Asia Life

Tokyo Skytree: Japan’s Cutting-Edge Pagoda with a View

On its first anniversary, Tokyo Skytree has proven to be a hit.

Last week, jugglers, mimes and Japanese performance troupe R mansion congregated in a shopping plaza to celebrate the first anniversary of Japan’s hottest architectural attraction: Tokyo Skytree.

Since opening as the world’s second tallest tower last one year ago on May 22, guests continue to stream through Tokyo Skytree’s doors and up to its observation deck. In its first year alone, 5,400,000 people visited the 40 billion yen ($395 million) structure. In its first few months it was virtually impossible to get tickets without booking far in advance.

Just behind the 829-meter-high (2,720 feet) Dhubai’s Burj Khalifa, the Skytree towers over Japan’s largest city at 634 meters (2,080 feet). Rival towers include the Canton Tower Guangzhou (600 meters) and Toronto’s CN Tower (553 meters); and in its own backyard, Tokyo Tower (nearly half Skytree’s height at 333 meters).

Similar to Tokyo Tower – the red, Eiffel Tower spin-off that is Japan’s second highest structure, frequently targeted by Godzilla in film – Skytree was in fact built with more in mind than giving people panoramic views of the city. Constructed by Obayashi – a general contractor with plans to build a “space elevator” by 2050 that would transport 30 people at a time a tenth of the way to the moon – Skytree is in fact a digital terrestrial broadcasting center for Tokyo and its environs.

While Skytree may not quite transport visitors into the stratosphere, its upper observation deck is 450 meters above the Earth, offering stunning views of the megalopolis. It takes 50 seconds to reach the first lower deck at 350 meters (2,000 yen with advanced reservation) and another 30 seconds to reach the upper perch another 100 meters higher (for an additional 1,000 yen). Views from the ground-up are equally stunning, as seen in this well-done time lapse sequence.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Based in the heart Tokyo’s historical heart, Skytree looms over the Sumida and Arakawa rivers, once the lifeblood of Old Tokyo. Visitors can also compare a reproduced image from a folding screen painting from the feudal days that gives a sense of how modern Tokyo has evolved on Edo’s geographical foundations. Indeed, the view from Skytree suggests that Tokyo is more a cluster of “cities within the city”, with hubs like Shibuya, Shinjuku and the area surrounding the old Imperial palace delineated by their unique landmarks. On clear days, visitors can also glimpse Mt. Fuji.

Flickr (suzumenonamida)Setting Skytree apart from many of its competitors, the lattice structure stands on shaky ground – literally, in terms of earthquakes; but even more so due to the fact that it is partially reclaimed from Tokyo Bay. Yet, even in tremor-prone Japan, Skytree’s builders are confident that the structure would withstand the strongest of quakes thanks to the shinbashira principle.

Drawing on this traditional building technique, Skytree was built around a column at its center, like Japanese pagodas of old. In Skytree’s case, this appears as a hollow concrete tube at its core that reduces the impact of vibrations from earthquakes by 50 percent.

Indeed, the Japanese got it right when it comes to pagoda architecture. As the Economist points out, only two of the nation’s wooden pagodas have toppled due to earthquakes in 1,400 years. Even when the Great Hanshin earthquake decimated Kobe in 1995, in neighboring Kyoto, the five-storey pagoda on the Toji Temple grounds remained unscathed.

In this sense, Skytree draws on the best of Japanese tradition, while standing as a powerful symbol for Japan’s hopes for the future.

To learn more about this architectural marvel, from numbers and figures to making reservations, visit Skytree’s website here.