Monday, December 21, 2009

Tokyo Big Sight & Odaiba

Located in Koto-Ku on land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay, situated right next to the Odaiba area and Rainbow Bridge - ostensibly one of Tokyo’s most famous romantic viewing points - is the Tokyo International Exhibition Center, a massive structure more lovingly referred to by locals as "Tokyo Big Sight".

Officially, it’s Japan's largest exhibition and convention center.

But more importantly it’s also the place where all the major anime companies flaunt their new celluloid wonders every March at the Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF), and the hallowed halls where Tokyo’s Comic Market (Comiket) rams together around 200,000 people including a fair portion of cosplayers and one helluva lot of manga, for the largest comic convention in the world.

The next of these is due to begin unfurling itself in just eight days, on December 29th.

Constructed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo Big Sight opened its doors in 1996, and since then has welcomed more than 10 million visitors annually for the past several years, with the cumulative visitor count topping 100 million in July 2007, to an area measuring 230,873.07 square meters of floor space.

The building varies in height between three and eight stories, and has a cavernous underground parking annex that rather inanely draws to mind the Who song 'I Can See For Miles'.

The Centre itself is composed of three main areas: the West Hall, the East Hall and the high-tech Conference Tower. The main exhibition halls are located in the West Hall and the East Hall, and there are huge works of art interspersed throughout the center by artists like Hidetoshi Nagasawa, Michael Craig-Martin, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen.

But there’s a wee bit more to Odaiba than just Tokyo Big Sight.

While historically-speaking this area has a bit of a mundane past (the name “Odaiba” itself harks back to a string of six island fortresses built way back in 1853 in order to protect Edo - old Tokyo - from attack by sea), the area is considered the romantic hot spot of this 12-million-person metropolis, and it’s no real wonder why when you consider the scenic bay views and the somewhat picturesque Rainbow Bridge.

There are a multitude of all-inclusive, theme park like shopping malls such as Venus Fort, some superbly innovative architecture - the stand-outs are Fuji TV studio’s spherical building designed by Kenzo Tange, and the Museum of Maritime Science - and literally hundreds of restaurants, cafes, shops, and nightclubs.

There’s even a 115-metre-tall ferris wheel which used to be the biggest in the world, but is now ranked at #12.

At one time or another over the past few years, Odaiba has also played host to temporary installations like the superb portable museum entirely constructed of Cosco shipping crates, and the 18-metre, 35-ton RX-78-2 Gundam statue.

In summer, thousands flock to Odaiba for the local hanabi (fireworks) festival, and it’s standing room only - which is an issue in an earthquake-prone country like Japan.

As mentioned above, Odaiba is an artificial island built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. Rumour has it that should the next big one hit this city with anywhere near the strength of the last big shaker in 1923, Odaiba will be the first place to sink beneath the waves.

It’s one reason I always pack a flotation device when I go visit.

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