The Weird and Wonderful in Tokyo
Leah Walker August 10, 2012

It may have taken twenty-four hours in Tokyo for me to figure out that the strange is actually normal, but I instantly knew that I wasn’t cool enough to even visit the city.

I had a couple of hours to kill before I needed to check out of the Conrad Hotel and get to Narita. I wandered around the Shiodome area near my hotel. Metal, concrete, and glass surrounded me. Everything looked the same. Modern. New. It was if I fell down a shiny rabbit hole.

A giant, glass cube on stilts caught my eye in the distance. As I walked closer to it, I realized that it was a television studio and there was a show being filmed inside. I decided that it was some sort of morning talk show, but I’m not talking about Kathie Lee and Hoda. This studio looked like a Crayola factory exploded.


I got closer. Inside was a male and female live on air. They were incredibly animated and had on some crazy-looking outfits. Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat would have been conservatively dressed in the company of these two. The show wrapped up, and I moved in for a better look. A crowd of young females were lined up outside of the studio. They were clamoring for a peek at what must have been some sort of Japanese heartthrob.


As the male host was escorted by security out of the glass cube, the girls squealed with delight. I raised my camera to take a picture of this apparently famous Japanese guy and a security guard quickly put his hand over my lens.

What? Was he serious? Did I look like I knew who that person was?

The Prince-clone of a TV host pushed his way through the crowd. He was followed closely by his make-up and hair team. I really wanted to find out who that dude was and what made him so special. Alas, I was only able to get a photo from behind.


After that brush with an apparent celebrity, I wandered around the outside of the Nippon Television Tower. Imagine my surprise when I turned the corner and saw polka-dotted, multi-colored “people” on all fours. There were at least thirty of them scattered about a courtyard. I couldn’t decide if I should take a seat or make obscene gestures towards them.

This art was the strangest, most disconcerting thing I’d seen in a while. My mouth was agape trying to figure out what in the hell these things were. I decided that I just wasn’t hip enough to “get it” and with a shake of the head and a big belly laugh, I went about my business.

1, 2, 3, an indexCredit 

In the land of glass, steel, and all things shiny, around the corner from the village of polka-dotted people, and just down from the giant cube on stilts, was something completely out of place.

Yes, really.

In the hour that I’d wandered around the Shiodome, you’d think I’d realize to expect the unexpected. However, I really wasn’t prepared for the massive mound of copper that was plastered against the Nippon TV Tower. I pointed. “What is that?” I looked closer. I even squinted like that would help. Then I looked away and far up into the sky; I saw the Conrad. THIS is what I’d seen last night from my hotel window. From the 32nd floor it just looked like a brown blob.

Miyazaki's giant "Anime" Nittere Ohdokei Automaton Clock at the NTV Broadcasting Center in Shiodome Tokyo JapanCredit

Far more than just a brown blob, this was a fantastical copper clock. It looked like it had been carved out of chocolate and belonged in Willy Wonka’s factory. There were so many details. What was this thing? I looked around for a sign (hopefully in English) to tell me anything about the clock. I didn’t have to search long before finding some information:

The windup hours are:

Monday to Friday: 12:00, 15:00, 18:00, 20:00

Saturday and Sunday: 10:00, 12:00, 15:00, 18:00, 20:00

The show starts 3 minutes and 45 seconds before each hour.


“Windup hours? This is a giant cuckoo clock!”

I glanced at my watch and it was seven minutes until noon. Perfect! I’d catch the first show of the day. I took to my iPhone to find more out about this clock.


Designed by demi-god anime maker, Hayao Miyazaki, the Nittere Ohdokei clock was modeled after his famous movie masterpiece, Howl’s Moving Castle, which is some sort of Japanese animated fantasy film. This information meant nothing to me, although it did sound quite impressive.

“I’m so not cool enough to be here,” I thought.


Massive in scale, Nittere Ohdokei is the world’s largest animated clock. At 32 feet high, 59 feet wide, and 28 tons, how could anything compare? Although designed by Miyazaki, the clock was sculpted by Shachimaru Kunio. I couldn’t imagine the time, energy, and talent required to construct such a thing. I was truly amazed.

La forge de l'horlogeCredit

Apparently this guy, Miyazaki, is pretty famous for using steampunk elements in his movies. What the hell is steampunk? Thank goodness I bought that extra-large data plan. Google told me that steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction. Well, that explained why I didn’t have a clue what it was. The mere thought of science fiction makes my brain bleed.

