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Island escapade



Little HK' faux garden
Photos by Sally Fisher

Sally Fisher journeys to Odaiba and finds fun in the fool's gold at the end of the Rainbow Bridge.

Built on silt dredged from Tokyo Bay in the bubbling 1980s, Odaiba is an island where reality is checked soon after crossing the Rainbow Bridge. Japan's obsession with pop culture mimicry has run deliciously amok and then been sharpened by a more high-tech and refined taste. There's a breathtaking collection of entertainment. With theme parks, shopping, restaurants, architecture and museums, much is owed to the US. But in Odaiba the novelties are truly novel.

Taking the elevated Yurikamome monorail from Shinbashi, the 15-minute ride on the driverless train weaves through office towers and building sites before snaking up onto the bridge for probably the best view of Tokyo you'll get. Try beating the old trainspotters to a seat at the front or the very back for a prime vantage point.

On the approach to Odaiba you'll zip past the Daiba, 19th-century battlements vainly built by the Edo Shogunate to repel foreign ships. Beyond are the island's twin landmarks, the spectacular Fuji TV headquarters and the Odaiba ferris wheel.

Deck's outdoor life

One of the most unreal features of Odaiba is the space; there's 450 hectares of it, so you can stroll between attractions without being jostled. But do be prepared to walk, and walk a lot. Unless you plan your visit with military precision, you'll be there a lot longer than you originally intend.

TC's guide to Odaiba starts from the first stop on the monorail rimming the island progressing to the terminus. But look for the English map of the area at the Yurikamome wicket at Shinbashi. See GETTING THERE for which ticket to buy.

DAIBA PARK - Odaiba Kaihin Koen station
These pine-fringed batteries were built shortly after the arrival of Captain Perry in 1853, and the biggest is linked to Rainbow Promenade and still has two rusting cannons looking out onto the bay. The name Daiba means "place where batteries are equipped," and the park is a pleasant spot for resting, picnicking and taking photos. From Odaiba Kaihin Koen, head down to the beach and walk along the Rainbow Promenade, towards the bridge. It's a 15-min stroll to the Daiba.

Cruising for yum cha at Little HK

DAIBA LITTLE HONG KONG at DECKS - Odaiba Kaihin Koen station
On the third, fourth and fifth floors of Decks, a development packed with shopping, is the pricey but fun Sega Joypolis virtual reality theme park. Then try Daiba Little Hong Kong on the sixth and seventh floors, which opened in December, but only after a beer or two at the microbrewery Sunset Beach Brewing Company. The German style beers are excellent and the view across Tokyo Bay is wonderful.

At Little Hong Kong sample the authentic Cantonese restaurants, yum cha at Shi An Gyoza, great fresh seafood from the tank at Super Star Seafood and Tokyo's version of Hong Kong, where the dumplings come to you on a conveyor belt kaiten-sushi style at TenTen TuneTune Kaiten Bou. There's also lots of ramen on offer, despite it not being a Chinese dish.

Sculpture with teeth

Or shop for Chinese kitsch, like a Bruce Lee T-shirt and faux silk purses at Cayhane or jasmine tea at Monkey Magic Teahouse. The "streets" are strung with neon and well-rendered trompe l'oeil of HK scenes, and the sound system screeches with feral cats fighting in lanes and the roar of a 747s overhead, reminding you of how HK was before the new airport at Chep Lap Kok opened. Rest in the pretend Chinese garden of rosewood chairs under hanging birdcages.

Decks is open daily, shops 11am-9pm, restaurants 11am-11:30pm, Joypolis 10am-11:30pm. Basic admission and ticket is JY2200 for adults.

AQUACITY - Odaiba station
In keeping with the sheer unreality of it all, Aquacity has a Statue of Liberty standing between the building and the beach and the fabulous Fuji TV building behind. Inside are restaurants, including Sizzler on five and Red Lobster on six if you're incurably homesick, and a great sake brewery Hanashibe on the third floor. For some of the best coffee in Tokyo sip at Segafredo Zanetti on the third floor or take the king of coffee, Illy, at CafEGiGi also on the third floor.

Get a ride on the Palette Town Ferris wheel

The Mediage entertainment complex in Aquacity has 13 screens and a premium theater where couples can sit on special double "love" seats. There's video arcade games from JY800, expensive for such a fleeting diversion, and a weekend visit showed very few people being amused here.

