First we attended a workshop addressing the proper ways of "escaping" a room on fire. They had created a smoke maze made up of many little rooms connected by closed doors. The first room was completely filled with a smoky substance that smelled rather sweet, like the stuff they released on the dance floors at Barmitzvahs when I was thirteen. It definitely did the job though, because it was impossible to see anything in that room. It was rather embarrassing because Amanda and I weren't totally sure what they were telling us to do, and each separate party had to go through the smoke maze while the rest of the group watched them on a screen. Amanda and I, the only foreigners in the room, were very conscious of the fact that we were being watched by a large group of Japanese people. I couldn’t see anything, so I crouched down low and followed the wall with my hands and eventually found a door. We made it out okay, but pathetically we managed to disobey most of the directions. We failed to cover our mouths properly, Amanda didn’t bother crouching down low, and we forgot to close all the doors behind us. Big F for the foreigners.
Next was the earthquake room. Each separate party got a turn in the earthquake room while the rest of us watched on a movie screen outside. When it was our turn we were paired up with another Japanese couple, making us a group of four. We earthquake room was made up to look like a kitchen. There was a fake stove with a pot and a kettle on it. We were told to sit at the kitchen table and wait. On the table were four cushions, one placed at each seat. As the room began to violently shake we had to cover our heads with the cushions and hide under the table. We were told to hold on tight to the legs of the table. The simulation was pretty creepy. They had simulated fake debris falling outside the windows of the room and the teakettle flew off the stove and onto the floor next to our table. Obviously they had lots of sound effects, as well. Luckily the kettle was actually attached to the wall by a metal wire, so it couldn’t actually hit any of us. After what felt like 3 or 4 minutes the simulated quake stopped and we were allowed to come out of hiding.
I now know exactly what to do if I am sitting at a table that has a cushion on it and an earthquake hits. Sadly, if I am anywhere else when the next earthquake hits, I will have no idea what to do. It was a nice idea, but not sure if they needed to spend all that money creating this earthquake simulation room just to give us some very simple and rather impractical information.
Seriously, though, I would really like to know more about earthquakes because the week before I visited Ikebukuro’s earthquake center, there was an earthquake in Toyko. It was sometime in the middle of the night, so I was rather groggy when I woke up. My bed was shaking quite a bit, the clothes in my closet were swishing back and forth, and the lamp on the ceiling was shaking. I was so sleepy, I don't think I realized how strong it was. While earthquakes are rather common here, this one was a fairly strong one I hear. The epicenter was actually pretty far away, but people seemed very surprised that we could feel it so strongly in Tokyo. It was about 6.8 on the richter scale. I hear Japan is long overdue for another huge earthquake, having had a massively destructive one back in the 20s. Here is an informative passage I stole from a 2004 BBC news article:
“Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, perched on top of several converging tectonic plates.
Geological instability causes around 1,000 tremors in the country each year, although many of these go undetected by the public.
Every time they do strike they are a reminder to the country's capital, Tokyo, that it is long overdue "a Big One".
The last major quake in the city was in 1923, and records suggest the geologically precarious Kanto region - where Tokyo in located - will experience one of a similar size about every 70 years.
The 1923 quake, known as the Great Kanto Earthquake, killed more than 100,000 people. Although building and safety standards have greatly improved since then, experts predict that a major quake in the capital could still kill several thousand people and shake the world's financial markets.
The urban density of Tokyo - home to more than 12 million people crammed into an area of just over 2,000 sq-km - therefore puts it at great risk.
A government earthquake panel said in August that there was a 70% chance of a quake around magnitude 7 hitting Tokyo in the next 30 years. The city government has predicted a quake measuring 7.2 could kill more than 7,000 people and injure around 160,000.”
Pretty scary, eh? So now I can see why most Tokyoites are so nervous about earthquakes. I still have to get over my tendency to think that being in an earthquake would be exciting. Sometimes I almost wish a big earthquake would strike just so I could see what it’s like. I remember loving that movie “Twister” because I had never experienced a tornado. I thought the idea of trying to escape a natural disaster sounded so romantic and exciting. I know it's silly, but I still think that way sometimes. Since the awful earthquake hit China last week though, I have realized the seriousness of our situation in Tokyo. Who knows when the next big one will be?
Anyway, enough about earthquakes. Let’s talk about ice cream! Following the earthquake center, Amanda and I went to a large mall-type complex called Sunshine City. It has tons of clothing stores, a little theme park (of sorts) called Namja town, an observation tower with an aquarium in it, and a place called Ice Cream City. Ice Cream City turned out to be a mini museum about the history of ice cream in Japan. There was an arcade as well, as there often are everywhere in Tokyo. Lining the place were vendors selling packets of astronaut ice cream, strange flavors of Gelato, such as black sesame (the ice cream was actually black), and stretchy ice cream. The list of strange ice creams continues. I liked that everyone let you taste flavors before buying. We walked around and tasted all the flavors that a.) looked tasty or b.) looked really odd and possibly disgusting. There was also a room of freezers stocked with little cups of the strangest flavors of ice cream I have ever seen. A few examples are squid, octopus, shrimp, crab, curry, corn, and chicken. I, of course, just had to try one of these disgustingly strange ice cream flavors. After much deliberation, I chose chicken flavored ice cream. Well, here’s the thing… never eat chicken ice cream.
Chicken ice cream is basically bland, white ice cream, with minced fried chicken chunks mixed into it. The ice cream was boring and tasteless, and didn’t even taste like chicken. How utterly disappointing! (And those minced chicken bits sure didn’t do the ice cream's texture any favors). I’m pretty sure I remember finding a bit of cartilage in there, too.
After this exciting edible adventure, I settled upon a nice cup of gelato to calm things down a bit. I ordered a cup of two flavors: blueberry and rare cheese. Now rare cheese sounds pretty strange too, but it was actually amazingly delicious. The two flavors went together extremely well.
After Ice Cream City, we wandered Namjatown. I'm not sure how else to explain it except that it was kind of like an indoor theme park. There were no rides, but there was tons of food, such as Gyoza town. Gyoza town was filled with tons of vendors all selling their own versions of those tasty Japanese dumplings. There was also a three-story maze of many elaborate theatrical themed sets: a Florentine town, an Egyptian tomb, a haunted forest, and so on. It sure reminded me of Disneyland. I wasn’t really sure what the purpose of this place was, but people seemed to be playing some kind of game that involved wearing a big plastic cat on a string around your neck, sticking it into these little portals around the maze of theatrical sets and pressing buttons a lot. We foreigners, as usual, had no idea what was going on. We just enjoyed admiring the amazingly extensive detail put into the theatrical sets.
What really surprised me though, was the bathroom. In the last stall there was a large scary face sculpted onto the wall behind the toilet. When you sat down and closed the door, a trap door snapped shut on the top of the stall. The lights went out, thunder noises commenced, and a loud, booming voice began to yell threatening things in Japanese. Flashing blacklights revealed skeletons painted on the walls in glow-in-the-dark paint. What could be more frightening than sitting on a toilet in the dark, not sure what’s about to happen to you?