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Monday, November 14, 2005

Tokyo Tower and environs

東京タワー

-One of Tokyo's most popular landmarks attracting over 3 million visitors per year.
-Erected in 1958, the tallest self-supporting steel tower in the world at 333 meters (1093 feet).
-Located in Tokyo’s elegant Minato ward, surrounded by parks and temples and dotted with relaxed high class eateries.

(Click on images to view at full size)

Tokyo Tower.A red and white web of sky-high steel by day, a breathtaking beacon of lights by night, Tokyo Tower is the most prominent and distinctive feature of Tokyo’s cityscape. Tokyo Tower is situated near the city’s port in the elegant Minato (i.e. ‘Harbor’) ward of the city, and is located on the edge of Shiba Park, one of Japan’s oldest. Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 as a TV and FM radio broadcasting tower. It serves the whole of the Kanto region (i.e. Tokyo and surrounding prefectures) in that role and in 2003 began transmitting digital signals as well. At 333 meters (1093 feet) it is 13 meters (43 feet) higher than the Eiffel Tower, but thanks to modern engineering technology it is 43% lighter in weight.


Tokyo Tower attendant.Being the Tokyo’s tallest structure makes Tokyo Tower the prime spot from which to view the metropolis. Tokyo Tocho (Metropolitan Government Building) in west Shinjuku gives you equally good elevation, and for no entry fee, but without the unbroken panorama afforded by Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower’s Main Observatory is 150 meters (492 feet) above ground level. Entry is 820 yen for adults, 460 yen for elementary and junior high school students, and 310 for children over 4 years old. You enter the first floor of the building under the Tower greeted by women dressed something like 1970s airhostesses. You first line up at the ticket booth to pay for entry and then board the elevator. The elevator takes you to the upper of the two Main Observatory floors.







Tokyo Tower attendant
(Photoshopped to preserve anonymity)

Once up there, there are several explanations available to help make sense of the urban jumble below. The simplest are the signposts indicating direction and pointing out names of major locations and famous features, including Mount Fuji (that, given Tokyo’s smoggy horizon, you would be very lucky to make out even in the best of weather). There are also coin-operated (100 yen) binoculars, plus some interactive touch-screen displays (no coins required) that let you match up parts of the urban conglomeration with flashing and labeled counterpart shapes on the screen. Take the stairs down to the lower floor of the Main Observatory floor where you can enjoy the free thrill of looking through glassed-over holes in the floor 150 meters (492 feet) to the ground below. The lower floor also has a café, a souvenir shop, and even a small Shinto shrine.

Tokyo viewed from Tokyo Tower Main Observatory.If you have at least an extra sixty to ninety minutes, 600 yen and a large endowment of patience to spare, you can ascend to the Special Observatory which is another 100 meters (328 feet) up at an elevation of 250 meters (820 feet). The special ticket office is on the upper floor of the Main Observatory. Be warned, however, that with the crowds that visit, just the wait to get on the small (approximately 12-person capacity) single elevator that goes up will be at least 40 minutes, with a similar wait at the top to get back down. Added to that, the view from the Special Observatory is arguably no better than from the Main Observatory.
Tokyo viewed from Main Observatory of Tokyo Tower

Cityscapes are cityscapes, and Tokyo’s is particularly drab. If it is worth looking at at all, it is only for its breathtaking scale. Massive buildings stand random sentinel over a drab creamy brown jumble of buildings loosely ranked from squat to tiny as far as the eye can see, the murky monotony broken only by freeways along which cars coast as if on conveyor belts. When looking from the Main Observatory 150 meters (492 feet) up, you at least still feel as if you are inside the city. Tokyo is ranked around you, tangible, in its true (albeit unexciting) colors, easy to make out. However, from 250 meters (820 feet) up in the Special Observatory you are loftily surveying a distant, smoggy anonymous model-like urban sprawl so far below you that it has lost the color, dimension and resolution it still had from the Main Observatory. Fifteen minutes wandering the confines of the Special Observatory is plenty, even with the help of coin-operated (200 yen) TV screen binoculars. Calculated against the time you must wait to get up there and then back down, plus the exorbitant 600 yen additional charge, it is not really worth it.

You can take the elevator from the Main Observatory back down to ground level, or you can take the outside stairs: about 600 steps that take about 8 minutes to descend. Check out the occasional landings on the way down. You will see padlocks in the wire mesh there with lovers’ names on them (some so old that the names have worn off): mementos of old trysts. According to a sign, the stairs are not open every day. When open they are available for the ascent as well as the descent.

Lovers' lock on Tokyo Tower.
Lovers' lock on Tokyo Tower.












