A breath of fresh air in a sea of grey
Odaiba is a the place that’s closest to my heart in Tokyo—at least as close a place a man-made island in the middle of Tokyo Bay could possibly claim. The area sometimes known as Teleport Town came to be during the bubble economy of the eighties, its land reclaimed from the water. Once industrial, it was rezoned in 1994 and plans were made to make it the town of the future, Tokyo Teleport Town. The World Exposition Tokyo was planned for 1996 to bring life to the area. With the end of the bubble years and Tokyo metropolitan government’s changes, however, the Expo was cancelled, and for a long time the future of the massive project was in question.
Fortunately, while set back a decade or so, it developed as a leisure spot. Originally called after the huge batteries that had once defended Edo-period Tokyo from attack (known as the “daibas”), attempts to rename the area to something more tourist-oriented ("Tokyo Teleport Town" and "Rainbow Town," among others) failed and the area grew up known as Odaiba to all. Fuji TV was the biggest business moving into the area with the completion of their state-of-the-art studio designed by Tange Kenzo, and the Decks Tokyo Beach shopping mall opened the way for the rest of the entertainment. One hotel would lead to another half-dozen. Since then, it has transformed almost completely into a leisure area.
Odaiba is a world apart from its host city of Tokyo. I love both, but for all of Tokyo’s vibrancy and history, Odaiba is a breath of fresh air in a sea of grey. The boardwalks and parks and Ferris wheels seem more at home in a seaside resort, and at the same time, it is so high-tech (check out the Miraikan, Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation). Its history, or sometimes lack of history, lends it a odd quality. It is kitschy and certainly over-the-top, especially during a holiday season, when every business on the island goes all-out to complete the experience. Even with all the visitors and kitsch, though, it’s still easy to find a quiet spot on the beach, picnic on the Daibas, take a ferry across the Bay or visit one of the many parks and playgrounds.
That isn't to say that Odaiba isn't still evolving—it will be completed someday, and when it is, many of the grasslands and clear views will become history. After all, in the 1990s, it was all fields and construction sites, concrete slabs and wharfs. Barely anyone actually lived in the little town. A photo on the South Promenade of the Rainbow Bridge depicts an Odaiba circa 1994 or so, the clusters of cranes and piles of concrete making it look more like the site of a massive earthquake rather than the “city of the future.” Yet not even twenty years later, businesses are scrambling to swallow up the remaining patches of grass. Land is money, and cities like Tokyo are destined to fill their empty spaces as years go by—the Odaiba I knew and loved on my last visit changes each time I make the trip to Tokyo. Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse; but it never loses that sense of mystery or the element of surprise.