Feature: Tokyo Bay Then & Now
Odaiba gets its name from the original daiba (batteries) built by the shogun on islands of reclaimed land in the 1850s, as a last-ditch effort to guard the city from foreign ships. In the 1920s and 30s, Tokyo began expanding further, creating the islands of Harumi, Tennōzu Isle, Ariake, Toyosu – where the new central wholesale market is located – and Shinonome; some were partially made with rubble from the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake.
Throughout the 1940s and 1970s, landfill waste was used to build more, including the Odaiba of today, plus Aomi and Yume-no-shima. The latest and most ambitious island is Umi-no-mori (Sea Forest), built in the 1970s and 80s; since the 2000s it has been undergoing a dramatic forestation project. These larger land masses absorbed some of the original daiba, while others were removed. Only one is still recognisable; it's now Daiba-kōen, attached to Odaiba Kaihin-kōen by a spit of land.
Until the 1980s Tokyo's artificial islands were largely industrial. It's a legacy that still ripples today: the new wholesale market was built on the site of a former gas refinery in Toyosu, requiring extensive decontamination and attracting intense criticism.
As growth was at an all-time high in the 1980s, plans were set in motion to transform the islands into another city centre, like Shinjuku. Here was the blank slate about which city planners had long fantasised! But the bubble economy burst and funds dried up, leaving the project half-finished. The malls and leisure facilities – a compromise of sorts, but today Odaiba's defining feature – went up in the 1990s.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the islands of Tokyo Bay will once again be reimagined: the Olympic Village will be here (on Harumi) and so will many of purpose-built venues. Umi-no-mori will make its public debut as the site of the equestrian cross-country event.