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Chiba (??) is the largest city in Chiba prefecture, Japan. Practically speaking, it can be considered a large suburb of Tokyo.
Ignored entirely or dismissed as "suburbia" by travel guides, Chiba is generally regarded as the most boring of the cities surrounding Tokyo. But, as William Gibson fans will know, there is one excellent reason for visiting Chiba, as the "Tokyo-Chiba
urban sprawl" is where much of Neuromancer (ISBN 0441569595) is set:
- In Japan, he'd known with a clenched and absolute certainty, he'd find his cure. In Chiba. Either in a registered clinic or in the shadowland of black medicine. Synonymous with implants, nerve-splicing, and microbionics, Chiba was a magnet for the Sprawl's techno-criminal subcultures...
As it happens, Gibson's dystopian cyberpunk visions are at times difficult to correlate with the reality of modern-day Chiba, but the area still makes a reasonably interesting day trip from Tokyo if you have time to spare and prefer high technology toys over mouldering temples.
Train is the obvious means of arrival, as a dense web of routes links Chiba to Tokyo and points in the vicinity.
- The JR S?bu Rapid Line (?????) runs from Tokyo Station to Chiba station via Kinshich? and Tsudanuma.
- The JR Chu?-S?bu Local Line (????????????) runs directly across the Yamanote Line loop, via Shinjuku and Akihabara.
- The JR Keiy? Line (???) runs from Tokyo Station to Chiba Minato and Soga stations along the coast, via Maihama (Tokyo Disneyland), Nishi-Funabashi and Kaihin-Makuhari.
- The private Keisei Chiba Line (?????) runs into Chiba-Chu? (????) station from Tsudanuma station on the Keisei Main Line (from Ueno and Nippori).
The two lines of the suspended Chiba Urban Monorail (?????????) 1 (http://www.chiba-monorail.co.jp/), almost (but not quite) an attraction in themselves, connect the port (????? Chiba Minato) to Chiba station and then branch out to the northwest and northeast.
- Chiba Port Tower (????????). 2 (http://www.chibacity-ta.or.jp/tower_01/top.htm). 10 min on foot from monorail and Keiyo line Chiba Minato station. Towers like this are a fixture of any self-respecting Japanese city, and here the observation deck (112m) offers views of the surrounding industrial wastelands and container docks, at least for a kilometer or two until they fade off in the smog. There is also a delightfully pathetic display of stuffed fish mounted on sticks in a simulated ocean environment downstairs; the simulation is needed since heavily polluted Chiba Bay hasn't sustained anything above seaweed (or with less than 3 eyes) for quite a while. Entry ¥410, open daily from 9 AM to 7 PM (or 9 PM in summer).
- Chiba Castle. A recent reconstruction, but it does look quite cool- just try to ignore the flourescent tubes inside!! It's about 5-10mins walk from the Kenchomae Chiba Urban Monorail staion.
- Aobo no Mori Koen (Blue Leaf Forest Park). Nothing too spectacular, but during the Sakura (Cherry blossom) season a nice place to get away from the concrete jungle. 10mins walk from the Keisei Chiba line station Chibadera.
- Kaihin-Makuhari (????). On the western outskirts of Chiba and accessible on the JR Keiyo line, this is a showcase "city of the future", similar to Tokyo's Odaiba but grander and more artificial in scope. Attractions include:
- Makuhari Messe (?????). 3 (http://www.m-messe.co.jp/index_e.html). Also known as the Nippon Convention Center, this is the largest convention center in the Tokyo region.
- Sharp High-Technology Hall. Attractively packaged corporate propaganda. Free admission.
- Fujitsu Dome Theatre. Features a 3D IMAX dome theater, regular tickets ¥1200.
- Makuhari Techno Garden. An impressive complex of shopping malls, restaurants and office towers; white tile, glass and polished steel with atmospheric lighting and realistic plastic plants, with footsteps echoing in the quiet walkways and aerial bridges.
- Cruises heading (according to the brochure) "into the heart of the industrial port area" are available from Chiba Port. No signs of Gibson's shoals of styrofoam though.
- Football As of October 2005, there's a new stadium in Soga- take the Uchibo or Sotobo line from Chiba, only 2 stops- which will be home to JEF United, one of the most exciting teams in the JLeague. Their new home should hopefully inspire a march further up the rankings. The stadium is less than 10mins walk from the West exit of Soga station.
- LaLaport (?????). 4 (http://www.lalaport.net/). Near Minami-Funabashi station. This claims to be Asia's biggest mall, featuring 2 department stores, 360 shops and an equal number of restaurants.
- Soga Harbor City. Brand new retail development with a huge Ito Yokado and adjoining Ario shopping mall, equally huge Homes home centre and The Culture Walk with cinema, bathhouse and other attractions. Now Chiba-ites don't need to go ALL the way to Tokyo or Funabashi to spend their hard earned yen!. Grab a free shuttle bus from the West exit of Soga station.
- Around Chiba station There's no shortage of places to eat in the vicinty of the central station. If sushi is your thing, head for the restaurant in Perie- the underground mall beneath the station area- just go down the stairs immediately in front of the ticket gates at the station east exit.
- There is a good, gaijin friendly bar called "The Joint", which is about 15 mins from Chiba Station. During the football season you can catch live Premiership games and there is usually a DJ playing something funky. They serve actual pints if you drink Kilkenny- a real breath of fresh air compared to the usual nama biru served in every izakaya.
- On the 22nd floor of the Sen (1000) City Tower (about 5mins from JR Chiba) there is an izakaya called Amataro. It's a chain, so don't expect anything unusual in terms of food or drink, but the high level offers a nice view of Chiba city.
- Surrounding Chiba prefecture offers an escape from technological utopia.
- Tokyo Disneyland, a stop on the railway between Tokyo and Chiba, offers a return to it.
- Chiba City (http://www.city.chiba.jp/index-e.html)