This article is part of the series about my July 2018 trip to Japan. Please see the table of contents page for other articles in this series as they are posted.
In a previous article about robots I mentioned the Miraikan museum, also known as “The National Museum of Emerging Science & Innovation.” In this article, I want to go in some more detail about this interesting place to visit.
Miraikan is located in Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, and one of the main ways to get there is the Yurikamome train. The adage “getting there is half for the fun” really holds true here, because from the windows of the Yurikamome you can view breathtaking views of the metropolis on both Odaiba and the mainland; some parts of the cityscape there remind me of a science fiction movie, and the more industrial areas remind me of introduction to the classic RPG Final Fantasy 7. Try to get a seat near the front window in the first car for the best view.
It isn’t just being surrounded by such majestic scenery, it’s also that the Yurikamome in many areas doesn’t have high walls to interfere with the view like many of the JR train lines do, plus the Yurikamome also is elevated in many areas, like a monorail, and it’s various curves nearly fool to thinking you are on a roller coaster––especially the one place over the bay where it does a tight loop (I wonder what the engineers were thinking there). Some places to look out for are the famous rainbow bridge (especially dazzling at night), a mysterious storefront that looks like a clock in the land of Smurfs, and, that’s right, a giant robot. Even if you don’t actually visit the Miraikan, a scenic trip on the Yurikamome is worth every penny.
The museum is around a 10-minute walk from the “Telecom Center” stop in the middle of the Yurikamome. The entrance fee is amazingly cheap: 620 yen (~ $5 USD) for adults 18 or older and 210 yen (~ $2 USD) for the younger ones. There are group discounts for parties of eight or more, and you can even get a yearly passport for only 1280/400 yen.
Right inside the front entrance you’ll see an area where they have single-wheeled scooters to test briefly or to rent for a price to take on a tour of the museum. We didn’t do that (our son was shorter than the minimum height limit), but they looked pretty fun.
The building is comprised of seven floors that contain several large exhibition spaces, one where we saw a live demo of Honda’s Asimo (which I wrote about in detail here). I don’t think we actually saw every exhibit, but there was a good mix of domains including medicine, outer space, robotics, and ecology.
From what I remember a majority of the exhibits had English text in addition to Japanese, and the ones I read seemed to be good (or at least good-sounding) translations. Besides the exhibits, there was a cafe with delicious desserts and coffee, a restaurant with reasonably good food, and a place to relax on reclining chairs while gazing up at a giant globe. There was even a play area for children, including a spot where kids can color in figures, scan them in, and have them appear as 3D models on a display. The models even interact with one another, for example a helicopter might carry a car, etc. For Lego fans, there was an area with giant rubber bricks to build a house or whatever you like.
The museum’s gift shop, accessible either by an outside entrance or through the room with the relaxation chairs, also had much to offer: science books, educational kits, poseable toy models of Asimo in various sizes, and even some real (albeit small) robots.
We were actually planning on coming back to Miraikan for a second time, but there happened to be a holiday on the weekend, and since the museum was usually closed on Mondays, the break was shifted an extra day to Tuesday so we weren’t able to visit that day.
Odaiba is one of my favorite places in Tokyo, not just because of this museum and the great views from the train, but because of how wide and spread out everything feels. For example, the area directly in front of the museum is amazingly large, almost as if to spite the cramped parks and streets typical of Tokyo.
We didn’t have time to explore everything Odaiba had to offer, but two other places to consider are the Tokyo Minatorie, a free-for-entry observation deck at the top of a tall building that shows a breathtaking view of Tokyo Bay and the surrounding area, and Aqua City Odaiba, a massive mall whose diverse set of restaurants is only topped by its variety of stores.
On the day we had intended to return to Miraikan, because it was closed we decided on visiting the Sony ExploraScience center that is part of the Aqua City Odaiba mall (it’s a little tricky to find, but it’s on one of the upper floors next to a large escalator).
Tickets were 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for children under 16. Unfortunately, after having experienced the grandeur of Miraikan, Sony ExploraScience center was a major letdown (especially considering the cost). Besides being set in a much smaller, and dimly-lit space, many of the exhibits didn’t teach anything specific and just let you play around with some technology. But to be fair, I guess that was intentional since exploring is the theme of the museum.
While we did enjoy ourselves for an hour or two there, I am not planning a return visit anytime soon. Two odd things about the place were a complete lack of Sony’s lovable robot dog Aibo, and how in an exhibit about high-quality audio (that seemed to be a veiled advertisement for their new Walkman) I couldn’t hear any difference between the low quality and high quality for the violin music sample. But perhaps my hearing is to blame.
Minor disappointments aside, I’m a huge fan of Odaiba and the Miraikan museum, and highly recommend you check these places out.
(Back to the table of contents page for this series)