The heart of Tokyo city16 February, 2012 by Chad
For over 50 years, the Tokyo Tower has been the pinnacle landmark in Japan’s capital city. Located in Minato Ward at the heart Tokyo, the iconic 333 meter tall lattice tower served as the world’s tallest free-standing structure up until the completion of the Tokyo Sky Tree. Despite my longtime awe of the engineering marvel, it’s a wonder why we’ve had yet to give the Tokyo Tower a feature of its own.
Though dwarfed by the Sky Tree (which is nearly twice its height), there’s still something oddly comforting about seeing the orange-red tower peek out through the skyline. The tower’s classic lattice design, based on the Eiffel Tower, alludes to a more idealistic time. Then there’s the influence of popular media, that has brought us to associate the warmly lit up tower with romantic sentiments.
But one has to visit the Tokyo Tower proper to truly appreciate the beauty of the steel heart. The Tokyo Metro’s Daimon and Onarimon stations provide a nearer starting point. But failing that, the most convenient means of travel would be to stop at the Hamamatsucho Station on the central JR Yamanote Line, from which the tower is a 15 minute walk away.
Hamamatsucho is not far from other sights like Ginza or Tsukiji, making it a popular stop in the evening, especially among couples. It would usually be a little awkward if you’re traveling alone to such well known date spots, but the Japanese tend to keep to themselves such that any discomfort would have to come purely from oneself. The many families and plentiful tourists help too.
A popular time to visit the Tokyo Tower would be at the photographer’s magic or golden hour. This is also a time when Tokyo’s skies switch from a fully lighted day, to a pitch dark night in just a short moment. A result of the sky being mostly devoid of clouds to reflect the setting sun. This allows for those visiting at this time to experience the tower in both its day and nighttime glory.
At night, the lights bounce off the orange tower, giving it a rich hue. Occasionally, the Tokyo Tower displays other colors or messages on the observatory windows during special events such as in the case of the New Year.
Note that while the Tokyo Tower switches on its ambient lights as soon as the sky begins to darken each evening, it is only fully illuminated for a short while after each night before switching back to a lower lighting mode.
Access to the Tokyo Tower costs 820 yen for the main observatory (150 meters) or another 600 yen (total 1420 yen) for the special observatory (250 meters).
As only a limited number of people can fit into the smaller special observatory, either ticket will require you to stop at the main observatory first, before taking a second elevator up. It doesn’t take long to get up to the main observatory but the wait for the special observatory may take an additional hour.
Unknown to most, you are actually able to climb the Tokyo Tower on foot via a spiraling staircase up. This option is only available on days of good weather and unfortunately, you climbers will still need to pay for a full priced ticket. It might be fun for those up for the challenge though. It takes approximately an hour to scale the tower.
Some additional photographs taken from the main observatory. At night, you can see the tower lights reflecting off the office buildings from as far as Shinbashi. Lights from the Tokyo Sky Tree can be faintly seen in the photo above too. On rare clear days, you can also make out the silhouette of Mount Fuji.
Below, the brightly lit highway serves as one of the most immediately eye-catching landmarks from the Tokyo Tower, with its streets branching off towards Roppongi and Shinagawa. In the distance, the splendid Rainbow Bridge links Shinagawa to the man made Odaiba island.
Inside the observatory, there aren’t too many facilities which lead many difficult tourists to complain (but more on that later). But there’s a small cafe, souvenir shop and more importantly Club 333, a small stage with live music every Wednesday and Thursday evenings and a DJ throughout Friday nights. Club 333 is free and is included in the normal observatory ticket.
The main gripe with Tokyo Tower seems to be its shoddily thrown together tourist traps selling souvenir items downstairs. This is of course, unforgivable. But most tend tend to forget to keep it a separate issue from the tower itself. It’s not as if you are paying to visit the souvenir shops, these are downstairs at Foot Town, a small 4-story mall below the tower that is free for public access, or avoidable if you wish.
But while many of the souvenir shops here quite literally sell junk, others will appreciate the convenience provided by the shops below. Minato, where the Tokyo Tower is located, is very much a residential area. Making Tokyo Tower Foot Town the equivalent of your neighborhood shopping center. Which is why you’ll find that the majority of space here is actually occupied by a Family Mart, fast food, food court and various other cheap dining options.
Foot Town is also home to an amusement center and has a playground for children on its roof, which also serves as the starting point for climbing the Tokyo Tower by foot. I wish my heartlands mall came with a tower.
For those who still do not buy into the idea of paying for an observatory, Tokyo offers many free options. But note that none offer the trinity of convenience, panoramic views and zero cost. We’ve covered some of the free options in this article on 10 Free Tokyo City Views.
Many choose to visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building instead, which is one of rare places in Tokyo that has a 360 degree observatory too, but the building often gets ridiculously crowded with tour groups. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills boasts an even higher open air rooftop view of Tokyo city, along with a premium price of course.
But the conveniently located Tokyo Tower still provides an excellent view at an affordable price and remains Tokyo’s must visit observatory for first time travelers. At least until the Tokyo Sky Tree opens in May this year. But with entry costs announced at 2,000 yen and 3,000 yen for the new tower’s first (350 meters) and second (450 meters) observatories respectively, a view from the world’s second tallest structure will not come cheap.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.