Day 5: Ooedo Onsen Monogatari – Decks Odaiba – Aquacity Odaiba

It’s been almost an entire year since my trip and I’ve yet to complete my 11 day blog. I don’t think it gets lazier than that. This is a picture heavy post. So be warned.

 

The main focus of the day was to visit a hot spring in the Odaiba area, the Ooedo Onsen Monogatari (大江戸温泉物語). The best thing about the area is how accessible it is, being within the Tokyo metropolis and also close to a number of large shopping centres, namely the Odaiba Decks, Aquacity, and also Palette Town (which itself includes the Venus Fort shopping centre and Leisureland). It’s a massive place with pretty much something for everyone whether it be sightseeing, shopping or chillaxing. I actually don’t see a reason why anyone should miss out on visiting!

I believe there are 2 ways to get there, via the Monorail or the Tokyo Teleport Station. We took the latter option, where there’s a conveniently situated bus stop just outside. There is a free bus service that practically takes you to the doorsteps of the onsen.

Our day started in Shinjuku Station (新宿駅) when our train was uncharacteristically delayed for about 15 to 20 minutes – imagine my HORROR as I realize that the Japan rail system is not perfect! Add to the fact that since I was traveling with my sisters we also set out late. Not a good start. But since service is so good we were kept up to date with what was happening and given estimated recovery time notices. Well actually, the explanation we were given was “passenger alighting” – one of those safe and calming phrases that belie the true chaos going on?! I’ll never know, but by the end of the day, the journey home revealed a more disturbing cause. More on that later…

1_train

Let me tell you that trying to catch the Yamanote line at around 10:00 in the morning is not exactly the smartest thing a tourist can do. Those normally perfect queues to the train doors start to get a little wonky, and once you get into a carriage you’re magically transformed into a sardine. Also, you’re not seeing things, that lady in the blue dress is actually tapping away on her phone with half of her freaking body still hanging out on the platform! People started to walk in front of me so I never got to see how she squeezes back in exactly…

3_undies again
PANTIES !

That’s right, panties in a vending machine! Thankfully though, these ones are clean, not like the legendary “used panty vending machine” that we overseas otaku always hear about. Sadly I don’t remember exactly where I found this particular one, most likely on a station platform somewhere. Just imagine all the little girls lining up to get ahold of some new knickers in the middle of a station…

By the time we get to the teleport station, it was probably around 11am-12pm. This was actually my second time in Odaiba and everything was how I remembered it. The atmosphere feels modern and lively, but also leisurely and even..youthful? It’s difficult to describe. The local architecture adds to that effect methinks.

4_fuji
The headquarters of Fuji TV

5_building

We reach our destination after taking a quick trip on the free bus. The onsen itself provides a mixture of open air baths, saunas, massages, and other spa treatments, as well as an Edo period festival town reconstruction complete with food and entertainment. The entrance fee cost us ‎¥2000 at the time. Each person is given a electronic bracelet which you can use to buy food and souvenirs in the Edotown mall without having to use currency. The bill is resolved when you leave. Visitors are also required to take off shoes and socks in a locker area before donning the traditional Japanese summer garb, the yukata.

6_entrance

I’d taken surprisingly few pictures of the interior of Edotown but that’s probably for the best. Wouldn’t want to spoil too much! Think of the place as a replica set of an old summer matsuri. Somewhat similar to a typical “summer festival” anime episode. Where the main characters dress up and go visit colourful stalls at night. This usually involves eating snacks like takoyaki, candied apple, shaved ice, choco bananas, or playing games like kingyo sukui (goldfish scooping) and crafts like katanuki (mold cutting). Afterwards they go and watch a finale of fireworks and the night ends like a dream, the memories of which will become a memento of their youths….kind of, not quite that romantic but you get the idea.

I mentioned earlier that this was my second time in Odaiba. It was also my second time at the onsen. During my first trip it was closer to evening with a lot more people around. The atmosphere was lively and bustling which gave a more authentic feeling. I prefer it busy in the mall, but going early in the morning and having the hot spring almost entirely to ourselves was really nice as well  😀

It was especially clean in the morning, everything was still kept in tip-top condition since the last time I visited, but the (floor) sitting area was reduced slightly, not sure if it’s to make space for some sort of stage play. There were banners showing anime collaborations (the last time was Gintama) but I’m not sure what that’s about. The stalls offer plenty of things to buy and do (sweets, souvenirs, games). Lots of retro candy, chocolate, mochi, Ramune, cucumbers on a stick (probably delicious if it’s actually a summer night?), there’s a shooting stall with prize masks, fortune telling, a mini-arcade weirdly enough, complete with crane games etc. All the while there’s folk music and dialogue booming in the background to make you feel like you’re in festival grounds.

Lets see here, we have ramentsukemen, chips, sushi, dim sum, chicken katsu curry, and another rice thingy. The great thing about a food court is that everyone can eat whatever the heck they like – I hate compromise! Also, like any good food court, you don’t have to wait around at the stall, you’re given a small brick-like device to carry with you, once your order is ready to go, an alarm sounds. It’s such a convenient system but one that probably won’t carry over so well in the west. I can just imagine Mancunian yobs losing and breaking the things on purpose  😦

The food itself was pretty nice, especially the dim sum and chips. There are free beverage dispensers offering green/ barley tea on the side. I also spotted takoyaki and oden in some stalls too. Plenty of variety.

7_onsen entrance

We went outside after lunch, and like last time, we opted for the foot spring. Walking around starkers just ain’t our thing..

