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Don't sweat it: 5 cool oases for the Tokyo summer
Wave pools, haunted hospitals and even an ice-cream city are on the chill-out menu for 2012
Hot, humid and downright uncomfortable -- that pretty much sums up summer in Tokyo.
With 13 million people packed into the metro area and temperatures over 35 C for weeks on end, it's the one time of year when it's not such a great place to live.
While we can't do much about the crowds or the relentless heat, we can at least share a few tips on chilling out in your downtime.
Here are five favorite spots for a cool day out in and around the capital.
1. Haunted Hospital, Fuji-Q Highland
Haunted houses, or obakeyashiki, have long been a popular destination during the Japanese summer, especially during the Obon holiday season in August.
The idea is that these places will dispense chills sufficient to maybe even cool you down a degree or two.
The multi-story Saikyo Senritsu Meikyu, said to be the largest haunted hospital in the world, was recreated to reflect an actual former hospital and is genuinely nerve-jangling for even the most experienced haunted-house aficionado.
Upon entry you're given a puny flashlight to navigate the premises, which also form a maze. A maze filled with ghosts and zombies.
Blood-splattered walls, antique medical equipment resembling torture devices and costumed actors dedicated to their jobs chase you down the abandoned hallways.
Don't even try to snap a photo though, or you'll be promptly escorted out the door. The undead don't appreciate cameras.
As for cost, you’re looking at ¥500 (US$6.35) in addition to the park's entrance fee of ¥1,300.
Bonus: Check out Fuji-Q’s Takabisha roller coaster, which opened last year. It holds the world record for the steepest descent -- a lunch-losing 121 degrees.
Getting there: 5-6-1 Shin-Nishihara. Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, +81 (0) 555 23 2111; open July 20-September 20, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; otherwise, weekdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m., weekends 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Take the Chuo Express Fujigoko line bus from the West exit of Shinjuku Station. Reservations: +81 (0) 555 72 5111.
2. Nostalgic Town, Odaiba
This little gem inside the Odaiba Decks complex is old-school and fabulous. If you’ve ever yearned for the days of the original Super Mario, you might never leave.
The fourth floor houses a colorful gaming area filled with retro arcade machines from decades past.
The walls are covered in memory-sparking posters, with wonderfully cheesy Japanese and international pop bands as the stars, alongside advertising icons from the past.
Even 1980s U.S. beer dog Spuds MacKenzie has a prominent corner spot. Drinks on you if you can remember the particular liquor he hawked on TV back then.
Most games cost ¥100, which is about the best deal you'll get in Tokyo in one of the destination-type centers.
We just hope you remember how to waggle a joystick like it’s 1983 all over again.
Bonus: Should you tire of old-fashioned games, Sega Joypolis is just across the walkway for a more 2012 pixel hit.
Getting there: 1-6-1, Daiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo, +81 (0) 3 3599 3765; open 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Board the Yurikamome line from Shinbashi to Odaiba-kaihinkoen Station.
3. Summerland Water Park
Not all cool spots, obviously, are indoors, so if it’s a water park you seek, Summerland, in spite of its steep ¥3,500 day-long entrance fee, is the best choice by far.
The park’s 300-meter lazy river is the centerpiece, but there are also some exciting water slides and vertical freefalls where you can race your partner down on a float or inner tube.
Adventure Lagoon is the outdoor water park area, but there’s also a well-frequented indoor wave pool that's open year-round and which can become incredibly crowded in a “Yamanote line Friday night commute” sort of way.
Bonus: Keep in mind that, like most public recreation facilities in Tokyo, anyone with tattoos will not be admitted. As you can’t check them in at the door, get a rash guard or waterproof bandages to slide on by.
Getting there: 600 Kamiyochugi, Akiruno City, Tokyo, +81 (0) 425 586511; open July to September, hours vary by month.
Take the Chuo line from Shinjuku Station and get off at Haijima (about 50 minutes). Change lines to Akigawa Station, then take a short bus ride bound for Summerland. Or, for a slightly-less-crowded trip, go to Hachioji Station from Shinjuku and look for the Summerland buses.
4. Namja Town, Sunshine City
Videogame company Namco, of Pac-Man fame, is behind the odd little chill-out spot that is Namja Town.
Among the game-centric attractions that vibrate, drop and explode when you attempt to interact with them, the toilets are particularly amusing.
Seriously -- go see for yourself; we'll leave it with you. Just don't loiter.
The real standouts, however, are the Gyoza Stadium and Ice-Cream City.
You can try nearly a dozen different styles of Gyoza, from pot-boiled to fried with cheese, all of which are best accompanied by a cold Kirin beer in a frosted mug.
And if you’ve always wanted to sample some horsemeat ice cream (who hasn’t?), this is the spot to come -- it’s on sale alongside more than 100 different frozen treats.
It costs ¥300 to enter Namja Town, but for our money it’s best to skip the pricey ¥3,900 passport option and pay as you go.
Bonus: Once you stuff yourself with Gyoza, head over to Sunshine City’s Toyota showroom for free race car games featuring the latest sports models.
Getting there: Sunshinecity World Importmart Building, 3-1 Higashi-ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, +81 (0) 3 5950 0765; open daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Take the Yamanote line to Ikebukuro Station.
5. Tokyo Dome City
Feel like playing baseball but don't fancy suiting up in those 40 degrees (count ‘em) outside? Then make your way to Tokyo Dome City, where you don't even need a partner to play the sport of your choice.
Inside you'll find 11 types of virtual action, including soccer, tennis, golf and even ping-pong.
There are also some shooting, driving and other more “real” amusements next to a pretty decent bowling alley. Prices start at ¥450 per game.
The baseball is the real highlight, though, and what the masses come for. Inside the batting cages there are screens with real Yomiuri Giants players as your virtual pitchers.
Choose your favorite to square off against and swing until your shoulder pops (if you’re the competitive sort).
Bonus: If you've worked up a sweat after a batting session, go to the LaQua complex next door for the WonderDrop, a short, but refreshing, water ride.
Getting there: 1-3-61 Kouraku, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo; +81 (0) 3 5800 9999; open weekdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; weekends 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Take the Tokyo Metro to Kasuga or Korakuen stations and follow the signs to Tokyo Dome City.
(First published in August 2011, this article was updated in July 2012).