January 11th is a holiday in Japan, Seijin-no-hi, commemorating the coming-of-age of young women in Japan. In the year of their twentieth birthdays, said young women don furisode, kimono-like garments but with voluminous sleeves, and proceed to parade singly and in groups about the city. It is quite colorful and attention-grabbing, especially at a time of year known for its relentless shades of grey (and also especially if you are a guy with a pulse).
I spent the day in Odaiba, the port of Tokyo, which boasts both a rich history and a somewhat controversial present. Odaiba is an artificial island, named after the Daiba, a group of six island fortresses that guarded Tokyo Bay in the Tokugawa era. The modern island had its beginnings in the early years of WWII, and has grown in the intervening years into a massive (and massively expensive) endeavor, a project with decidedly mixed results. On the plus side, the architecture is cutting edge, lots of concrete and glass, biomorphic forms, sculpture parks and the like. The boulevards are wide and uncharacteristically (for Tokyo) devoid of traffic. Which brings us to the minus side of the equation: comparatively few people live or work there because it is a somewhat inconvenient commute from Tokyo, and because the loud popping noise made by the bursting Japanese housing bubble resonates there all these years later.
There are signs of life in Odaiba, though, that suggest an imminent realization of the founders’ dreams, and in that slightly offbeat Japanese way that is so endearing to the hearts of Westerners:
To wit: a downsized replica of the Statue of Liberty; a humongous ship-shaped edifice that houses the Museum of Maritime Science; the Megaweb, which features Toyota’s futuristic interactive celebration of all things automotive (well, all things automotive and Toyota, at least); Venus Fort, (pronounced Venice Fort), the Venice-themed indoor galleria and mall which replicates the time of day in the ambient lighting, a slick but ever-s0-slightly disconcerting effect; and a sandy beach, one of only two in all of urban Tokyo. And, get this, you visit Odaiba by monorail, which crosses the aptly named Rainbow Bridge, how cool is that? In the monorail, there is no driver, no conductor, indeed, no people save for the passengers. The fine thing about this is that if you time it right, you can sit in the front seat, and have the entire windshield view to yourself (see pics below).