Odiaba island is a large, artificial island in Tokyo bay. Starting as a military defensive base in the 1800’s, it grew dramatically as a port hub in the 1900’s. In the 90’s it got targeted during the the Japanese real estate boom as a commercial and ‘future showcase’ development area. The mayor of Tokyo began a major development plan for the island called Tokyo Teleport Town and was designed to showcase futuristic living. It had residential and commercial development for about 100,000 people. However, the mayor’s successor halted the plan in 1995 as the Japanese asset bubble popped after a great number of the lots were still vacant and the area underpopulated. Unfortunately, over 1 trillion yen (~$10 billion USD) had been poured into it by that point. Many of the special companies that developed the island quickly went bankrupt as Japan went through their ‘lost decade‘ during the late 90’s as the overvalued asset bubble unwound. Since then, it’s languished – and it shows.
It has absolutely enormous buildings in a large-scale city-planning style. Capturing the scale of this complex is very difficult due to the huge buildings and the gigantic open spaces between them. The whole place feels like a bit like those images of Chinese ghost cities but with odd futuristic buildings that look nearly empty and few people walking around. It was actually kinda creepy.
I could easily have spent a day walking around the humongous city/island. The buildings were nearly miles apart. But I was looking for Diver City. Diver City is a large and very nice modern mall. I found it just a short walk off the rail line. It’s about 5 floors of shops – and reminded me very much of any modern mall you’d see in the US. Almost all the same stores were there too: Old Navy, H&M, Diesel, American Eagle, etc. The food court also had a lot of mall-style chains like McDonalds, Starbucks along with lots of local chains I didn’t recognize. They had some higher-end shops and gourmet chocolate stores as well. So, overall, on the flashier end of mall stylings. But this wasn’t what I was looking for. I was quickly trying to find a certain recent addition before the afternoon show.
I head out the door of the food court and – bang! There it is – the Giant 60 foot tall RX-78 Gundam. This giant robot/statue/installation was originally built by Bandai in Odaiba’s Shiokaze park to mark the 30th anniversary of the massively popular Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. It was first constructed and unveiled in July 2009, and made a big splash with fans. It was so popular that in March 2010, they rebuilt it with a light saber. Since then, it found it’s more permanent home at Diver City. They have daily shows where lights, smoke, music, pour from the robot as it comes to life. The daytime shows look just like this:
The night-time shows have lights and video accompanying them. I had a few minutes before the afternoon show, so I looked around the foot of the giant statue.
The detail was just fantastic. Usually, with things this big, the closer you look the shoddier it is up close. You look in between the joints and see hollow forms. The section edges/connectors are actually just paint on a solid plastic form/etc. Not with this thing – it was fantastically detailed even inside the less-visible areas. Some serious love and care went into this statue. Amazing amounts of detail were everywhere on it.
It was kind of interesting, because just to the right of the Gundam, was a small stage with HORDES of teen girls waiting in the sprinkling rain. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on until the Gundam show finished. All of a sudden, the girls start yelling as a 4-teen boy band popped out of their tent and started singing on the makeshift stage. It was kinda surreal to watch all these young ladies singing along with this 4-guy boy band next to a giant Gundam. I went over to the Gundam’s temporary shelter area where they had a store selling a lot of their current Gundam line toys.
But that’s not all that’s Gundam at Diver City. They have a whole museum area inside the mall on the top floor/north end called Gundam Front. Gundam Front is a store/showcase/museum for the Gundam series.
On your left as you enter is a museum are with just about all the Gundam toys ever made. Two giant rows with special display cases in the middle. You can see how they’ve evolved from very simple beginning to massive and complex models as time went on. They went through a lot of different style changes too. But it was pretty amazing to say the least. One could easily geek out of the whole line.
But it wasn’t all just toys. They had a shop with clothing too. I found the prices to be pretty amazingly high, but probably not an issue for true fans. There was also a whole pay area to Gundam Front with life and scale-model sized Gundam suits along with many of their more famous enemies as well. I decide not to pay the money to go in – and I believe they had assigned time slots as well. I enjoy a good robot as much as the next guy – but I don’t think I was ‘hard Otaku’ enough to warrant it.
I grabbed a bite to eat at the food court and walked around the high-end shops of the mall a bit to get a feel for things. I especially enjoyed the gourmet chocolate shops that had all kinds of interesting brands and styles. Strange styles of Pokey and candies I’ve never heard of before. But, nothing too noteworthy as this mall was much like other malls, so I called it a day.
As I left, however, I was treated to one last gift from Tokyo. Sunset.
Being fall, sunset comes early. The buildings on the way over to the train station already had their lights start coming on. This particular building was intriguing, it reminded me of some kind of cross between a Sierpinski carpet (in this case a Sierpinski cube). As I rounded the building, I was greeted by a few sights simultaneously.
First off – the Statue of Liberty!?! I had no idea there were so many Statues of Liberty around the world – let alone one in Japan. This version was only about 30-40 feet tall, but there it was. There was also a small area set up with a large Christmas wreath to stand in for folks to get their picture in front of the statue.
While taking this shot, a group of orange robed Buddist monks came up and started snapping shots too. Kind of surreal to have the Statue of Liberty against the Tokyo skyline, a couple of Buddists monks in their orange regalia with cameras, English Christmas music playing with local tourists getting shots standing in a giant Christmas wreath. My, what globalization has wrought.
Next amazing sight, the Rainbow bridge across Tokyo bay. This night it was lit up white, but has been rainbow colored in other times. However, it was very beautiful.
Finally, the sunset itself. Wow – firey! Amazing colors as the setting sun found its way over the horizon. I sat and enjoyed the setting, shifting colors. So much so that I decided to take a nice wide panorama. It came out beautifully.
As I just sat and watched, I realized that I hadn’t stopped running and seeing things since I got there. I think when we travel that we often get too wrapped up in the process of traveling itself, seeing things, doing things, being on a schedule. We often don’t make space in our schedules, nor place ourselves in the right places, to enjoy moments like this. To smell the ocean breeze blowing across a bay. Watch the sunset go down. To see the changing colors of the sky. Watch the lights slowly coming on in the buildings as the city moves into evening.
Life is a beautiful thing – and all too fleeting to spend it wrapped up in constant doing. It’s in the quiet moments that you actual realize what life is about and see just how amazing and precious are the things you’ve been holding in your hands all along.