Tokyo’s strangest sights
Umbrellas from a vending machine
When it comes to personal consumption, far more Tokyoites get their food and drink from conbini (convenience stores) and vending machines. Both offer an excellent peek into the daily rhythms of the city’s commuters and can be found on every street corner. Japan has more vending machines per capita than any other country. In addition to hot canned coffee and bottles of cold green tea, vending machines have been known to dispense such necessities as canned bread, beer, umbrellas and hot noodles. They are also increasingly high-tech: some have touch screen menus and face recognition software to track and respond to the preferences of identifiable demographics.
But no Japanese innovation inspires more awe than the washlet. These are the electric toilets equipped with water spraying nozzles that clean your nether regions at the push of a button. The more sophisticated ones also have seat warmers, air dryers and water pressure adjusters. Some even raise and lower the toilet seat for you. Flushing toilets were a wonderful invention, but why stop there? The development of the washlet is a perfect example of kaizen, the practice of continuous innovation and improvement.
An 18m-tall, 35-tonne robot warrior
The city’s largest paean to technology can currently be found on the bay in Odaiba. Here stands a one to one scale model of Gundam, the giant “mobile suit” from the epic anime series of the same name. The statue was originally created for a two-month run in 2009 to mark the 30th anniversary of the series, but thanks to intense popular demand, it is back for another year-long run until spring 2013. With any luck, this 18m-tall, 35-tonne robot warrior will become a permanent fixture. It would not be a bad emblem for a city as ambitious and seemingly otherworldly as Tokyo.