Odaiba Kaihin Kōen

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  • Day8

    Odaiba: Liberty, Gundam and Rainbows

    April 15, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    What to do with reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay that was a former Naval battery? Stick a giant Gundam on it of course!


    Odaiba is symbolic of a very Japanese way of responding to external threats - work out what was the thing that defeated you, adopt it and use it to prepare for next time.

    But first we have to take a slightly circuitous trip into historical context before eventually returning to giant robots. This is a long route, but it means Odaiba makes a bit more sense... eventually...

    It's 1852 and Japan is still ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Their preferred method of dealing with the world is to lock themselves away and play Pokemon all day and never talk to anyone except for the Chinese kid across the street, and the Korean kid next door whom they sometimes have conflicts with over who gets to claim the Pokemon gym on the corner.

    As per normal, the US finds all this fun taking place without them really confronting. Given the most "forgettable" President of US history was President at the time, this may also have been a bit of overcompensating since he sent Commodore Perry to park some gunboats off the coast and shoot off some cannons until the Japanese effectively allowed the US and Europe to play Pokemon.

    This was a bit of a blow to Japanese pride - not to mention their sense of security. If all someone has to do is park a gunboat in Tokyo Bay and they have to agree to whatever demands are made by the weekend warrior in charge of said gunboat, then things are going to get pretty FUBAR pretty quickly for Japan.

    The Japanese response was *really* quick - both by modern standards, but also given the Tokugawa Shogunate who ran the joint at the time were notoriously conservative and dismissive of outside technology.

    But within a year, to counter the threat of future "gunboat diplomacy", the Japanese had built three of their own "unsinkable gunboats" (artificial islands with naval cannons on them) to put up a fight should another bully want to force themselves into their Pokemon games. They built another two more artificial islands a year later. Another one was built a bit later in 1863. Not bad for a pre-industrial feudal society.

    In Japan, where there are no backyards for people to get too possessive over, there also isn't much of a NIMBY brigade to prevent rapid development in response to these kinds of events.

    About 100 years later, the Japanese had another "Perry Moment" in the form of WW2, and the Japanese response also largely took place in Tokyo Bay. Coincidentally enough, it was onboard the USS Missouri parked in Tokyo Bay just like Commodore Perry did where the Japansese signed the official unconditional surrender to terms forced on them by the US at a barrel of a gun.

    in the face of US aggression in the 1850s, Japan responded by imitating the western powers by building bigger guns and claiming colonies. Having realised that colonial imperialism was apparently something only for European nations and the US, Japan once again identified what was the key feature that defeated them the last time around so they could adopt it.

    Japan fielded the biggest naval guns in the Pacific War with the Yamato, the biggest battleship of the war - if you're engaging in gunboat diplomacy, whomever has the biggest gunboat is the most successful right?

    But Japan had lost the war long before the US started dropping nuclear bombs on their cities - and it wasn't the biggest gun that did it, it was the coordinated might of US industrial capacity. The symbol of industrial manufacturing capacity was the "Liberty Ship" - a mass produced freighter that in peak production, only took an average of 42 days for the US to construct. The US got up to producing 3 of these *per day* - far more than the Japanese could sink. With all this carrying capacity, the US could move troops and equipment anywhere - the big guns of the post-Perry period were outmatched by a fleet of tinnies with an esky.

    These Liberty Ships could be constructed so quickly because of the use of innovative mass manufacturing techniques and the use of (shock horror) women in traditional manly man roles - traditional gender roles were swept aside in the name of efficiency.

    So recognising the thing that lost them the war, they adopted these manufacturing concepts in a big way. Not to make guns, but to make manufacturing products that could be *exported* to anywhere in the world.

    This change was reflected in the fate of the former artificial island in Tokyo Bay - the gun emplacements would be dismantled and Tokyo Bay itself would be transformed into a giant trade port and manufacturing hub. The next generation of "unsinkable gunboat" in Tokyo Bay would be a drydock.

    The "daiba" in Odaiba refers to the gun emplacements on the artificial islands, but as the original artificial islands were either connected to the mainland or merged into larger artificial islands, the "daiba" stuck term stuck around and the area in general just became known as Odaiba. Most of the port and manufacturing facilities in Tokyo Bay are on reclaimed land - the Odaiba area is just an artificial island that has been steadily growing for nearly 175 years.

    Japan was pretty darn successful with this method until around the 1990s when they faced their next Perry Moment in the form of the "Lost Decade" - an extended period of economic stagnation following the asset price bubble bursting (technically it was actually about 20 years long, but it's a bit of understated modesty).

    The short and curlies were that Japan got too carried away manufacturing stuff for export, but didn't spend enough time on building a sustainable domestic economy. Plus everyone in Japan lives really long lives while the birth rate is declining - everyone works too much when they are young enough to have kids.

