High Drama, No. 5: Swimming through the sky

Bill Murray and I have something in common. We’ve both swum through the sky over Tokyo.

He did it in a 47th-floor private pool at the Park Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku, while filming the movie “Lost in Translation.” I did it in an 11th-floor public pool attached to a garbage incineration plant in Ikebukuro.

A garbage incinerator may not be as chic as a luxury hotel, but this one is quite magnificent in its own right. It can be identified, even at a great distance, by a smooth white hexagonal chimney 210 meters high. When its construction was completed in 1997, it was the tallest garbage incineration chimney in Japan, a title it apparently still holds. According to an article that appeared in The Daily Yomiuri at the time, the dizzying height was necessary so that its exhaust would not affect the nearby Sunshine 60 building, which is 240 meters tall.

The incineration plant stands on a triangular piece of land just north of Ikebukuro Station. One side of the triangle is the JR Yamanote Line, and another is the Tobu Tojo and JR Saikyo lines, which run parallel at that point. The triangle’s third side is an elevated highway.

According to the 1997 article, this piece of land had been the site of swimming and skating facilities since the 1960s. Today, the plant shares the space with an 11-story building that houses the incinerator’s offices and various public facilities, including the Ikebukuro Sports Center on the top four floors. A staff member at the ninth-floor reception desk told me the facility gets electricity and hot water from the incinerator.

The sports center has a weight room and exercise bikes you can use while enjoying panoramic views of the city, but I go there for the 25-meter, four-lane pool. After reaching the ninth floor via a set of glass elevators on the east end of the building, you change into your swimsuit and take a smaller glass elevator from the locker rooms to the 11th floor, enjoying views to the northwest as you go. The pool deck has floor-to-ceiling windows along both sides, and there’s an arched glass roof above the pool itself. You swim surrounded by blue sky and clouds.

Admission is just 400 yen.

The only drawback to swimming here is that the pool is sometimes crowded, whereas Bill Murray had his celestial natatorium all to himself.

— Tom Baker

Japan News Staff Writer