Odaiba and Niku Fest – Somewhere over the Rainbow (Bridge)
Odaiba and Niku Fest – Somewhere over the Rainbow (Bridge)
When you think of ‘Japan,’ the first images that come to mind are most likely neon-lit cityscapes, carefully prepared and artful sushi plates, piping-hot bowls of ramen, and possibly even a giant robot or two. And then, of course, there’s the anime.
Well, despite leaning into stereotypes too hard, most of the above are true, for better or worse – and a great place to view all of those things at once is in an area adjacent to Tokyo: Odaiba. Yes, including giant robots.
The manmade island afloat in Tokyo Bay is connected to the world’s densest metropolis by the famous, and aptly named, Rainbow Bridge, and was originally constructed as a series of forts to be used as a deterrent against sea-faring invaders, thus the name Odaiba – “O,” meaning large, and “daiba,” meaning fort in Japanese.
These days, the island has given up its crusade against invaders, and with help from the economic boom in the 1980s, Japan sought to transform the island into a ‘futuristic’ tourist attraction, rife with shopping districts, the now-famous Fuji television building, and a prime location for date night.
Now that we shared a little bit of history about how Odaiba came to be one of the most famous locations in central Japan, let’s talk about why: the ‘island of the future’ is popular due in part to the events held on its grounds. Because of the island’s structure and placement of attractions, it provides massive sprawls of open areas for crowds to venture to, often rivaling its neighbor Tokyo in the number of people they draw in.
At the end of April, and right before the string of national holidays the Japanese have named ‘Golden Week’, Odaiba hosted two annual events of which I am a big fan – Niku Fest, which literally translates to ‘Meat Festival,’ and Oktoberfest, Japan’s festival celebrating all things octopus…just kidding, it’s still the beer-centric German event we all love, just with a Japanese twist. The twist being that it’s held in April, not in October. Oh, those crazy Japanese people! If you love meat of any variety, flavor, and shape, and anything related to beer and German culture, these events might be for you.
Looking to make the most of my weekend, and finally capitalizing on the break-in weather, my significant other and I set off from Sagamihara, stomachs empty and hopes high.
From the central Sagamihara and Zama City areas, the route to Odaiba is a reasonable 1-hour and 20-minutes by car via the Hodogaya bypass (approximately), accessible by toll road. Although Odaiba is an island, there are many access points to it, including monorail, bus, and of course personal transportation. All come at a cost, but that’s just Japan.
Grabbing a coffee from our go-to convenience store, we hit the road to Odaiba, where piles of grilled meat, pints of German beer, and a stiff breeze and a sunny day awaited us.
(A word of caution for those wanting to travel to Odaiba, or anywhere in Japan, for that matter – always carry cash on you, as Japan is still primarily a cash-based transactional society. While you can find many places of business that accept credit and debit cards, more often than not, you might find yourself blindsided with a bill only payable in yen, so make sure you withdraw before setting off on any journeys.)
Additionally, parking on Odaiba, as we found out firsthand, can present a challenge. Parking garages can be found in the Decks, and Aqua City indoor mall locations, but require a purchase within their establishments over a certain price threshold before they will give you a parking discount. If you opt to park at a different location, I suggest you use Google Maps or another GPS-based application to find parking options for cheap, as Odaiba fills up fast – especially on days when big events are held.
Taking all of that into account, we arrived at a parking garage near Tokyo Diver City Plaza, a two-minute walk from where Niku Fest was being held, and paid a steep, but average price of 1,500-yen, which is around $10 for parking for the day.
We decided to take a pit stop through the Aqua and Diver City malls before venturing into Niku Fest, as it had been a while since we visited Odaiba. The massive multi-story malls house numerous restaurants, movie theaters, game centers, and clothing stores – something for everyone, which makes a tour through both places something new and different every time.
After a quick jaunt through the shopping areas, we made our way to the meats. Coming into earshot were the sounds of a live concert, performed by a Japanese Idol girl group with a roar of fans cheering them on. The ticket booth, positioned near the entranceway, and next to a large billboard advertising the weekend’s eats, offered Japanese and English-speakers for assistance with purchasing tickets.
Truthfully, Niku Fest is not for those looking to pinch pennies. The price of tickets versus the amount of food you get is not worth it, in my opinion. Although there are a multitude of dishes to choose from, the portion sizes are small. With each dish requiring two tickets valued at a little over $5, you would likely be looking at a $30 bill before your appetite is satiated – and that’s being generous.
That being said, the niku sushi was fantastic. The meat was cooked to a perfect, mouth-watering medium-rare, and coated in a sweet, soy sauce-based glaze. Each bite provided me with a conundrum: they were delicious, but were they delicious enough to blow my remaining tickets on?
The answer was ‘no,’ but upon consultation with my significant other, neither of us regretted making the trip to Niku Fest this year. The steep ticket prices and throngs of people weren’t enough of a detractor to stop us from enjoying the rest of our day.
As far as Apriltoberfest goes, 500-yen (about $3.75) gets you in the door and provides you with your very own commemorative drinking glass, so at the very least your experience starts with a souvenir. From there, you can sample German sausages, various pickled ham hocks, and other German dishes. It goes without saying that your choices of German beer are filled to overflowing –both large scale, and micro brews are on tap.
My aching wallet aside, we did enjoy the venue – clear, sunny, skies, with lots of interesting things going on all around us made the drive worth it. Although Niku Fest, and Oktoberfest by extension, are expensive outings, Odaiba has more than enough going for it outside these two events to warrant a trip.
For those of you who are looking for a place to go on a date, or perhaps to take the kids out for a weekend, Odaiba and its Aqua and Diver City malls are fantastic options for an area less crowded than Tokyo, proper. Legoland, TeamLab, and the giant Unicorn Gundam are all very iconic spots to visit if you find yourself on the island.
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