Adventures in Space

Families Tokyo Life - June 30th, 2000
tokyoweekender_Diane Wiltshire

by Diane Wiltshire

Aaaah, space! Soaring seamless invigo­rating space, so hard to come by in this cramped, crowded city. With the arrival of heat and humidity each summer, our children long for a little more breathing room than Tokyo offers at first glance. To remedy this claustrophobic feeling, architects here have be­gun creating wide-open spaces, or at least the illusion of space. For children (and their parents) who chafe at the confines of citylife, you may want to check out some of these unique architectural wonders.

Practically next door to To­kyo Station looms a majestic new structure that resembles a gigantic glass-and-steel Noah’s Ark. This gracefully curving ship shape, the Tokyo Interna­tional Forum, was designed by renowned architect, Rafael Vinoly, and completed in 1996. Monumental stairways and shimmering bridges connect the Glass Hall and the Plaza into one mammoth ensemble which functions as conference center and exhibition hall. The outdoor plaza is a shaded area where you can relax to the tinkling of wind chimes on a hot day, or browse in the street level gift shops and art galleries.

Tokyo International Forum is also home to the Tourist Infor­mation Center, located in the basement level. Their hours are Monday-Friday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday: 9 a.m.-noon, and closed on Sundays and holidays. Tokyo International Forum is open to the public from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. at 3-5-1 Marounchi, in Chiyoda-ku. Tel. 5221-9000. Nearest transportation: Yurakucho Station (JR Yamanote or Yurakucho lines), or Tokyo Station (JR Yamanote and various lines).

If you long to rise above the din and dirt of this huge city, you can’t get much higher than the 52 floors of the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building in Nishi-Shinjuku. Not as crowded as some of the other observatories in town, this airy, futurist de­sign was completed in 1974 by architects from the Nikken Sekkai firm. Kids are fascinated by the building’s unusual trian­gular shape and hollow center; a sliced-open model of the structure is on display in the obser­vatory area.

After you marvel at the breath-taking bird’s-eye view in the observatory, take a break at the reasonably priced cafe, also on the 51st floor. Then check out the photo booth where you can take a picture of yourself with the Tokyo skyline super­imposed in the background. You may want to visit the art galleries on the 1st and 52nd floors. Shinjuku Sumitomo’s 10 p.m. closing time allows you to enjoy the glittering lights of the city long after other skyscrap­ers have closed.

The Shinjuku Sumitomo Building is located at 2-6-1 Nishi Shinjuku, in Shinjuku-ku. Tel: 3344-6941. The building is open from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, and closed on Jan. 1, as well as the third Sunday in February and August. Nearest transpor­tation: Nishi Shinjuku Station (Marounchi Line), or Shinjuku Station, West Exit, (JR Yamanote and various lines).

In 1994, a delightful oasis was created on the 20 acres in Ebisu that formerly housed the Sapporo Beer Factory. An­chored by the elegant Westin Hotel and Mitsukoshi Department Store, the open-air prom­enade of Ebisu Garden Place has a distinctly European atmo­sphere. The central stage area offers frequent concerts and other entertainment, and at night, this area comes alive with thousands of twinkling lights.

Besides strolling around amid the greenery and fountains, fami­lies can enjoy viewing outdoor sculptures, visiting an indoor art gallery, taking in a movie or visiting the Beer Mu­seum. Children love to watch the perfor­mance of the tiny marionettes in the clock at Marionette Square each day at noon, 3 and 6 p.m.

One of the most expansive views of Tokyo can be found on the thirty-ninth floor of the Ebisu Garden Place Tower. With no tall buildings nearby to obstruct your sight, you can see for miles around. Part of the fun is riding in the glass elevator that takes you straight to the top. You can easily spend hours checking out the restaurants, shops and bak­eries inside the tower and also along the square.

Ebisu Garden Place is lo­cated at 4-20-3 Ebisu, in Shibuya-ku. Tel: 5423-7111. The space is open from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. Nearest transporta­tion: Ebisu Station (Hibiya line), or JR Ebisu Station, East Exit, (JR Yamanote Line).