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Down in Tokyo


Offering Insight into Tokyo’s Development


For most visitors to Tokyo, Odaiba is likely to be one of the places that finds itself on their itineraries. This artificial island in Tokyo Bay boasts many attractions that are appealing to locals and tourists alike. For example there is Oedo Onsen Monogatari, a hot springs theme park where you can soak to your heart’s content for the whole day. Also there is the Odaiba ferris wheel, one of the biggest in the world with a diameter of 100 meters and a height of 115 meters. This ferris wheel prominently features in television dramas and movies, and contributes to the fact that Odaiba is a date hot spot. A ride on it allows you to see all of Tokyo Bay including the magnificent Rainbow Bridge, regarded as the symbol of this body of water. Overlooking the bridge is a replica of the Statue of Liberty, revealing Odaiba’s significance as a refuge (of shopping?) for Tokyo’s tired and huddled masses. Finally, the Tokyo Marathon inaugurated two years ago finishes right in Odaiba at Big Sight (a.k.a. the Tokyo International Exhibition Center), one of the largest venues in the city famous for hosting an annual manga convention.

Certainly Odaiba’s identity as a modern entertainment area is well-known, but people tend to be less familiar with its history, which also reflects Tokyo’s development as a city. Odaiba was initially built for defensive purposes in the 1800s, dramatically expanded during the late 20th century as a seaport district and has developed since the 1990s as a major commercial, residential and leisure area. The name “Odaiba” comes from a series of six island fortresses constructed in 1853 by the Tokugawa shogunate in order to protect Edo from attack by sea, the primary threat being Commodore Matthew Perry’s Black Ships which had arrived in the same year.

Daiba in Japanese refers to the cannon batteries placed on the islands. From the originally planned 11 batteries, only five were ever finished. The modern island of Odaiba began to take shape when the Port of Tokyo opened in 1941. Until the mid 1960s all except two batteries were either removed for unhindered passage of ships or incorporated into the Shinagawa port facilities and Tennozu Island. In 1979, the then-called landfill #13 was finished, directly connecting with the old “No. 3 Battery”. The “No. 6 Battery” was left to nature, and landing there is prohibited.

The fact is that Odaiba was built on reclaimed land at the new Tokyo waterfront subcenter. This is indicative of a greater pattern in regard to city planning. In many areas where water had once existed, new land was created for the purpose of Tokyo’s development. It is said that 20% of the land in the Tokyo Bay area, or 249 square kilometers, has been reclaimed. There were many reasons for the practice of reclaiming land. During the Edo Period (1603-1867) when Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled and Tokyo (then known as Edo) served as the capital, this area was swampland and land creation was necessary for strategic reasons. Also, the need for reclaimed land arose from the lack of sufficient garbage disposal areas.

More recent motivations were the building of the domestic Haneda Airport. In addition, when the idea for Tokyo Disneyland (technically located in Chiba Prefecture) was built in 1983, the requirement of a huge expanse of flatland presented a problem for which reclaimed land was as an effective solution.


It is hard to envision it when thinking in terms of the current park, but in this way Tokyo’s date mecca was thereby created from scratch. So the next time you find yourself in Tokyo, look down and try to picture what was once below your feet. Chances are it wasn’t always solid land!

——– Reported by Stacy Smith