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Although it’s location on the Tokyo Bay has made Tokyo one of the top 25 container ports in the world, visitors seeking a first-class beach experience in Japan’s capital will surely be disappointed.
In fact, the city provides just 800 meters of beach for its 13 million residents, with its sole beach located on a manmade island in Tokyo’s Odaiba district.
Because of its prime beachfront setting, Odaiba is a popular area with residents and visitors and is best known for the futuristic buildings that dot its skyline and its stunning waterfront views with the Tokyo skyline looming in the distance.
Odaiba dates back to the 1850s, when six manmade island fortresses — Daiba mean fort—were constructed along Tokyo’s waterfront in order to protect the city against a possible naval attack by US Navy Commodore Matthew Perry.
The anticipated attack never occurred, and the islands of Odaiba fell largely into disuse until the late 1920s, when the city of Tokyo opened the Odaiba Seaside Park and Tokyo’s first beach.
In the 1980s, Odaiba became the planned site of a massive redevelopment project. Although a landfill project was completed, thus connecting several of the islands, most of the other plans to develop the area into a futuristic neighborhood were abandoned as the economy slumped.
By the late 1990s, Tokyoites found a resurged interest in Odaiba, as massive shopping malls and major hotels started to make an appearance. The 1995 introduction of the Yurkikamome, an automated rail line, provided a better connection to the rest of Tokyo, bringing even more attention to the area.
Today, Odaiba has largely become the futuristic center of Tokyo it was once expected to be, with a number of buildings sporting a Tomorrowland aesthetic. The area, with its scenic waterfront overlooking the Rainbow Bridge, the Port of Tokyo, the Tokyo Tower, and the soon-to-open Tokyo Sky Tree, is popular as a romantic date night location. The area, which houses the ultra-modern Tokyo International Exhibition Center, known to locals as “Tokyo Big Sight,” as well as a number of deluxe hotels, is also becoming a growing visitor destination.
Getting AroundThe Yurikamome, Tokyo’s first, fully automated rail line is largely an attraction in itself. Because the cars are elevated, the line is not subject to the traffic conditions below, which means the trains can be 100 percent driverless. The front of the train offers a large picture window, and its route, which crosses the Rainbow Bridge, means it provides some of the best views in Tokyo, for around $4 a ride.
The line makes 16 total stops, with eight serving the Odaiba area. Yurikamome connects transit riders with other subway lines at the popular Shimbashi station.
When to VisitOdaiba is an extremely popular neighborhood with locals in the summer months, so travelers may consider visiting in off-peak seasons. With numerous indoor attractions, there’s plenty to do year round, and the area’s dramatic waterfront views are gorgeous, no matter when they are viewed.
Where to Stay
Hotel Nikko Hotel Nikko makes its home on the waterfront in Odaiba. The Nikko’s unique, semi-circular construction, built to resemble a wave, means there are no bad views. Furthermore, every room has a balcony, so visitors can enjoy an unimpeded view of the city’s most scenic location. The hotel spa is set in an all-glass building that capitalizes on the hotel’s location, but the star is the outdoor hot tub built to resemble an onsen (traditional bath), which lets guests enjoy a relaxing bath as they take in the Tokyo skyline.
During the summer months, Hotel Nikko is offering special rates at a 40 percent discount. Rooms start at $186 per night; the best bet is the 430-square-foot Rainbow Tower View King room, which overlooks the Rainbow Bridge and starts at just $234 per night.www.hnt.co.jp/en/index.html
Where to Eat
Venus FortAlthough Venus Fort claims it was designed to resemble a medieval European city, it is far more likely that it was built to resemble a Las Vegas hotel and casino. Restaurants overlook the shopping center’s Italian interior, which features a full sunrise and sunset every hour. Venus Fort is also home of the landmark Palette Town Ferris Wheel, one of the largest Ferris Wheels in the world.
Aqua CityAqua City, located adjacent to the Hotel Nikko, serves up a staggering number of Japanese and international dining options. Shoppers will enjoy the large variety of international luxury brands. Outside, visitors can take a picture of the Tokyo skyline from behind a 35-foot, scale replica of the Statue of Liberty.
Hotel NikkoHotel Nikko features 10 bars and restaurants, including Yoshino, a dedicated tempura bar, overlooking the Rainbow Bridge.
What to Do
Odaiba Kaihin Park/Odaiba Shiokaze ParkOdaiba’s waterfront location makes it a great place for walking, and its perimeter has been developed into two scenic parks, complete with greenery, walking paths and even Tokyo’s lone beach. The island’s square(ish) construction means the two parks connect at a 90-degree angle. Visitors will enjoy views of the Tokyo skyline and the Port of Tokyo as well as Odaiba’s unique architecture as they stroll along the two parks.
Fuji TV StudioAmong Odaiba’s landmark buildings is the futuristic Fuji TV Studio, which features a silver globe suspended between a complex edifice resembling a huge tinker toy structure. The globe, located on the building’s 25th floor, serves as an observatory and the views are is well worth the $6 admission tag.wwws.fujitv.co.jp/safe/en/fip_archive_form_new.html
Oedo OnsenWhen Tokyo locals don’t have enough time to get away to the countryside for a relaxing dip in an authentic Japanese onsen (hot spring), they visit Oedo Onsen, which is best described as an onsen theme park.
The central indoor area features a variety of shops and restaurants, all built to resemble structures from Japan’s Edo period (1603-1858). Here, Japanese patrons wander about in their robes, catching up on the gossip or taking in occasional performances.
After socializing, guests part company with each gender heading to their respective bathing areas. As with all Japanese onsen, bathing suits are not permitted, which can make for a daunting experience for first-time western guests. Outside there is a coed, clothing-required foot bath, so visitors can reunite with their families. All baths are filled with natural spring water that is sourced from hot springs located some 4,000 feet underground. Admission is $22, but tell clients to ask their concierge if any discount coupons are available.www.ooedoonsen.jp/higaeri/english/
MiraikanCreated by Japan’s Science and Technology Agency, this unsung museum explores a number of emerging sciences such as robotics, planned communities, life sciences and innovation. An interactive exhibit on space travel features interviews (in multiple languages) from current and past astronauts; the adjacent International Space Station exhibit shows visitors what it takes to live some 250 miles beyond the earth. The Dome Theater Gaia serves up a variety of daily programs, including one that features a view of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites from outer space. The museum is very accessible for international visitors, with plenty of English signage and instruction; admission is approximately $6.www.miraikan.jst.go.jp/en
Panasonic CenterAlthough techno geeks can certainly enjoy catching up with the latest Panasonic technologies, the Panasonic Center is more than just a product showroom. Yes, visitors can watch 3-D television on a 152-inch screen and play Nintendo games on Panasonic’s large-screen TVs, but they can also head upstairs to the Eco Ideas House, which demonstrates ways families can live while producing virtually zero C02 emissions. Although there is no charge to visit the Panasonic Center, it does cost $6 to visit the Center’s RiSuPia (Panasonic Digital Network Museum), which uses Panasonic technologies to create extensive hands-on displays and demonstrations about mathematics and science. www.panasonic.net/center/tokyo/index.html