Lovers' locks on Tokyo Tower (names can be just made out on the left-hand lock)


Tokyo Tower Foot Town
Once you’ve taken in the landscape and come back down, the four-storey Tokyo Tower Foot Town building nestled underneath the Tower – where you started from – is definitely worth investigating. This reviewer actually found it a lot more noteworthy than the trip up and down the Tower itself.

Government Information and Statistical Information
The roof of the building is a children’s playground. Downstairs on the fourth floor of Tokyo Tower Foot Town are the ‘Trick Art Gallery’ for children and the Government Information and Statistical Information galleries. A lot of money and imagination have been spent in the Government Information and Statistical Information galleries on making the facts and figures of Japanese national life interesting and memorable. Unfortunately, however, the information is in Japanese only. Exhibits include among others a post-World War Two Japanese history mural, a cost-of-living flowchart through the years, and a similar display showing how average Japanese body height has steadily risen since the end of the Second World War. Recommended for those with knowledge of Japanese.

Raamen price exhibit in Tokyo Tower.Exhibit in the Government Information and Statistical Information galleries showing the price of a bowl of raamen (a traditional fast food in Japan) through the years.

Wax Museum
The 3rd floor is shared by the Wax Museum, the Guinness World Records Museum and the Holographic Mystery Zone. The latter two seem strictly for the kids and require an entry fee. The Guinness World Records Museum charges 1000 yen for adults, 600 yen for elementary and junior high school students, 300 yen for children over 4 years old, and seems to be well done. The Holographic Mystery Zone charges 500 yen, and has a distinctly cheesy air.

In spite of being advertised as a paying attraction, the Wax Museum is, unlike the other two, free, (at least at the time of writing) and is definitely worth a stroll through – even if you do have to pay. The wax figures themselves can’t be called uniformly superb, but do provide some titillation. Just try holding the fierce gaze of Ulysses S. Grant without being slightly freaked! English captions are randomly available: Gandhi and Lincoln get them but Brad Pitt and Mother Teresa don’t; Chiaki Mukai and Einstein get them but George Bush and Princess Diana miss out. Prepare to be taken aback by the rendition of the Last Supper. Turn a corner and suddenly there it is right before you. The gesticulating, pathos and passion of 13 lifesize adult men, complete with a voice in the background to a church organ declaiming in Japanese an account of the crucifixion!

Inventions for Electric Guitar
‘Inventions for the Electric Guitar’ is part of the Wax Museum, but deserves a special write-up of its own. This shrine to rock and roll has, of course, its wax figures: Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp, Ian Anderson, James Hetfield, Richie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Keith Emerson and, in the special 'German progressive' rock section, Mani Neumeier, Faust (Wedner Diernaier, Hans Joachim Irmler) Klaus Schultze, Manuel Goettsching, and Lutz Ulbrich (no Michael Schenker!) However, more memorable than the wax figures themselves is the iconic collection of rock posters, rock books, rock cassettes, and general rock memorabilia. Cabinet displays chock-a-block with pop culture artifacts from the 1970s will wake the memory and stir the heart of anyone who lived and loved through that decade, and even rouse the interest of anyone who didn’t. The Wax Museum finishes up in a 70s rock memorabilia shop full of rock and roll CDs, posters, T-shirts and other memorabilia. Five stars.

Restaurant/Food Court
The 2nd floor of Tokyo Tower Foot Town is a touristic nightmare: what seem like hectares of endless restaurants (mainly junk food) and souvenir trinket stores, all under the full cold glare of fluorescent lighting. Avoid unless hungry. There is a traditional tofu restaurant, 'Ukai', less than a minutes walk from Tokyo Tower Foot Town (on your left as you walk up the slope to the Tower from 'Tokyo Tower Shita' intersection), and the chic Restaurante Garb Pintino just across the road from the Tower's main entrance. There is also the nearby Tokyo Prince Hotel with various options for high class dining (see write-up below.)

Tokyo Tower Aquarium
Tokyo Tower Aquarium is located on the first floor, i.e. on the same level as where you first enter the Tower. Outrageously priced at 1000 yen, it is no more than row upon row of plain ordinary biology classroom fish tanks. Features coral reef fishes, South American fishes, Asian fishes, African fishes, and goldfish. But unless you’re really addicted to looking at small fish, you’d be much better off wandering through the tropical fish section of a decent-sized pet shop.

(Tokyo Tower access information at bottom.)

Around Tokyo Tower
To make the most of your visit to Tokyo Tower, JapanVisitor recommends a wander around the neighborhood.

