My daughter turns four years old next week (eeek!) and my husband and I have been debating gifts for her. My husband has been lobbying hard for a set of Legos for a few months now. Our daughter likes to build with blocks but I can’t help but think the Lego push is more on the part of my husband than my daughter!
As a bit of a way to test the waters, we took our daughter to the Legoland Discovery Center in Odaiba, Tokyo’s Vegas-like entertainment district. Anyone can pop into Legoland on the day and hope to get a ticket with no wait but if you want to avoid the hassle of a line (or the chance that all tickets are sold out for the day), it’s best to reserve your tickets in advance. (Plus, it nets you a not insignificant discount.) The process is easy and can be done in English on the Legoland website. You can print a copy of the receipt or simply show them the email on your phone or mobile device.
An elevator will whisk you up to the 4th floor of the building to begin your visit. You’ll start with a hands-on “factory” setting where you will learn how Legos are made and – if you’re curious – how much you weigh in Lego blocks. From there, you can either wait to board the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride, where you’ll test your laser-sighting skills against a pantheon of ogres and beasts to rescue the princess, or you can proceed straight to Miniland.
For adults, this will be the coolest thing you’ll see in the entire exhibit. Nearly all of Tokyo’s important landmarks have been recreated here, using nearly 1.5 million Lego blocks. Ginza’s famous Wako building stands not too far from a replica of Shibuya 109, while a cut-away of the Kokugikan sumo arena shows a bout happening. The Imperial Palace, Senso-ji’s temple and pagoda in Asakusa and the Tokyo Tower are all prominently displayed. A timed day-night cycle means that you can see the lights come up on the Rainbow Bridge and watch the monorail move back and forth. Make sure you get a close-up look at the cut-aways of the convenience stores, too. The attention to detail here is astounding.
The rest of the discovery center is definitely for the kids. A large, padded jungle gym takes up most of the center of the exhibition room, while side areas hold building stations for various ages. The Merlin’s Apprentice ride is reminiscent of a carnival and the 4D theater has shows every 30 minutes (you may have to line up at least that long in advance).
A classroom near Miniland holds workshops on building simple Lego creations. You need to sign-up in advance and sadly, you don’t get to take what you built home, but the instructions are clear (with overhead examples for those who don’t speak Japanese) and the timing (about 20 minutes) is perfect for active youngsters.
The plus to the Legoland Discovery Center is that once you’re in, you’re in for the day. It doesn’t matter when you arrived, you are welcome to stay until they close. A cafe on-site can help keep you fueled. The downside is that you can’t enter Legoland without a child, so single adults or groups of older friends will have to take a pass here. As most of the site is geared for the under-10 crowd anyway, it’s not too heart-breaking. But Miniland is definitely worth a peek if you can swing it.