trip To Tokyo

Earthquake Center Tokyo
Earthquake Center Tokyo
Earthquake Center Tokyo
Earthquake Center Tokyo
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June 18, 2014 at 1:55 pm Comments (0)

Odaiba Island

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When Tokyo wants to relax, it comes to Odaiba, an artificial island which began as a set of defensive fortifications but has become the city’s premiere entertainment zone. With museums, arcades, parks and more shopping than a person could possibly need, a day spent in Odaiba will almost certainly be expensive, tiring and loads of fun.

Odaiba Island Tokyo

Odaiba originally came into being in the 1850s, after US Admiral Matthew Perry threatened to take Japan to war over its isolationism. Alarmed, the Shogun had land filled in, to create six small artificial islands on which to station guns. In fact, the word “Daiba” means “Battery,” and there’s a small park where you can see some of the original fortifications.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that Odaiba found its modern calling: entertainment. In a concentrated effort to bring life to an almost forgotten corner of the city, Tokyo began to revitalize Odaiba. More land was filled in, the Rainbow Bridge was built in 1993 and the Yurikamome Elevated Monorail debuted a few years later. With improved access and relatively cheap land, shopping malls sprouted like weeds: Decks, Diver City, Aqua City, Venus Fort. The Tokyo Big Sight convention center opened in 1996. The Oedo Onsen Spa was built in 2003, encouraging overnight stays. Eventually, you could find insane arcades like Joypolis, museums like the Miraikan, and entertainment complexes like Palette Town, which features the Daikanransha Ferris Wheel, Toyota’s Mega Web, and the Zepp Tokyo Music Hall.

Through sheer force of will, Odaiba had become an attractive destination and today people flock here in hordes, especially on the weekends. We joined leisure-seeking Tokyoites on a sunny Saturday, arriving via the Yurikamome line from Shimbashi Station. The monorail is all above-ground and offers superb views as it completes a large 360° loop before crossing the Rainbow Bridge to reach Odaiba.

We exited at Odaiba-kaihinkōen Station and walked to the beach. I wouldn’t want to swim in Tokyo Bay, but the murky, discolored water doesn’t seem to bother the Japanese, who were wind-surfing, splashing around and building sand castles. Leaving the beach, we got lunch at Decks, a shopping mall in which we found a throwback arcade. We played old-time pachinko and challenged each other to the original Super Mario Brothers from 1985. (I could still remember every jump, and knew exactly which blocks to hit, so I expected to prevail. But apparently Jürgen had also owned a Nintendo, and ended up winning easily.)

Odaiba Island Tokyo

Continuing our walk down the shore, we encountered a familiar old friend whom I hadn’t expected to meet in Japan. Staring at us from the waters of Tokyo Bay was the Statue of Liberty — not as large as the one in New York Harbor, but otherwise identical. She came to Japan in 1998 as part of the country’s “French Year” initiative, and was popular enough to earn a permanent spot on Odaiba.

From the statue, we ventured into the Fuji TV Headquarters, recognizable by the massive globe suspended far above the ground, in the middle of the building. Inside the headquarters, you can see the studios and visit a variety of shops and exhibitions dedicated to the programs of Fuji TV. We paid extra to ascend into the metal ball, which is 23 meters in diameter and features an observation deck. Unfortunately, the view wasn’t the best, and you’re forced to contend with a never-ending barrage of blaring advertisements and promotions for the channel’s newest hits.

Our plan had been to tour all of Odaiba in one day, but the sun was already starting to sink before we finished with Fuji TV. We walked quickly through Aqua City, another shopping mall next to Decks, and then collapsed into chairs at a no-nonsense beach bar selling cold cans of beer to watch the city across the bay light up under the darkening sky. It was a crazy afternoon, and we’d barely even seen a fraction of everything Odaiba has to offer. It seemed a safe bet we’d be returning, and in fact we did, the very next day.

Locations on our Map: Decks | Statue of Liberty | Aqua City | Our Favorite Beach Bar

Weird Snacks From Japan

Yurikamome Monorail
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June 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm Comments (8)
Sega Joypolis It was our last day in Tokyo. Although we weren't leaving until the early evening, we had finished packing by 10am and found ourselves with time to kill. Should we go see one last museum? Take a leisurely farewell stroll through our favorite neighborhood? Or... should we scarf down a final fix of ramen and spend our last couple hours in Tokyo playing video games? Sega Joypolis, here we come!
For 91 Days