Shiba Park
If you came from Daimon station, you had to walk through Shiba Park to get to Tokyo Tower.
Shiba Park is Japan’s oldest, being the first to be officially designated as a park in 1873, only five years after the beginning of Japan’s modernization. It originally encompassed the adjacent Zojoji Temple, but with the separation of church and state after the Second World War, the temple was separated from it.
The park is home to the ancient Maruyama burial mound (kofun), one of the biggest in Tokyo at 110 meters (361 feet) long. It is actually very indistinct: a simple mound covered with trees indistinguishable from a natural feature of the terrain. Nothing is known of its history.
Shiba Park also has an artificial ravine, Momiji-dani (‘autumn leaf valley’) restored in 1984. As the name suggests, it is a sight to see in autumn. It features a massive Japanese zelkova tree, 20 meters (66 feet) tall with a trunk circumference of 2.5 meters (8 1/4 feet).

Rear view of Zojoji at dusk, Tokyo.Zojoji Temple
Zojoji is the main temple of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism. It was founded as the sect’s eastern Japan seminary in 1393 and was relocated to its present site in 1598.
In those days it was a massive complex containing 48 subsidiary temples, over 3000 priests and over 150 grammar schools. Times have changed and it now occupies but a fraction of its former area. However, the atmosphere of its magnificence has in no way subsided. It is still very much a Buddhist cathedral, exuding a splendor – albeit it one restrained to the point of dourness - that is enhanced and reflected by the wide open spaces surrounding the massive bulk and imposing outline of its recently rebuilt main hall. Step inside and taste the incense-imbued atmosphere in front of the imposing central statue of the Buddha.

O-jizo-sama at Zojoji Templw, Tokyo.The temple was closely associated with the Tokugawa family that ruled Japan in the Edo era, and is home to the mausoleums of six Tokugawa Shoguns and their family members.
Coming from Daimon or Hamamatsucho stations, the first you will see of Zojoji is its huge 21meter (69 foot) high gate, the Sangedatsumon, built in 1622, the only remaining part of the original temple.





'O-jizo-sama' at Zojoji Temple, Tokyo.


Cat and buddha at Zozoji Temple, Tokyo.Also of particular interest are:
The Daibonsho, a giant 15 ton bell cast in 1673 and tolled six times a day. It is just inside the grounds on the right after you enter the Sangedatsumon gate.
The Himalayan cedar, between the Daibonsho bell and the Sangedatsumon gate, planted by General Ulysses S. Grant, the eighteenth president of the United States, when he visited the temple as a guest of the nation in 1879.
The rows of colorfully clothed and decorated stone jizo, the bodhisattva of children, lined up at the back of the temple on your right as you walk towards Tokyo Tower.
The air of the temple wracked by the coarse cries of crows, soothed with sweeping, chanting and the occasional dull solitary bell.






Cat drinking at the foot of the Buddha, Zojoji Temple, Tokyo.

Zojoji Temple
4-7-35 Shibakoen, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0011 Japan
Tel: (81)3-3432-1431

Zojoji Temple website

Tokyo Prince Hotel
Just north of, and next door to, Zojoji Temple is the deceptively squat, plain, almost shabby-looking Tokyo Prince Hotel. Actually one of Tokyo’s finest, like many things Japanese, it has to be investigated to be appreciated.
For those who want better and more expensive fare than what is on offer in the Tokyo Tower Foot Town restaurants, Tokyo Prince Hotel has 15 excellent bars and restaurants, variously priced. Feel like blowing a month’s salary on a cup and saucer? Go down to Seibu Pisa shopping department on the 1st floor (reception is on the second floor) and wallow in the often literally dazzling treasure trove of fine art and craft affluence.

Tokyo Prince Hotel
3-1, Shibakoen 3-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-8560
Japan

Phone: 81-3-3432-1111

Tokyo Prince Hotel website

Tokyo Tower Access
Akabanebashi station on the Oedo subway line.
Turn left out of ticket gate to the Akabanebashi Crossing exit. 5 minute walk.

Daimon station on the Oedo subway line, exit A6.
Daimon station on the Asakusa subway line, exit A6
10 minute walk.

Onarimon Station on the Mita Line, exit A1.
10 minute walk.

Hamamatsu-cho station on the JR Yamanote, Tokai-hondo, and Keihin-tohoku lines.
Exit B2. 12 minute walk.

Hours: Main Observatory 9am – 10pm (last admission 9.45pm)
Special Observatory 9am – 10pm (last admission 9.30pm)

Tokyo Tower: Nippon Television City Corporation
4-2-8 Shibakoen,
Minato-ku, Tokyo,
Japan 105-0011
Tokyo Tower website

Click here for some bars and restaurants in Tokyo

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