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Tokyo Skytree under construction
Tokyo SkyTree (Oshiage Station, served by four rail lines including Keisei Oshiage Line and Tobu Skytree Line, seven kilometers northeast of Tokyo Station) is the world's highest free-standing tower at 634 meters (2,080 feet) tall. It claimed that title over the 600-meter-high Canton Tower in Guangzhou when it reached the 601 meter mark in March 2010, two years and seven months after construction began. Opened to public in May 2012, it surpassed the 333 meter height of Tokyo Tower and became the highest structure in Japan in March 2009.

Originally called New Tokyo Tower, Tokyo SkyTree is radio TV transmitter tower used by NHK and five commercial televison stations. The tower is significantly higher than the 553-meter-high CN Tower in Toronto, which for a long time was the world's tallest freestanding structure. Built by Tobu Railway, Tokyo SkyTree cost around ¥50 billion (US$400 million). It resembles a 5-storey pagoda from historical Japan. The tower is the primary television and radio broadcast site for the Kantō region and tower is the centrepiece of a large commercial development funded by Tobu Railway (which owns the complex).

Tokyo SkyTree was recognized as the world’s tallest free-standing tower by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012. There is the glass-walled observatory deck at a height of 450 meters that offer a panoramic view of the city. A total 6.34 million visited the tower the first year it opened and 50 million visited the shopping mall and area around it. Getting tickets can be difficult. Those that try to do it on their own have waited for six hours and ended up empty handed. The easiest way to get in is to join a tour group in which the tickets have been worled out. Websites: Tokyo Sky Tree official site ; Wikipedia Wikipedia

Construction of Tokyo SkyTree and March 2011 Earthquake

Construction of Tokyo Skytree began in in 2008. The tower took three years and 10 months to build. NHK and the five commercial broadcasters needed use it for transmissions as they permanently shifted from analog to terrestrial digital broadcasting. Among matters that had to be worked out were aviation restrictions that limited the tower's height. In October 2009, it was announced the Tokyo SkyTree would be 634 meters high, 20 meters higher than originally planned. The antenna was extended to make it higher than the 610-meter broadcasting tower built in Guangzhou, China.

Because a dropped hand tool or piece of construction material could cause serious injury if it were to fall 400 meters and hit someone in the middle of a noisy urban area, where the tower is located, extraordinary precautions were taken to prevent that from happening when the tower was under construction. Each worker had two safety lines and all their tools — even things like ball point pens — are attached to their belts by chords. Tarps were place below the workers and to the sides to block winds. So far no tools or workers have fallen. But here been some problems with ice and snow falling from upper reaches of the tower despite measures to prevent that from happening.

Work was temporarily halted just after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11 that caused the catastrophic tsunami in 2011 . No one was injured at the construction site during the quake, and the main structure of the tower was not damaged. However, those involved in the construction said the earthquake was the Tokyo Skytree’s biggest challenge. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported; “Shigeaki Tabuchi, 58, director of Obayashi Corp.’s construction site, was working at a 350-meter-high observation deck when the quake struck and shook the tower for several minutes. The tower was 624 meters tall at the time...While Tabuchi was confident that Tokyo Skytree would not topple, he was anxious about two large cranes mounted on the tower about 500 meters off the ground. The amplitude of vibration at the tower’s tallest height was from four to six meters, but the cranes did not topple. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun. May 23, 2012]

“Prior to building the tower, construction workers conducted experiments and found the cranes might not be able to withstand a powerful earthquake. Therefore, the cranes were attached to the tower by pillars that had their strength enhanced by 25 percent. Devices to absorb shocks were attached to the pillars. "If we had failed to take these measures, the cranes might have toppled over," Tabuchi said. This would have been a catastrophic incident if it had occurred. "Thanks to effort by those involved in the construction and the nation’s technological prowess, we were able to survive the earthquake," said Michiaki Suzuki, the president of Tobu Tower Skytree Co.

