[From August Issue 2012]
A large number of people have been to visit Tokyo Skytree. For the Japanese, it is encouraging news that the world’s tallest tower has been built successfully, a testament to the country’s technological achievements. Some people feel nostalgic, recalling the construction of Tokyo Tower in 1958 during the days when the country was recovering from World War Two and beginning to experience rapid growth.
Another reason for the tower’s popularity is that it has numerous features that highlight the history and traditions of Japan. The tower has one thick pillar in the center, a structure reminiscent of the central column of a five-story pagoda. Part of its outline is shaped like a sword. Its color is based on aijiro (bluish white), a shade which has been used in Japan since the old times. For its lighting, two colors of pale blue and edo-murasaki (violet) are used. Pale blue represents the water of the Sumida River while Edo-murasaki is a color which was hugely popular in the Edo period. Japanese people, disheartened by the prolonged recession and the Great East Japan Earthquake, are fascinated by this tower as it allows them to reaffirm their identity.
Standing 634 meters tall, Tokyo Skytree has two observatories. At 350 meters above ground, the shape of Tokyo Skytree Observation Deck projects out over the main body of the tower. This shape was difficult to construct, but it was adopted because it would provide better views of the scenery below. Part of the flooring is reinforced glass, allowing visitors to stand on it and look down at the streets below.
Tokyo Skytree Observation Galleria is located 450 meters above the ground. After getting off the elevator, visitors gradually walk up a corridor shaped like a glass tube which spirals around the tower until they reach the highest platform. It’s constructed in such a way that visitors are entertained by letters projected onto the glass walls, and through illuminations, sounds and LED lights in the highest “Sorakara Point.”
There are a number of attractions to enjoy in Tokyo Skytree. On the first floor, for instance, you can see the tower’s foundation through glass windows. Observing the huge steel frames and the parts connecting them, while reading the explanations about the construction process, you can witness how the structure was assembled millimeter by millimeter. In addition there is the elaborate and humorous exhibit, Sumidagawa Digital Emaki (scroll painting) in which ships and people actually move around the town.
On the fourth floor, art objects have been set into a wall 3.5 meters tall and 22 meters wide. Divided into 12 categories, the objects are made of materials used by local craftsmen, such as bamboo and Edo-kiriko (cut glass, which began to be produced in Tokyo in the Edo period). Also, if you are lucky, you will encounter Sorakara-chan, the official mascot of Tokyo Skytree.
The Tenbo Shuttle, Tokyo Skytree’s highspeed elevators, are also much talked about. There are four elevators to the observatories, which ascend at a speed of approximately 600 meters a minute. The inside of each elevator is decorated respectively with spring, summer, autumn, or winter as its theme. Created with techniques used in traditional local crafts, each depicts the defining characteristics of the season, such as cherry blossoms in spring and fireworks in summer. Part of the elevator ride, between the Observation Deck and the Observation Galleria, is see-through, enabling visitors to look out on the scenery below during their ascent.
The views from the tower can be compromised on rainy or cloudy days, but there will be other sights for visitors to enjoy. A panorama screen at the observation deck shows views from sunny days, or sights that can only be seen on rainy days.
The commercial facility downstairs, Tokyo Soramachi, houses shops, a tourist information center. In addition to local food and sweets, and goods exclusive to Sumida Ward, some of the shops carry souvenirs, depicting characters such as kabuki actors and samurai, designs that make them popular among non-Japanese people. Throughout Tokyo Skytree Town, there are an aquarium, and a planetarium, as well as numerous spots where you can sit and look up at the tower or eat a shop-bought lunch, encouraging many tourists to sit back and relax.
Tokyo Skytree is expected to revitalize the neighborhood, so the area around the tower has been redeveloped. A promenade has been built along Kitajikken River, which flows by the tower, allowing visitors to go down to the riverside and take a walk. Water fountains can be seen on the river’s surface. There are rows of cherry trees by the river and plants growing in flower beds.
There is also a deck and a square, from which you can enjoy a close-up view of Tokyo Skytree. Some restaurants and cafés in the area have special Tokyo Skytree dishes. These dishes have been named “Skytree gourmet” food and have created so much of a stir that they have been featured in magazines.
The area around Tokyo Skytree is called shitamachi, and this word refers to a town in which merchants and craftsmen lived in the Edo Period. Its characteristic qualities are said to be clusters of small houses, the high quality of its traditional craftsmanship, and the warmth of human relationships. In fact, some residents are voluntarily extending their hospitality to tourists. For example, by placing large mirrors in front of their stalls, shop owners help tourists to take photographs of themselves with Tokyo Skytree in the background.
At the eastern end of Tokyo Skytree Town is Oshiage (Skytree-mae) Station, and at the western end is Tokyo Skytree Station, so it’s possible to access the tower from four different train lines. From Narita Airport, it takes about one hour on the Keisei Line, and from Tokyo Station, you can get there by train and subway in less than 30 minutes. It’s about a 20-minute walk to Asakusa, a tourist spot popular for its historical temples, such as Senso-ji Temple. A unique way for tourists to get about is by rickshaw. Shuttle buses that connect Asakusa, Ueno, Tokyo, Haneda Airport, Tokyo Disney Resort and Tokyo Skytree Town, are also available. It looks like Tokyo Skytree Town will be a major tourist attraction for years to come.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo