October has been Campaign Month – there have been advertisements on the Metro for my school and a couple of special events – I wasn’t involved because they were Sunday events and I had regular classes that were continuing anyway. And then last week was for Halloween Lessons – we had a special programme for all childrens’ classes involving Halloween vocabulary, papercraft ghosts and a fun game called Feed the Witch!
This week I was originally supposed to be doing training on Wednesday and Thursday – for Sunday workers only (because we missed other training days or events that took place on Sundays). But my managers offered me the option of taking those days as holidays if I worked extra days earlier in the month – which I did! I got to see two new offices (for me), Funabori (actually only a short bus ride from Nishi-Kasai) and Toyocho (two stops on the Tozai line). I found a big supermarket in Toyocho called Seiyu (owned by Walmart/Asda), which is the first place I’ve seen “proper” Pepsi Cola in large bottles. So I stocked up.
Anyway, this left me with a pleasant 3-day break leading up to the real Halloween, and it just so happened that this coincided with an old work colleague, Nick, coming to visit Tokyo with his wife Dee, ostensibly to celebrate Nick’s 30th birthday. I worked with him 2 careers and 5 jobs ago!
So I promised to meet up with him and the first meeting place that popped into my mind was the Skytree tower – the big communications tower you can see from my street, and indeed from half of Tokyo! I hadn’t been there yet and the views from the observation deck were said to be magnificent!
They managed to negotiate the metro system without problems, and met at Skytree Oshiage station. Nick had very kindly brought me a selection of Aero products and polo mints from the UK, after my frequently bemoaning their lack of availability in Japan. So it was already a winning day!
Unfortunately it wasn’t a clear day. It was pouring with rain and the sky was covered in cloud. The chances of a good view from the observation deck seemed minimal. So hoping it would clear up later, we decided to get some lunch then go in the adjoining Aquarium.
Lunch was for me and Dee some Japanese style fried chicken and fries, while Nick went for a bowl of Ramen and (on my suggestion) the Gindaco octopus balls. We then wandered about the shops in the mall for a while before heading over to the Aquarium.
Although Nick described this as “plan Z” it actually was a fascinating place. The first display was just some colourful, unnamed tropical fish in large tanks, with beautiful backdrops which contrasted their colours.
Next was the jellyfish display, starting with the absolutely beautiful Moon Jellyfish, in a floor-to-ceiling tank, just floating around leisurely, or occasionally contracting and expanding to propel themselves. Again the background (mainly light projections) and soundscape added to the whole other-worldly effect.
There were other jellyfish too – some with long, trailing tentacles, some which live upside-down on the sea floor, and four tanks showing moon jellyfish at 1, 2, 3 and 4 days old, showing how quickly they grow. Beyond this were tanks with other interesting specimens – lionfish, morays, those ubiquitous clownfish, pufferfish, porcupinefish, warty frogfish, and many more. And then there was the BIG tank…
This was a cavern-sized tank full of rocks. At first it seemed to be just larger fish, but then Dee spotted a massive eel – probably a metre and a half long – on some of the rocks towards the back. Just as we were adjusting our eyes to see that, a huge manta ray swam across our field of vision – about the size of a 4 or 5 year old child. And just as we were getting our heads round that, an actual SHARK appeared above us.
It turned out there were two eels and two manta rays – only one shark though. The window we were looking through was just a small observation point, around the corner you could see the full height of the tank across 2 floors. Beyond that were some more tanks, larger than the first room but not as big as the shark tank. One was full of funny little pencil-sized eels, their tails anchored in the sand, their bodies and heads leaning this way and that way trying to pluck food out of the water before a neighbouring eel got it first.
Underneath us (we were on the mezzanine level) was the Penguin Pool, and it appeared feeding time was starting just as we reached it. Four keepers in blue and black uniforms were handing fish to individual penguins and calling out names which one of them was checking off a list. It seems they were making sure each individual penguin got the right amount of food. The penguins had no time for that of course, they were just excitedly swimming in circles around the keepers, and as soon as one was chosen to get a fish, it was off like a rocket to an out-of-the-way part of the pool to enjoy its feast.
Behind us was a sealion pool (I’ve checked – the ones with the ears!) a fraction the size of the penguin pool, with four seals, each significantly larger than a penguin. It seemed such little space for these enthusiastic swimmers to swim around in, and they were retracing the same limited routes again and again and again.
Coming down from the mezzanine floor we went down a corridor with a digital display floor, with digital fish swimming across it. Whenever you put your foot on it, digital ripples spread out.
After Dee grabbed a turtle-cake from the amusingly named Penguin Cafe, we left the aquarium and went back to check the weather. Video screens showed the view from the observation deck, and whereas before it had been totally white, now there were some glimpses of city between the clouds. We decided it would be a shame not to go up and have a look, so we went to get our tickets.
Normally there are huge queues and international visitors have an advantage because they can buy slightly more expensive tickets to avoid the queues. But the attendant at the ticket desk told us there was no point paying more if there were no queues to jump, we may as well just get normal tickets. Very customer-minded service!
We got our tickets (no queue at all) and were guided by what seemed like an army of staff members into a large decorated elevator. We were supposedly going up to floor 350 but it didn’t take much detective work to find out that there weren’t any floors that didn’t divide by 5. So it was probably more like floor 70.
At the top there was basically a 360 degree observation ring. There were some touristy features like photo-boards (they would take your picture with a fancy camera and sell it to you, or with your own camera for free), interactive display windows, and information about what features were visible at each point on the ring.
Unfortunately the slightly-clearer-skies meant we could only see parts of the city within a mile or so of the base of the tower, beyond that there were only clouds. But it was still interesting to look down at the tiny rivers, bridges and buildings.
On floor 340 (or as I prefer to call it, 68) there was a glass-bottomed floor, through which you could see the tower falling away towards the ground, and on which you could stand with just a few centimetres of glass between you and a plummeting, hurtling, screaming death. I did it for a few seconds but then felt uncomfortably aware of my own mortality and backed away to the more reassuring few inches of steel.
As it was getting dark now there was even less to see than before so we headed back down to the ground. We made our way to the station and made provisional plans to meet up the next day for a bus tour. It was disappointing not to get the full Skytree panorama experience, but at least I can tick another Tokyo landmark off my “to do” list.