Odaiba, then & now: a visual history お台場の歴史

I. Cruel story of obsessive-compulsiveness

Often, when I watch old Japanese movies, I come across familiar-looking filming locations that drive me to the point of distraction. Where was that filmed? I am compelled to find the answer, spending dozens of hours to find the answer. I’ve blogged about this a before, whether it’s an intersection in Akasaka, a church in Yotsuya, or Sensō-ji in Asakusa.

In a prior-post, I described a puzzling scene from Cruel Story of Youth (1960) 青春残酷物語, which shows a boat passing by wooden pilings and into a large pool filled with floating logs. Here, in consecutive photos, is a full sweep of the scene:

The following provides the best clues regarding the camera location. (Exhibit A).

Where was this filmed? Once you know the answer, it seems a bit obvious. It is right next to Odaiba お台場, an artificial island in Tokyo. The exact location is here. Here is the area as seen from above:

The following is a screen-shot from Google earth showing the same scene as Exhibit A, 54 years later (at a slightly higher elevation).

The changes between 1960 to 2014 are notable for a few reasons:

1. Rainbow Bridge (completed in 1993)

2. Development of dozens of large buildings, including:

3. Absence of the floating logs.

  • in the right foreground of Exhibit A, thousands of logs are floating in cramped captivity.
  • now, the water is clear of logs, and used by pleasure boats, with a clear view of the large buildings in Odaiba; here is a before-and-after from roughly the same location. (2014 map)

II. A brief history of daiba and Odaiba

The dual use of daiba and odaiba has often caused me confusion. Here’s what I know:

Daiba 台場 – This word refers to man-made islands that were built, starting in 1853, as a defense against Commodore Perry and foreign invaders. I believe the word daiba originally meant the batteries of cannons located on the islands, but this term can be generalized to mean these islands themselves. As a result, daiba can reasonably be translated to ‘island fort’ or ‘battery island’. This is a picture of a daiba:

And this is a woodblock print of daiba by Hasui Kawase 川瀬巴水 (1883-1957): “The Shinagawa Offing” 品川沖 (1920), from 東京十二題 12 Scenes of Tokyo

Of the seven daiba that were built (not all were finished), only two remain. The others were either covered by man-made land or removed to improve shipping lanes. Below left (Exhibit C), is a map of the daiba, numbered in red, with yellow circles indicating the ones that no longer exist. Only #3 and #6 remain. #3 is open to the public, known as Daiba Park 台場公園 (map).

As recently as 1946, most of the Daiba still existed. Below, right, is detail of a US Army map from 1946, showing that all of the daiba but #7 were visible (although #4 had been incorporated into the tip of Tennōzu Isle 天王洲アイル, now the location of Sea Fort Square シーフォートスクエアmap).

The daiba are clearly visible in the following aerial photograph from 1936, with a comparison to the 1946 map.

And things were a lot different a century ago. In the following map from 1909, all of the daiba are depicted, and, more interestingly, almost none of Tokyo’s vast reclaimed land exists. This is a stark contrast to 2014:

Also seen in this map using survey information from 1923-24, and 1937 (source: Tokyo waterfront):

Odaiba お台場 – from my research, the word daiba morphed into the word odaiba when, out of respect for the shogun, officials added the kanji 御 to daiba, for 御台場, meaning “your 御 daiba 台場”. Pronounced odaiba, today the kanji is replaced with the phonetic お, followed by 台場. (footnote 2). Today, the word Odaiba generally means the man-made island containing, among other things, the Aqua City Odaiba, a miniature Statue of Liberty, and the Fuji Television building. More on this below. The land reclamation of Odaiba occurred in the late 1970s / early 1980s, but the 1990s was the main decade of commercial construction; for example, the Fuji Television Headquarters was constructed between 1993-1997, and the area started receiving rail service via the Yurikamome Line in 1995 and the Rinkai Line in 1996.

Development of Odaiba, mid-1970s to today; in the upper-left section of the photo you can also see the addition of the Rainbow Bridge between the 1990 and 2007 photos. The bridge was completed in 1993:

If it’s not already confusing…

Daiba Station 台場駅 – is a station of the Yurikamome Line 新交通ゆりかもめ, located in Odaiba.

Daiba is also the name of an official geographical district within Tokyo’s Minato-ku (ward). Within Minato-ku there are five districts 地区: Azabu, Shiba, Akasaka, Takanawa, and Shibaura Konan. Within the district of Shibaura Konan 芝浦港南 there are four regions 地域, of which Daiba is one. Within Daiba there are two chome 丁目, Daiba 1-chome and Daiba 2-chome / 台場(だいば)一・二丁目). The “official” definition of Daiba is shown in the map below, circled in yellow.

Colloquially, when people speak of “going to Odaiba”, the geographic place they refer to is essentially identical to the officially-defined Daiba. Personally, I would say that “Odaiba” also includes all of the Yurikamome stations between Odaibakaihinkoen お台場海浜公園 and Aomi 青海 (some of these are technically in Aomi, Koto-ku 青海、江東区. Wikipedia calls Odaiba “a large artificial island”, but the southern border of this island is somewhat arbitrary, as seen below, right, which is Google’s definition of Odaiba (the Tokyo Port takes up all of the area south of the purple border).

III. Why accuracy in blogs is important

Wherein I explain how I wasted several hours investigating a bad lead

When I started my search, I found a blog claiming that the log scene from Cruel Story of Youth was filmed in Kiba 木場, which makes sense, as kiba means ‘timber basin’ 貯木場, a variation of ‘lumberyard’ 貯木. I spent several hours on this dead-end precisely because it was so promising: for many years, logs were transported by river and stored in Kiba. I found some excellent pictures of this, particularly:

The lumberyards in Kiba were relocated in 1969 and replaced with Kiba park; the location of these lumberyards can be seen in the 1946 US Army map, which includes the label “Lumber Storage Ponds”. This is matches the current location of Kiba park, can be verified by comparison to existing canals and landmasses.

It only took 4 hours to realize I was lost.

IV. How I know I’m right

I wanted absolute proof that I’d found the correct location, particularly in light of the Kiba fiasco. I’m indebted to the author of Exhibit C, and also to a blog that posted a series of pictures depicting changes to Odaiba between 1947 and 2007. Here are two of the pictures, in which similarities to the movie stills are evident: the daiba, the large number of logs, and the narrow channel running between the two thin islands.

The clues that allowed me to claim victory are the four rows of wooden pilings that jut into the water in the gap between the two thin islands. For the movie, the camera likely was placed on top of the pilings due to the flat surface. Today, the pilings no longer exist, but they were quite visible in the photos from 1963 and 1966; the ladder-like gaps running down the middle of each series is the final, decisive detail.

The filming location is now a bird sanctuary, as seen in the following map, labeled 「鳥の島 (立入禁止」, or “Bird Island – Off-limits” (source, broken link: odaibacity com/?p=80).

There are probably plenty of people who, when watching Cruel Story of Youth, would recognize the location instantly. That would have saved me a lot of time, but it would have prevented me from discovering the excellent mapping tools that I used extensively, and plan to use in the future.

Cheers to searching, getting lost, and getting found.

Selected Sources / Notes:

Yurikamome map ゆりかもめマップ東京お台場 / お台場 地図 英語 / English Odaiba Map:

Daiba & Odaiba – overview

Daiba & Odaiba – historical maps and aerial photography

KibaKiba Park (Wikipedia)




  1. This article was awesome. You’re the only one who could give me the answers I’ve been searching in google for hours. And I discovered a great blog. Thank you

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