Earthquake proofing included a central shaft made of reinforced concrete. The main internal pillar is attached to the outer tower structure for the first 125 meters (410 feet) above ground. From there until 375 meters (1,230 feet) the pillar is attached to the tower frame with oil dampers, which act as cushions during an earthquake. Additional resilience is achieved through an "added mass control mechanism" (or tuned mass damper) — a damping system which, in the event of an earthquake, moves out of step with the building's structure, to keep the center of gravity as central as possible to the tower's base. According to the designers, the dampers can absorb 50 percent of the energy from an earthquake. [Source: Wikipedia]

Popularity, Profit and Tokyo SkyTree

For a couple of years after Tokyo Skytree opened it was very difficult to get a ticket to the viewing platform. Yusuke Tsuruta and Mayumi Oshige wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The enduring popularity of the tower in Sumida Ward was evident on May 3, a holiday during the Golden Week period. At 11am that day, a large bulletin board at the foot of the tower notified visitors that tickets for admission to the observation deck between 5pm and 5:30pm were being distributed — a wait of at least six hours. All numbered tickets for that day were gone shortly after 3pm. More than 20,000 people, including those who made reservations in advance, whizzed up to the observation deck that day to soak in the panoramic view. [Source: Yusuke Tsuruta and Mayumi Oshige, Yomiuri Shimbun, May 21, 2013]

“About 1.77 million visited the tower and its Tokyo Solamachi commercial complex during Golden Week. According to the operator of the tower and related facilities, about 6.3 million people have visited the deck so far, exceeding the initial forecast of 5.4 million. The tower and Tokyo Solamachi received their 50 millionth visitor on May 14. The figure is far above the projected 32 million, and about 1.8 times the number of visitors to Tokyo Disney Resort in Chiba Prefecture in fiscal 2012.

“Tobu Railway Co., the primary operator of the complex, had to upwardly revise its earnings estimates for the business year ending in March three times. The company’s operating profit soared to 52.5 billion yen, up 20 billion yen from the previous year, and 15.3 billion yen of this is considered to be from “the Skytree effect”. Other companies have also benefited from the tower’s opening. Central Japan Railway Co. logged a 5.8 per cent increase in revenue from its Shinkansen bullet train service in the same business year. Its president, Yoshiomi Yamada, flashed a smile during a press conference in April and said, “Skytree keeps attracting visitors, and it’s certainly leading to more reservations.”

“According to JTB Western Japan Corp., a travel agency based in Osaka, the number of reservations for tours to Tokyo Skytree and the capital’s old downtown area from April to September was more than double the previous year’s figure. The influx of Skytree visitors has had a ripple effect, with accommodation facilities in nearby resort areas such as Nikko, Izu and Hakone also reporting more visitors. “Skytree’s magnet effect is stronger than we expected”, a JTB Western Japan official said. The Sumida Ward Office has predicted that Skytree’s effect on the national economy would be 174.6 billion yen a year. But Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist of Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc., believes the true figure is even higher. The number of visitors was nearly double the projection. The actual economic effect must have largely exceeded the initial estimation,” Nagahama said.

“Asked why the tower is so popular, a Tobu Railway spokesman said: “Media coverage was favourable, and Skytree was considered a symbol of restoration [from the Great East Japan Earthquake] because it opened about a year after the disaster. “Plus, the tower was closed for only three days due to strong winds, which really helped.” Hisato Okabe, a public relations official of JTB Western Japan, said the biggest factor behind the popularity of the world’s tallest free-standing broadcast tower is the view. “Even when the weather is bad, the tower has enough attractions that visitors want to come again,” Okabe said.

