It's been quite a while since my last visit to Tokyo. Surely the fast growing Odaiba area became one of the must-go this time. Just right before the trip I was engaged in a research project about newly built science museums in Japan and I was deeply impressed by Miraikan. Of course I had to go for a visit, since I had almost a week in Tokyo.
Looking at the reasons of establishment and its mission statement, it can be understood why Japanese people have such an advanced development and high competibility in technology. Miraikan first opened its door to the public in 2001. It was born as a center for deepening an understanding of science and technology, and to fulfill Japan's aim of becoming a scientifically and technologically creative nation. It's an attempt to provide latest information about technology through demostrations, exhibitions, and exchanges of research results.
It's co-designed by Nikken Sekkei Ltd and Kumi Sekkei. The building comes with 8 floors above ground and two floors below ground, with a total area of 8,881 square meters and total floor area of 40,789 square meters. The oval shape building is surrounded by glass wall. The structure and its appearance represents the openness and transparency of science. Inside the building there's an exhibition center, a library, an R&D area, a 123-seat dome theater, a multifunction room and other facilities such as laboratories, conference rooms, main hall, broadcasting room and so on.
The design concept is to create a space for the interactivity between the public and science as well as technology. So many innovative ways of design and techniques are applied so as to make the museum a suitable place for experiencing latest technology. All exhibitions come under a common key subject: the dream of the 21st century. In order to help the visitors think about visions regarding to the future of the world, the museum tries to explore science and technology from four main themes: the earth environment and frontiers, life science, innovation and the future, and information science and technology for society.
In the museum, one can really feel the way they emphasize "service" in every aspect. Since one enters the museum, there're people giving instructions for ticket purchasing and orientation. The museum is mainly run by volunteers, who actively lead visitors for their visits and engage in interactions with the visitors. It's very impressive how they try to put their mission into practice.
I went to the museum for three times during my one-week stay in Tokyo. The reason? It's not really because of the size of the museum, but for the depth of the content of exhibition that inspired me to visit all of them carefully.
The main attraction of the museum is the GEOCOSMOS which is hanged in the five-floor atrium. It's the biggest sphere monitor in the world, with a diameter of 6.5 meters and weight of 15 tons. It's 1/200 scale of the Earth. There's a spiral walkway from the 3rd floor to the 5th floor around the monitor, and it's one of my favorate places in the museum. It gives me the chance to look at the sphere from different angles and different directions. The sphere is composed of 3,715 panels with LED set, with a total of 951,040 LEDs. The design is to realistically showthe real-time information of the Earth provided by NASA. Looking at the sphere one can clearly sees the conditions of the Earth, such as day and night zone, changing clouds. The images presented include information collected in the past thirty days and lively show the beauty of the Earth.
The other "big star" of the museum is the robot Asimo developed by Honda. For now Asimo is the only robot that can assimulate human walking. It is said that the development of Asimo is entering the 3rd generation already. On the 3rd floor of the museum, there's a small stage where demonstrations are held periodically. And it's where I saw Asimo and robot dog Aibo from Sony for the first time. Surely it is more impressive and surprising seeing them with my own eyes. Movements are surprisingly smooth and it's hardly believable if not seeing it myself. The latest robots all come with artificial intelligence and can follow instructions according to sounds, voices and hand gestures. They are also equipped with basic abilities for memory, identification and even learning. Just by seeing them, the efforts for the trip and time spent were paid back.
The ways Japanese museums develop their museum shop inventories are also worthy of attention. The shop is small and full of students who come here with school trips. Beautiful items are so attractive that it's so difficult to choose from. The Asimo series is especially popular and many visitors leave the shop with at least two to three Asimo items with them. It's a pity that the museum didn't spend much efforts in teaching materials and equipment though.
The Tokyo Odaiba area is not only a great place for shopping. Apart from numerous shopping malls, there're also six museums such as Miraikan, Funenokagakukan (Museum of Maritime Science) awaiting for visits.
Museum official web site: http://www.miraikan.jst.go.jp/