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15_photoshoot 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some nice photo opportunities in the daytime. I also love how quiet it is with no people around taking your seats and walking in front of you. The water path is paved with various sized pebbles, the easiest to walk on are the large smooth round ones, then there’s the small and sharp ones that jab at you. How easily you walk over them can be pretty telling of your overall fitness. I remember groaning in pain the first time I came. I was a lot fitter the second time round and felt like a champ when I didn’t whine!

After soaking, time for dessert! Why the hell not.

Overall then, if I am to recommend a best time for visiting the onsen, I’d say the evening for small groups who want a fun buzz and energy in the air. For romantic couples and people who hate the presence of other people, go during the daytime. Also take a look at the official website for planning your travel and activities for the day.

 

There was still plenty for us to do yet, especially since we were behind schedule. First stop was Odaiba Decks, a nearby shopping centre. Walking around Odaiba on a sunny day feels really refreshing. There’s plenty of breezy wide open spaces. Being an artificial island created in the Tokyo bay area, Odaiba is close to water and the air feels lighter, or maybe it’s just my imagination..

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This iconic ferris wheel looks pretty at night when it flashes with different colours and patterns

I also want to quickly mention one other stops we made during our previous trip. The Venus Fort shopping centre, in nearby Palette Town. It’s a fancy Roman/ Greek themed place with mostly clothes and beauty stores. I remember we ate crepes there & went into a tax free (for foreigners) make-up store, so don’t forget to bring your passport along!

19_venus
There’s a place in my hometown Manchester that’s like this. The Trafford Centre anyone?

The Odaiba Decks is physically linked to Aquacity next door. Each building has around 5-7 floors of different shops and restaurants. So things like boutique style clothes stores, jewellery, character goods stores, Joypolis for gamers, dagashi (cheap/ retroish sweets) stores, the Trick Museum on the 4th floor and there’s even a Daiso in there as well (a popular chain that sells cheap and useful household goods, normally for ¥100).

I’d just like to say that Joypolis seemed awesome. Some of the games involved roller coasters. There was even a Psycho Pass shooting game at the time which I didn’t play due to tired/lazy -ness. I really kind of regret that. All in all, I would think there is something to interest most people. You can even come across weird sh*t like this

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My favourite places are the dagashi stores, the Trick Museum and the Takoyaki Museum (food court) on the top floor of Decks. The trick museum involves paintings and room designs that project 3D effects depending on your perspective, i.e. using your camera or standing at a certain place or angle will affect how the artwork is perceived.

About takoyaki, it’s one of my favourite junk/ street foods. Pieces of octopus fried in a ball of batter and topped with various sauces (mayonnaise!) and bonito flakes. The gooey ones are yummy 😀  . I know it sounds disgusting, especially to non-Orientals, but once you get over the idea of eating octopus it’s actually really delicious! Try it if you ever get the chance.

24_shop 2
Ever since watching Non-Non Biyori I take a closer look at the sweets in Dagashi stores, some of the stuff is pretty weird & funky. This also reminds me of a recent show called Dagashi Kashi. I’ve not seen it myself but there seems to be romance involved – bleurgh

Okay I kinda cheated with the takoyaki museum here, these pictures are from our previous trip. We were actually WAY to full to be eating.

Just as a side note, I’m aware that Tokyo Big Sight is within walking distance of the area. This is a massive events venue, pretty important to otaku since it is the site where the biannual Comiket (Comic Market) takes place. Known mangakas and independent manga artists, or groups of artists (known as Circles) display their Dōjinshi to over half a million attendees. Dōjinshi is self-published fan fiction, some even at professional quality. This can actually be an illegal practice if owners of the work decide to prosecute if profits are affected, but in most cases, they turn a blind eye. Partly because doujin helps to bolster the popularity of canon works & also because creators are otaku themselves and understand the passion that creates this kind of enterprise. Sadly, Comiket will need to find a new home in the next few years as Big Sight will be reserved for hosting the 2020 Olympics.

Big Sight
The famous inverted pyramid architecture of Big Sight

In anime, going to Comiket can be portrayed as some kind of military expedition, especially during the summer event. There are numerous stalls spread over a wide area but still the place is so crowded you can easily get squished around and suffer from exhaustion and dehydration. This usually makes for some comedic moments in anime and manga. There’s even amusing survival guides and videos online (e.g. “How to Survive Comic Market” video) giving fans tips on how to prepare for and navigate the event.

Back at Aquacity, after we’d finished shopping I had dinner on the 5th floor where there was a ramen park. I wanted to try something different to the usual tonkotsu so I went for the beef ramen instead. As usual I’ll group all my ramen reviews in one post at some point. All I’ll say is that it was pretty unique and is worth a try if you ever go. But do mind the saltiness! If you prefer something fancier, there are restaurants on other floors too.

After shopping and pigging out, we ended the day by visiting the rooftop shrine. Yep. A shrine. On the rooftop of a shopping centre. That’s Japan for you. Always good at mixing in the old stuff with the new. The night views are kind of romantic as well actually, too bad my camera’s just crap at capturing that kind of stuff. You can see the Odaiba Rainbow Bridge in one of the pictures below.

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If you remember at the start of the post I mentioned something about delayed trains.. well on the way back to our hotel, the train monitors alerted passengers of a “suspicious baggage” left on a carriage, and something about being careful of drink bottles lying around as well. There were delays across several lines, I guess, due to suspected terrorist activity. Having watched Zankyou no Terror and heard of the Aum Shinrikyo gas attack incident, I felt slightly queasy about the issue. But of course nothing happened.

And so ended our long day at Odaiba. For first timers in Japan it’s a great place to visit, I can’t recommend this place enough. There’s a heck a lot to see and there’s so much we haven’t even covered!

Next up: Day 6: Nakano Broadway – Harmonica Street – Zauo Restaurant

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