Pretty much every neighborhood in Japan that has children (kodomo)
also has a "kodomo-kai
" (Children's Association)
. It's a local manifestation of the elementary school PTA, coupled with our "kinjo-kai" (Neighborhood Association)
, that is supposedly centered on the kids rather than the parents.
Note the word "supposedly". It definitely doesn't seem to be the case in my neighborhood. Our local kodomo-kai serves three main purposes:
- Deciding who (i.e. which adult) participates in what event at our local elementary school's sports festival,
- Organizing parties to celebrate certain traditional events, our local elementary school's sports festival, and the graduation of 6th graders (i.e. giving the adults another excuse to drink copious amounts of alcohol),
- Organizing the yearly group family outing. (Diminished 7th power chord)
Actually, the term "group family outing" (my own)
, is something of a euphemism. It used to be that the children discussed among themselves and chose where they wanted to go, which wound up being Tokyo Disneyland about 97.43% of the time. Somewhere along the line the parents decided they'd already bought one to many sets of mouse ears and promptly took over the decision process. Now they go to a lot of different places...with a noted emphasis on the adult diversions (i.e. shopping & pubs). I can't really complain too much, because we have gone to some pretty cool places over the past half-decade, but the kids' wishes seem to be rather far down the list.
This year we went to the Odaiba
area in Tokyo, which is a unique place with a unique history. Over the years it has been:
- a series of artificial islands supporting batteries (i.e. forts with cannons) desperately constructed in the 1850s by the last shogunate as a response to Commodore Perry's "black ships" (i.e. it's all America's fault),
- a mostly consolidated harbor defense complex built by the revived Imperial regime at the turn of the 20th century to reflect Japan's increasingly international vision (and fears of eventual conflict with the West),
- a park opened to the public after the defense installations were abandoned in the 1920s,
- a giant business and expo center modeled after Expo '85 in Tsukuba, similarly intended to showcase modern technology, but in a permanent venue focused mainly on (bubble-era) Japan, started at the tail end of the '80s but soon became:
- a very modern, never-completed, virtual ghost town standing as a stark and cynical (not to mention expensive) monument to the dangers of government pork and politicians whose eyes are bigger than their public support, and finally:
- a new residential, commercial, and entertainment district built on the bones of the failed expo center from 1996, now one of Tokyo's biggest tourist draws and a smashing success.
Yes, there is a lot to see and do there. The most obvious attraction is the iconic Fuji TV building
, but there are also at least four good-sized outlet shopping malls, a couple of amusement parks, several museums of science and technology, numerous concert events and exhibitions, state-of-the-art convention centers, resort hotels, a couple of brewpubs, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Okay, maybe not the last one.)
Our chartered bus arrived at the main parking area at about 9 a.m., which was before anything was open, but it didn't matter to most of the group because they all headed straight for the nearest station so they could board a train and go somewhere else (i.e. this whole thing was pretty much pointless)
. Those of us that opted to stay in Odaiba, however, headed straight for the Fuji TV building and got in line, which was still short thanks to our early arrival.
Soon we were at the main pavilion on the 7th floor of the Fuji TV building, where I immediately went to the ticket booth and got a welcome new addition to the Odaiba repertoire: a one-day passport. Many if not most of the main attractions in the area require paid admission, but starting this year it is now possible to pay once for a Disneyland-style passport that gets you into almost everything. (Believe me, it is a good idea.) After I distributed them to my wife and son, my son decided he wanted to go off with his friends and their parents, and my wife decided she wanted to...
...go to the cafe to get something to drink...?
It wound up turning into an early lunch, after which we soon boarded an elevator (after I succeeded in keeping my wife away from the sno-cone booth)
and headed up to the attraction floors....but not before I had my picture taken with the "Mezamashi Terebi" (Wake-Up TV) morning news crew! Funny...I never realized just how wooden they really are...
It was kind of cool seeing actual props, sets, and previews from a soon-to-be-released, highly anticipated movie called "Odoru Daisosen: The Movie 3". It was also cool seeing actual cells and backgrounds from an episode of the long-famous Japanese anime Sazae-san
scheduled to be televised the very next day! (They're all still hand-drawn...and painted with watercolors!)
It was also fun to have our pics taken on the set of a popular game show, even if the pic gives pretty much no clue
as to where we were, or the fact we were standing on a trap door. (I made a point of ignoring a tourist trap snack counter/gift shop based on a popular "gal anime" complete with cute, young women dressed as the lead characters...even though I almost had to drag my wife away from the snack counter.)
The little corner based on a cute chicken mascot for a fictitious ramen brand from a popular kids' anime was actually kind of fun, too, especially the video screen that superimposed digitally-rendered cartoon bits on the image of the people walking by (but I had to drag my wife away from there, too, when she suddenly started talking about ordering some ramen from the snack counter there)
While we were in the Fuji TV building, we ran into a complication that soon got worse. As I said, I got a one-day passport for my son, but he stayed with his friends and their parents rather than come with us. It turned out that the group he was with didn't want to spend time or money on any one thing, so after a quick (free)
walk-through they left Fuji TV and headed for the shopping malls. The parents in the group tried to urge us to drop everything and follow them, and when we didn't, they opted for what they apparently thought was the next best thing: they ditched my son. They were over in an interesting amusement arcade that has physical games rather than video ones, and they asked my son if he was hungry. When he said he wasn't yet, they told him they were going to go have lunch and left him there. Alone. Without telling him where they were going. Luckily, my wife had loaned him her cell phone, so he was able to call us, but his only concern seemed to be that he had run out of money. We immediately went and collected him. Then we had a bite of lunch and did some shopping, after which we headed for the amusement park called "Odaiba Land".On the way to Odaiba Land, looking toward the iconic Rainbow Bridge and...wait a minute...is that the Statue of Liberty???!?
Odaiba Land is apparently connected with Fuji TV. I say this because many if not most if not all the attractions there are based on popular programs currently aired on Fuji TV. We got to try our hand at games used on actual game and variety shows (i.e. after having yelled, "You idiot," at contestants trying those events on TV so many times, we got a chance to be idiots ourselves)
. Those were fun! The computerized quiz games, just like the ones on TV, were a blast.
So was the competition for taking hard-to-handle sushi with chopsticks from a plate moving quickly on a conveyor belt, a regular sketch from a comedy show we really like. (I, my wife, and my son were all successful. The girl sitting next to my wife was not, so she got punished.)
We ended our visit there with a crack at a pitching (i.e. baseball)
competition, whereupon I was cruelly reminded of why I stopped playing baseball after Little League. (I was good at batting back then, but I have never been good at throwing, especially overhand at speed. My crooked arms aren't much for ball control.)
It rather soured my mood, already made very cranky by having to elbow my way through crowds (who elbow back)
and wait in line in dizzyingly hot weather. After that we did a little more shopping, had some ice cream, and then headed back to the bus.
Once we were back on the expressway heading northeast, I was given more beer (which I couldn't drink since I had to drive as soon as we got back, so I just shoved it into a bag)
, and then we sat and listened to the others chatter and cackle about how they'd taken the train to see things in other parts of Tokyo. My son's friends(?) went on to tell him excitedly about all the things they'd done after ditching him (which wasn't much, apparently)
. My wife and I shared a sigh. We're probably going to be in charge of our kodomo-kai
next year, which means we'll have to plan next year's outing.
I know! Why don't we just take a bus to a centralized train station and split up? Done! That was easy! Judging from this year's event, it'll probably end up that way anyway.