On a recent Sunday morning, before the brutal 2010 Tokyo heat wave broke, I paid a visit to the Ariake Sports Center in Koto Ward, Tokyo. In keeping with its name, it has a weight room and basketball and volleyball courts as well as a pool. But as usual, I went for the pool.
Here’s what I learned on my recent visit:
Cost: Two hours of pool access costs 300 yen for adults, with kids half price. As at many Tokyo pools, you have to buy a paper ticket from a vending machine and show it to an attendant on your way in and your way out.
Main pool: In photos I had found online, the 25-meter, six-lane pool is under a Crystal Palace-style curved glass roof, which looked like it might be able to slide open in nice weather. To my delight, this turned out to be the case, which meant that I was able to swim in sunshine and fresh air, which really does feel better than swimming completely indoors.
Less delightful was the dense crowd, which gave the pool a March-of-the-Penguins atmosphere. There must have been 100 or more people in the water, mostly parents with children. Only two lanes were clearly set aside for lap swimming. Although that was the least crowded part of the pool, there were about 10 people in each lap lane. I swam a few optimistic meters of freestyle, but had to switch to a deliberately slow breaststroke each time, and I was repeatedly forced to halt and tread water when the crowd ahead of me made forward movement impossible. I gave up and climbed out after a mere 100 meters.
It may have been that my timing was bad. On a scorching hot summer Sunday, it is only natural and proper that parents living nearby should take their kids to the pool. I have no objection to that. And it should be noted that an anonymous reviewer on the website swimmersguide was able to write, in an undated entry, “Facility was not crowded, with only a handful of people swimming.”
Around the pool: But all hope was not lost. It turned out that the Ariake Sports Center actually has TWO main pools. One was designed for lap swimming, but the other is purely for play, and even includes a waterslide that does a complete loop on its way down. Although I was disappointed at not being able to have a serious swim, I thought that two trips down the water slide should just about justify the 300 yen I had paid to get in. But the slide was so much fun that I felt I had gotten my money’s worth after just one trip down. (Then I took two more just to be certain.)
The line for the slide was very short, and so were most of the people using it. In fact, kids had to be at least as tall as a line on the wall to be allowed on, and I saw a lifeguard stop one little girl and make her stand against the wall to see if she qualified. She just barely made it, and that was because she seemed to have her hair up in a big lumpy bun under her swim cap. I think the lifeguard made the right call in letting her get away with it.
Photos are prohibited in the pool area, including from a glassed-in observation lounge about two stories above the pool deck, but you can see what may be official pictures of the facility’s interior here, or better yet, here.
And you can also get an idea of what the pools are like from the diagram, part of the facility’s official pamphlet, below:
Lockers and showers: The locker room is rather small, with no special features to speak of other than a spin drier for wet bathing suits and a hair drier for wet hair.
Wheelchair access: There are ramps and elevators, including a long ramp into the main pool.
The building: The Ariake Sports Center consists of two side-by-side buildings, the taller of which contains the basketball courts and the smaller of which contains the pools. The facility has been reviewed by the website tokyoarchitecture, which likens the larger building to a mushroom, and the smokestack of a nearby garbage incinerator to a tree trunk. But there is another and much clearer botanical reference: The end facades of the pool building are shaped like the gingko-leaf logo of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Location: The Ariake Sports Center is about a 10-minute walk from either Ariake Tennis-no-Mori Station or Odaiba Keihin Koen Station, both on the Yurikamome Line, and a slightly longer walk from Kokusai Tenjijo Station on the Rinkai Line. See the official access map below.