The area just west of Shinjuku station, West Shinjuku, has Japan's most concentrated cluster of skyscrapers. The massive earthquake that rocked Tokyo in 1923 established West Shinjuku’s geological credibility when, being bedrock, virtually none of the buildings on it were damaged. The skyscraper-building boom began in the early 1970s with the construction of the 170m high Keio Plaza Hotel. Since then the Keio has been dwarfed by dozens of other highrises, the mother of them being the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. Completed in 1991 at a cost the equivalent of over US1 billion, at 243 meters (797 feet) it is Tokyo’s tallest building.
The ‘Tocho’, as it is known for short, was designed by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange and, according to him, was inspired by the Notre Dame. Compared with the sparer lines of most of the skyscrapers that surround it, the traditional grandeur of the cathedral is certainly apparent in its complexity of structure and surface, not to mention its equally grandiose sprawl. The complex also incorporates the 37-storey Tokyo Metropolitan Main Building No.2, and the eight-story Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Building. Taking up as much land as it does, the whole Tocho complex is like a town unto itself, and, walking around and through it, with its heights, depths and multiple levels, unless you take great care to ascertain your bearings, you are likely to get lost.
There is a free observation deck on each of the No.1 building’s twin towers on the 45th floor. Unlike Tokyo on the ground, however, Tokyo from a quarter of a kilometer up is not a beautiful city. The parks, tree-lined avenues, rivers, temple groves and shrubbery that amply decorate the city on the ground are completely lost in the angles of the concrete jungle. The sheer expanse of the metropolis is breathtaking, though, and there is an added ‘ooh aah’ factor in being able to catch Mt Fuji on a clear enough day. I have only visited the northern of the two No.1 building towers. As you can see from the photos, it was definitely not a Mt Fuji day. There is a tawdry piano bar there with fake antiquarian plinths and plastic ivy completely out of keeping with the crisp modernity of the structure (a common failing, it must be said, in Japan), and once you’ve done the piecemeal 360 degrees, gazing out at more and more and more endless urban acreage stretching further than the eye can see, there’s nothing for it but to go back down.
The northern No.1 Tower has a Tourist Information Center on the ground floor that is packed with useful guides to and maps of Tokyo in numerous languages including, of course, English. English speaking staff are also on hand.
North Observatory open 9:30a.m.-11:00p.m. Closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month.
South Observatory open 9:30a.m.-5:30p.m（till 11pm when North Observatory closed.）Closed on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month.
The scheduled day off is postponed to the next day if it falls on a national holiday.
Both observatories are closed between December 29 and 31, and January 2 and 3, as well as on occasional building inspection days.
Last admittance is 30 minutes before closing time. Entry is free. There is a security check before boarding the ground floor elevator.
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Friday, September 16, 2005