    Once again, Japan looked outwards to work out what the countries without long periods of stagnation were doing that they weren't. One of the common features of countries with larger domestic economies was much more room for cultural and leisure industries - the kind of things that would have been sacrificed in the post war period.

    Basically, busting a gut for the company is all well and good, but you really need to give people some time off to improve their living standards.

    There has also been a realisation of the economics of "soft power" - culture can also be exported, not just manufactured goods.

    So once again, Japan has changed tact in response to a failure, and once again the Odaiba area would be turned into a next generation "unsinkable gunboat". Odaiba has shifted away from manufacturing export goods to being a leisure and cultural hub. This is not just to provide much needed leisure space for the locals, but act as a tourist hub and bastion of one of the most successful cultural exports of Japan - manga.

    Which is where we end up with Odaiba as it is today.

    Liberty: Odaiba Statue of Liberty - you're so vain, you think this statue is about you.

    Japan has a thing about expressing meaning in silence. You can see it in their manga, but it's also in the aesthetics of Japanese gardens, and in their monuments. Japan also likes to take the piss, but most of the time, it flies right over our heads.

    This is why I think the Statue of Liberty in Odaiba is an example of a joint French/Japanese production to troll the US for their lack of historical appreciation.

    France and Japan have had a long history which also extends into animation and horrible coffee. Both France and Japan have a long history with the US which largely extends to conflict and/or cultural appropriation.

    France designed and constructed the Statue of Liberty that resides in New York in 1886. In 1889 the Americans gave Paris one that is only 1/4 the size. Americans also frequently forget the French built the Statue of Liberty and claim it as their own, often wondering why Paris would build a "piece of New York" in Paris as a tourist trap - much to the chagrin of the French.

    This Paris statue was temporarily displayed in Odaiba in 1998 to celebrate the "Year of France in Japan". After the French took their statue back to Paris, it only took the Japanese a year to build a permanent replica of their own which American tourists frequently assume is a little "piece of New York" in Tokyo as a tourist trap - much to the amusement of the Japanese.

    Remember how Odaiba started off as a series of artificial islands created by the Japanese to defend Tokyo Bay against US aggression...? Yeah they totally just teamed up with the French for some high brown humour at US expense only most Americans don't get it because they don't know their own history.

    Personally I think it's also a really subtle reference to those Liberty Ships that both lost Japan WW2, but also provided the template for Japan's recovery afterwards. Layers of meaning in silence - we'll take your Liberty Ships concept and make it far more effective. Also worth noting the Odaiba Statue of Liberty is effectively surrounded by the mainland on three sides, all of which are heavy industry. The side that points out to Tokyo Bay actually faces Odaiba with it's Japanse science and manga museums.

    Gundam: We Welcome our Robot Overlords

    Which leads to the giant robot (Gundam) on the other side of Odaiba.

    This recently got a major upgrade and is much larger/cooler than the older one which was looking a bit daggy. This thing is HUGE since it's a 1:1 replica of what a mecha from the Gundam manga franchise would actually look like in real life. It also periodically moves. Well it doesn't move it's feet, it's more like bits on on it move, but it's still pretty awesome non-the-less.

    The Gundam at Odaiba is a pretty cool contemporary version of the old daiba gun emplacements of old. Instead of cannons on artificial islands defending Japan, it's a giant mecha on an artificial island defending Japan - there't nothing that says Japanese manga more than giant robots.

    Also nearby (ish) is Joypolis, which is a very compact and futuristic video game/amusement park in one building - karoke and watching anime versions of J-Pop boy bands is an attraction here... (?).

    It looks pretty cool - but it's really targeted towards the locals so expect long waiting lines.

    Rainbows: Robots Over the Rainbow

    If you are travelling to Odaiba, I'd recommend taking the Yurikamome line from Shimbashi station near Ginza. It's a fully automated elevated rail with a rather impressive view as it does a rather interesting loop around and over the Rainbow Bridge (Reinbō Burijji). This is the bridge that is frequently in background shots of the Odaiba Statue of Liberty.

    In typical Japanese-ness, each station on the Yurikamome has a different recorded announcer, and eacch announcer is a Japanese actor/celebrity. I have no idea who they are, but Japanese TV seems to consist of 10% Japanese dramas 15% anime, and 75% game shows and talk shows with panels of a dozen or so actors from Japanese dramas and voice actors from Japanese anime, so it actually kinda makes sense...

    Kaiju Collected:

    We got our fortunes predicted in a magic forest thing in Joypolis since it had the shortest queue. It probably should have said "you will spend a lot time in the magic forest trying to get your fortune told".
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Odaiba Kaihin Kōen, Odaiba Kaihin Koen, お台場海浜公園

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