Nonetheless, steampunk uses speculative fiction, alternative history, and fantasy to construct a world where steam-power machines are widely used, and usually set in the Victorian or the Wild West Eras. Again, way over my head in terms of hipness.

Shiodome ClockCredit

It was nearly noon, and almost time for the clock to come alive. As the second hand passed the Roman numeral nine at four minutes till noon, I heard a ding.

Suddenly to the left of the face of the clock, a humanoid with a bell for a head walked out of the darkness and looked around. The clock lit up and windows and doors opened and closed. Other humanoids hammered and rowed as if they were giving the clock the power to move. The dials of the clock started spinning as music played. The giant talons holding orbs moved about. For three minutes and forty-five seconds, I watched as the tiniest part moved. There was such attention to detail. I was certainly in awe.

I didn’t have to know anything about steampunk, anime, famous Japanese filmmakers, pre-teen Japanese TV heartthrobs, or funky polka-dotted people on all fours to figure out that the Nittere Ohdokei clock was badass.

I may not be some Harajuku girl who dresses like a gothic Lolita, but I can appreciate a giant cuckoo clock with the coolest of cool.

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Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.


  1. Nice post Leah. Definitely content for my Japan board on pinterest/KauaiMarketing. I worked as an executive in Japan for many years and regret that as a country, we really weren’t on-line with blogging and social media until after I left. I certainly would have taken more photos.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I be had you been blogging, you’d have so much great material. I really want to explore Japan, not just Tokyo. Twenty-four hours just left me wanting more. I’ll go back, that’s for sure.

    1. You’re so kind. I have to agree, the clock is really awesome. The video nor the photos don’t do it justice. It’s simply a work of art that comes to life before your eyes.

  2. I’m totally going cuckoo over that clock! Haha. We spent nearly two weeks in Tokyo and I’m surprised we didn’t get around to this. Then again, we saw plenty of other weird and wonderful. Ahh, gotta love Japan.

    1. Had I not be staying in the Shiodome, I’d never had seen this clock either. I’m not sure it was on my radar in the slightest. Oh yes, you gotta love Japan. I’ve got to get back. I know there’s all kinds of weirdness I need to see.

    1. There are some odd things about Tokyo that I noticed in my short time there. However, there are so many wonderful things that just left me speechless. Hot coffee in a can sold in a convenience store? You bet!

    1. Deej! That was a good one. Where are you watching Japanese TV? I watched a whole lot of Japanese TV during my years there. I would say that one of the most intriguing things about it is that there are celebrities on Japanese TV that are transvestites but at the same time being gay (for anyone) is kept very underground.

    1. EXACTLY, Pola. I went to an underground shopping mall near that clock. I saw things I’d never even heard of. What’s normal for Japan left me awe-struck. I felt like country-come-to-town. I’m so not cool enough for Tokyo.

    1. Everyone is talking about how great the clock it, but I don’t think enough attention is getting paid to the artwork. If you look on top of TV studio you’ll see a couple more of those “people”. Wacky! As for the food, I had the best sushi in my life near the Tsukiji Fish Market. That alone is worth the flight back.

  3. well, as you know, this fair maiden has never even been to Asia. until next week!! what did you mean by Lolita…it’s a little to close to home that i’m feeling like perhaps i should be insulted.

    PS i like those spotted people on all fours. 😉

    1. I’m there with you, Spencer. I’ve always wanted to visit Tokyo, and the twenty-four hours I spent there wasn’t nearly enough. I’ll be back, that’s for certain. I hope you get there one day as well.

  4. From this post Tokyo certainly seems pretty bizarre! We are starting our backpacking trip in Japan in less than a month and I can’t wait to see all this with my very own eyes!

    1. Oh, Vicky, I can’t wait to hear all about your grand backpacking adventure in Japan. What an exciting trip! Yes, be prepared to see things you’ve only imagined while in Japan.

  5. I got an email today about a comment regarding Cat’s Cafe which sounded intriguing so I came over to look. Just noticed I’ve been following you on Twitter from @LindaSherman just in case you’d like to consider connecting there.

    I would love to see you on GooglePlus Leah. With the launch of GooglePlus Communities there is now a travel community.

    1. Consider yourself followed on Twitter. I’m sorry that the follow back didn’t come sooner. I don’t really do Google + as of right now. Hopefully I’ll get into it more when I have additional time. Ha! Yeah…right.

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