Aquacity is open daily, shops 11am-9pm, restaurants 11am-11pm (some close at 5am). Mediage 11am-11pm.

Tange Kenzo's spacy Fuju TV headquarters

FUJI TV - Odaiba station
This super mod building comes from Tange Kenzo and is the TV network's headquarters. It opened in 1997 you can go into the silver sphere at its center, or to avoid the admission fee of 500 yen you can get quite close to it before having to pay just by following the crowd. Open Tue-Sun 10am-9pm.



MARITIME SCIENCE MUSEUM - Fune no Kagakukan station

The museum "promotes an understanding of shipping and the sea" and is built to imitate a 60,000-ton luxury cruise liner. Next to it is dry-docked the first Japanese Antarctic observation ship, the Sohya Maru. It's left in its original state as part of the museum's collection.

Open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm. Steep admission of JY1000 for adults.

Gorgeously finished Venus Fort

VENUS FORT at PALETTE TOWN - Aomi station
Billed as a women-only shopping theme park, it looks more like an aircraft hangar from the outside. But once you walk in, this is actually a mall morphed from a faux-18th century Italian village. Complete with marble fountains, cobbled streets and a dreamily tinted roof where the sun sets and rises every two hours because "people spend more money at dusk," says a spokesman, the design is a straight lift by the same architects who did the mall at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, another city imitating culture for flippant fun.

Designer boutiques include DKNY and Jean Paul Gaultier on the first floor, and there are 140 other shops targeted to women in their 20s and 30s. On the second floor are restaurants, cafes and bars.

Open Mon-Thu 11am-10pm, Sat, Sun and public holidays 11am-5am. The mall has a shelf-life of around five years when it will be demolished so apartments can be built.

Rose Chocolates at Venus Fort

Also part of Palette Town is the ferris wheel (open daily 10am-10pm). Expect long queues on weekends and make sure you leave pets at home, according to the sign. During daylight hours you wait 30min on weekends and not at all weekdays, cost is JY900 per person. Because the wheel's a big hit with couples looking for a scenic snog, it should be avoided Friday and Saturday nights, when you'll wait up to two hours.

Next to the big wheel is the Neo Geo virtual reality theme park that closed down in March. Mega Web, also a neighbor, has the Toyota City Showcase where you can ride electric cars for JY200 a person, see the latest Toyotas and try a virtual reality wild car ride for around JY500. Open from 11am-9pm. At Future World, also part of Mega Web, you can ride virtual reality roller coasters that promise "panic and rescue" for JY800 a pop. Future World is open Mon-Thu 11am-10:30pm, Fri 11am-11pm, Sat-Sun and holidays 10:30-11pm.

A dog's life at Aqua City

BIG SITE - Kokusai tenjijo seimon
This striking exhibition and live concert space hovers on a clutch of inverted pyramids. There's a kooky saw sculpture cutting into the ground out front and you can walk up onto the roof for free when there's no exhibitions on. Open daily 8am-8pm.

This is the last stop on the monorail line before the terminus of Ariake.

GETTING THERE:
By monorail: from Shinbashi catch the Yurikamome monorail. Best value is the day pass for JY800, but JY900 buys you unlimited monorail and ferry rides too. You can catch the ferry part of the way and then finish on the monorail. One way to Odaiba is JY370.

By ferry from Asakusa: 55 min, JY1600.

By ferry from Hinode: 20 min, JY400 or included in the JY900 monorail day pass.

Getting around Odaiba:
The Free Bay Shuttle Bus stops at all the big attractions on the island and the round trip takes 37min. Or just use your day pass to get on and off the monorail.

Vanessa Bruno at Venus Fort

Getting back to Shinbashi:
Consider walking back across the Rainbow Bridge. It takes half an hour and there's a choice of north or south side. It's free and the paths are open from 9am to 9pm in summer. It has spectacular views but is noisy and there's a lot of fumes. After crossing catch the monorail at Shibaura futo station for Shinbashi.

Addresses
Decks, 1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku, Yokyo. Tel: 03-3599-6500.
Aqua City, 1-7-1 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Tel: 03-3599-4700.
Venus Fort, ferris Wheel and Mega Web-are all at Palette Town 1-chome, Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo. Tel: 03-3599-0700.


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