Tokyo Skytree Features

Lightning Rod on Tokyo Skytree is situated on the top of the tower and is about two meters long. Given the rarity of thunderstorms in the Kanto region, the number of lightning strikes on the tower is expected to be less than 20 per year. Even if other parts of the tower are struck, the electricity would flow through the steel frame to the foundation in the ground, discharging the electricity. At the lower part of the antenna gain tower, there is observation equipment for lightning research. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 13, 2012]

Antenna Gain Tower is six meters in diameter and 140 meter tall. It was assembled at the bottom of a 10-meter-wide hollow within Tokyo SkyTree and was raised using hydraulic jacks. The top white cylindrical piece holds 65 tons of weights to help the tower withstand earthquakes and strong winds. The antenna started full-scale digital terrestrial broadcast transmissions in early 2013. Six broadcasters, including NHK and commercial TV stations based in Tokyo pay to use the tower.

White Dome-Shaped Antennae arranged in tandem are microwave links called FPUs (field pick-up units) for TV broadcasting. Antennae in the devices point toward a broadcasting location to receive microwaves for transmission to the gain tower. In addition to antennae for digital terrestrial broadcasting and FPUs, Tokyo SkyTree also has antennae for radio broadcasting and taxi dispatch.

Steel Frame of Tokyo Skytree weighs 32,000 tons and is comprised of steel struts that are each 2.3 meters in diameter near the ground. The framework supports the tower and is calculated to be twice as strong as that of Tokyo Tower. In what is called a "three-legged" structural technique, a cross-section of the framework at ground level is an equilateral triangle of about 68 meters per side. Moving up the structure, the triangular shape gradually becomes rounder, nearing a perfect circle at about 300 meters. Up to that level, the struts are curved in a way that recalls traditional temple architecture. The color, based on the Japanese color indigo white, was named "SkyTree white."

Ferroconcrete Central Pillar is about eight meters across and 375 meters tall and runs up the center of Tokyo SkyTree. In an earthquake, the pillar is designed to move differently from the main tower to cancel out the effect of the quake. A similar central pillar can be seen in the five-story pagoda of Horyuji temple in Nara Prefecture and also in the five-story pagoda of Toshogu shrine in the city of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, both of which are said to be earthquake-proof. In case the elevators stop in an emergency there is a 2,523-step stairway in the pillar leading from the Second Observatory to the ground.

Tokyo Skytree Observatories

There are observatories on the Tokyo Skytree: 1) at 350 meters (1,150 feet)and 2) at 450 meters (1,480 feet), with a capacity of 900 people. The upper observatory features a spiral, glass-covered skywalk in which visitors ascend the last 5 meters to the highest point at the upper platform. A section of glass flooring gives visitors a direct downward view of the streets below.

Second Observatory has two stories and observatory can hold up to 900 people. Seen from the ground, the observatory looks like a snake wrapped around the tower. The glass-covered, gently sloping corridor is about 2.4 meters wide and about 110 meters long. From the elevator lobby at 445 meters, visitors make a round trip in the corridor before reaching the highest broadcast tower observatory in the world at 450 meters.

First Observatory has three stories and is designed to accommodate 2,000 people. The third floor, at a height of 350 meters, has 96 trapezoidal windows measuring between 87 centimeters and 1.2 meters wide and 2.6 meters high. As the windows are angled outward by 19 degrees, visitors close to them can even see the base of the tower. Visitors can reach the observatory in about 50 seconds via a high-speed elevator that nears a speed of about 600 meters per minute.

The Tokyo Skytree has three elevators. There are designed to automatically shout down in very string winds and earthquakes. This rarely happens because normally the entire facility is closed during typhoons and storms. After the tower opened strong winds forced two elevators to shut down, leaving some visitors briefly stranded on the observation deck.

