TOPTokyo LifeChasing Olympic Dreams in Ariake

Chasing Olympic Dreams in Ariake

Home to four Olympic venues, Tokyo Bay’s reclaimed island of Ariake is worth a visit whether or not the Games take place

By Stephan Jarvis

2020 should have been a celebratory year for Ariake, one of the islands of reclaimed land that lay within Tokyo Bay. Alas, the global Covid-19 situation and subsequent cancelation-postponement of the Olympics and numerous other events have left the area a relative ghost town. While the convention center Tokyo Big Sight is the most recognizable landmark, now might be a good time to wander around without the crowds and get familiar with some other notable attractions.

Olympic Hopefuls

With four venues within close proximity of each other, it’s easy to see why Ariake is set to become a popular destination when (and if) the Olympics roll around. In addition to the Ariake Tennis Park (the mecca of Japanese tennis and home to the Ariake Coliseum), the newly built Ariake Arena, Ariake Gymnastics Center and the temporary Ariake Urban Sports Park are set to host tennis, volleyball, gymnastics, BMX freestyle/racing and skateboarding respectively.

Situated right on the bayfront, and with the Tokyo skyline as a backdrop, Ariake Urban Sports Park is particularly appealing due to the more youth-driven, carnival-like atmosphere that organizers have planned for the area — not to mention the fact that the open, airy location will hopefully prove effective in dissipating the high levels of humidity that a Tokyo summer typically brings.

Waterside Wanderings

In fact, it’s the openness of Ariake that has made the area a surprisingly pleasant place, especially in this day and age of pandemic-induced social distancing. It’s possible to navigate much of the island’s perimeter via a peaceful stretch of shoreline promenades and clean, well-cultivated micro-parks away from the crowds and the stifling inner-city environment.

Of particular note is Ariake-Kita Canal Park, which offers a sweeping view across Rainbow Bridge, Toyosu and the Tokyo cityscape along the horizon. Follow the route down toward the twin-towered Hotel Trusty Tokyo Bayside and nearby Mizu no Hiroba Port Park to enjoy a packed lunch on the steps of a red-bricked amphitheatre before continuing around to the more lush, tree-lined section of the park that leads all the way to Tokyo Big Sight and Ariake West Terminal Park.

If you fancy something more expansive, The Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park will surely suffice. As the name suggests, the sprawling park is the base of operations for Tokyo’s disaster strategy response unit and features a free-to-enter visitor center where you can gain first-hand experience of a large-scale-quake and, naturally, some all-important safety advice. Calm your nerves afterwards by grilling up something good at the adjacent Sona Area Tokyo Barbecue Garden. If you need to burn off some extra calories, the park conveniently leads into Symbol Promenade Park, a lengthy pedestrian walkway that threads all the way through Ariake and the neighbouring Daiba and Aomi areas. There are more green areas and plant life along the route for horticulturalists to enjoy, plus the 60-meter wide Dream Bridge for another opportunity to take in a scenic view across the bay.

Interactive Education

There are plenty of things to do indoors too, particularly if you’re looking to educate and entertain young minds. Ariake is an apt location for both the Tokyo Water Science Museum, which aims to teach visitors about the wonders of water through fun, interactive games and big screens, and the Tokyo Sewerage Museum “Rainbow.” Here you can find answers to questions you didn’t think you had about Japan’s sewerage system and experience first-hand the role of a sewerage worker. If you’re thirsty for more knowledge visit the (mostly) free Panasonic Center Tokyo and its RiSuPia museum. Kids can enjoy learning about science and math in nature, while adults can check out the company’s latest products and technology.

Fans of miniatures and dioramas will find themselves occupied over at Small Worlds Tokyo — the world’s largest indoor miniature amusement park. There are intricate and offbeat details to spot amongst the interactive exhibits that include day-night cycles, Cape Kennedy rocket launches and Evangelion Angel attacks on Tokyo-3. Backstage tours can be booked for a glimpse of how the exhibits come together and, if you’re willing to stump up a fairly high price, an opportunity to be 3D scanned, miniaturized and temporarily become part of an exhibit.

Mallrats

Another recent addition to the ever-developing area is Ariake Garden, a large-scale shopping and entertainment complex. The 200-plus outlets within the mall run the gamut of what you’d expect, with a particular emphasis on sports and fashion across the second and third floor. There are also nearly 50 dining options. Furthermore, each of the five floors has an outdoor terrace to enjoy, with slight twists in their designs.

The mall is one of five buildings that make up Ariake Garden, which overlook an entertainment plaza and park. The others are home to a hotel, spa, event hall and theatre (home of the Lion King production from 2021). It’s a place you might find worth stopping by if you’re looking to wind down and get some retail therapy, or simply a half-decent bite to eat, after spending time in or around Ariake’s other main attractions.

Getting there

Ariake is based in Tokyo’s Koto Ward. Take the Yurikamome Line from Shinbashi Station and get off at Tokyo Big Sight Station or Ariake Station. Most destinations mentioned in this article are within walking distance from there.

All photographs by Stephan Jarvis