Tokyo Skytree Lights and Snow

Tokyo SkyTree is lit up at night with 1,995 giant light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The tower has two alternating lighting systems, respectively named Iki (chic) and Miyabi (elegance) after the spirit of the Edo Period (1603-1867) . The blue pattern, Iki, was inspired by the nearby Sumidagawa river, and the purple pattern, Miyabi, represents elegance and refinement in a shade known as Edomurasaki. The two patterns run on alternating nights, one night blue, the next night purple. [Source: Asahi Shimbun, April 20, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Central Tokyo rarely gets snow, but the operator of Tokyo Skytree is installing special nets and will deploy guards with snow-watching duties to ensure visitors and nearby residents are not at risk from chunks of accumulated snow falling on them from hundreds of meters up.” The Skytree was constructed “with special steel frames that makes it hard for snow to adhere to them. It installed heaters around the tower’s first observation deck, the Tembo Deck, which is 350 meters above ground, to prevent snow from accumulating. But last winter, when the tower was still under construction, blocks of snow fell to the ground on seven days. The snow caused some damage, including breaking the plastic roof of the balcony of a house south of the tower in Sumida Ward. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 8, 2013]

“The company alerts nearby residents by fax when there is a growing risk of snow falling. It has been most concerned about snow falling on the adjoining Tokyo Solamachi commercial complex — a popular facility visited by up to 200,000 people per day. Nearby residents are also concerned about snow falling off the tower. "Last winter, a chunk of snow about 20 centimeters in diameter fell in my garden," an 82-year-old woman said. "As wind can blow down blocks of snow several days after a snowfall, I can't feel at ease even on sunny days after it snows."

“Tobu Tower Skytree took additional steps to prevent snow falling off the structure after it opened. It installed nets to envelop the top 140 meters of the tower and a point 250 meters above the ground, and doubled the number of cameras that monitor snow to about 45. However, the fact remains that there is no surefire way to stop snow that accumulates on the tower from eventually hurtling groundward. Tobu Tower Skytree said about 60 security guards at and around the Solamachi complex will watch for snow and guide visitors to safety if there appears to be any danger that a block might fall. "We'll do everything we can to prevent accidents, and closely watch weather forecasts," a Tobu Tower Skytree official said.”

Visiting Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree is open 365 days a year from 9:00am to 9:00pm )last admission: 8:00pm) but pening hours are subject to change such as New Year's holidays and the facility may be closed during a typhoon or major storm. For regular ticket: 1) no reservations are required: and the price differs during weekdays and weekends/holidays Fast Skytree Ticket For International Visitors allows express entry with the presentation of a passport or other ID. No reservation is required and prices do not change based on the day. Group discount rates apply for advance reservations of parties of 10 or more. Tickets can be purchase on the "TOKYO SKYTREE Web Ticket" website or using a multi-functional copier at a Seven-Eleven store in Japan.

Regular Combo Ticket that allows one to enter both observation decks: 1) Adult (18 year old or older):¥3,100 on weekdays and ¥3,400 on weekends and holidays. 2) Students (12 - 17 years old) ¥2,350 on weekdays and ¥2,55 on weekends and holidays. 3) Children (6 - 11 years old): ¥1,450 on weekdays and ¥1,550 on weekends and holidays. A regular ticket adult for the upper observatory at 450 meters alone is ¥1,000 on weekdays and ¥1,100 on weekends. A regular adult ticket for the lower observatory at 350 meters alone is ¥2,100 on weekdays and ¥2,300 on weekends. The Fast Skytree Comb Ticket is ¥4,200 for adults and students 12 and over and ¥2,100 for children 6 to 11 years old. Express entry is only available for the elevator going to the main observation deck on Floor350. When visiting the upper deck on Floor450 or returning to the ground floor, you have to join the regular line for the elevators.

Oshiage Station is served by the following lines. It is the terminal station of three lines. 1) Keisei Oshiage Line (station number KS45) - through service to the A Toei Asakusa Line. 2) Tobu Skytree Line (station number TS-03) - through service to the Z Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line. 3) Toei Asakusa Line (station number A-20) - through service to the Keisei Oshiage Line. 4) Tokyo Metro Hanzōmon Line (station number Z-14) - through service to the TS Tobu Skytree Line

To reach Oshiage Station: 1) From Tokyo Station, take the JR Sobu Rapid Line and transfer at Kinshicho for the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line, 16 minutes total; 2) From Shinagawa Station, take the Keikyu Line or Toei Asakusa Line for 25-minute through service; 3) From Haneda Airport, take the Keikyu Line or Toei Asakusa Line for 42-minute through service; 4) From Narita Airport, take the Keisei Narita Airport Line or Narita SKY ACCESS Keisei Line for 49-minute through service.

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower (near Roppongi, Subway Oedo Line, Akabanebashi Station) is a mammoth TV and radio tower, standing 333 meters (1092 feet) above a knoll in Shiba Park. Nine meters taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it has two observation platforms with commanding views of Tokyo, Yokohama, Tokyo Bay, and, on clear days, Mt. Fuji and the Izu and Boso Peninsulas.

Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 and had been visited by 157 million tourists as of 2008. It has been pictured in many Japanese movies and is fixture of school bus trips and first dates. Built at a cost of $8.4 million, it is about a football field short than the 443-meter-high Empire State Building. It was the tallest tower in the world when it was built and is still one fo the highest free-standing steel towers in the world. The 553-meter-tall CN Tower in Toronto is considerably higher but it is held up with the help of wires. Tokyo Tower doesn’t dominate the skyline like the Eiffel Tower does because it is near lots of tall buildings.

Tokyo Tower looks sort of like the Eiffel Tower except it has white and orange stripes. It and is painted every five years to keep it from rusting. For its 50th birthday in 2008 the tower was given a $6.5 million overhaul by its owner, Nippon Television City, and a new nighttime illumination scheme: the Diamond veil, featuring 276 lights, in seven colors. On St. Patrick’s Day it is usually lit up green at night.

Built on the grounds of ancient Buddhist temple using steel scrap from American battle tanks used in the Korean War, Tokyo Tower was used to beam Japan’s first color television broadcasts. Before it was finished there were rumors that one could see Hawaii from the top. In the 1961 black-and-white film “Mothra” it was topped by a giant caterpillar. In recent years its it has become a symbol of the nostalgia for the Showa era (1926-89), when Japan was a budding economic superpower and nothing seemed impossible.

Visiting Tokyo Tower

The main observation deck is completely enclosed in glass. It features a look-down window that allows people to look down to the ground 150 meters below while standing on 54-millimeter- thick piece of glass. From the main observation deck you can take another elevator to the 250-meter-high Special Observatory. From here the view is unobscured by buildings and you can see Mt. Fuji on a clear day.

On weekends and holidays, visitors sometimes have to wait in line more than an hour to get to the elevator to the main observatory, which is about halfway up the tower. Those that want some exercise can climb the 590-step emergency stairway to the top, which takes about 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Climbing you can enjoy the open air, which you don’t experience on the observation deck, and really get a sense of how high you are.

At the foot of the tower is a 60s-style shopping center with a waxworks museum, aquarium, holograph display. and shops selling a variety of souvenirs and snacks such as the Tokyo speciality ningyoyaki sweets. There has been some discussion of making Tokyo Tower taller by 80 to 100 meters to prevent major television broadcasters from switching to a planned taller tower — the 610-meter-high Tokyo Sky Tree — for transmitting broadcast signals. See Tokyo Sky Tree.

Getting There: 1) Metropolitan Subway Oedo Line, Akabanebashi Station, Akabanebashi Gate, 5 minute walk; 2) Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, Kamiyacho Station, Exit No.1, 7 minute walk; 3) Metropolitan Subway Mita Line, Onarimon Station, Exit No. A1, Shibakoen Station, Exit No. A4, 6 minute walk, 10 minute walk; 4) Metropolitan Subway Asakusa Line, Daimon Station, Exit A6, 10 minute walk, JR, Hamamatsucho Station, North Exit, 15 minute walk. Websites: Tokyo Tower site ; Wikipedia Wikipedia

Image Sources: 1) Ray Kinnane

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization),, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, UNESCO, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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