Monday, October 23, 2006

Japan - Tokyo Tower

Our first day in Tokyo began pretty much the same way as our first day in Kyoto - with a visit to the city's designated sightseeing tower. Tokyo Tower may invoke images of the Eiffel Tower but it was built as a radio/television transmission tower first and foremost. Still, it is a beautiful tower and taller than you'd probably think. I'm not sure if it's the tallest structure in Tokyo or not, but it would surprise me if it isn't.

If you're interested in visiting, the easiest way to get to the tower (and the most pleasant) is the Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho station. From there, it's about a 15 minute walk - it's pretty easy to figure out walking directions on your own, just look for the tower and walk towards it.

A pleasant surprise for us was stumbling upon Zojoji Temple - we hadn't planned it, but it sits directly in the path from Hamamatsucho station to the tower. Compared to some of the other temples we'd been to on this trip, it's a fairly small complex - still, it was nice to experience some peace and tranquility in the middle of bustling Tokyo. It was also an interesting juxtaposition of new and old architecture that made for some good photo opps.

This kinda brings up a point, which is that the perception of Tokyo (and Japan itself) in the west is a bit skewed. Tokyo is a huge, sprawling city, but it has a lot of quiet areas like this, and it is not particularly crowded - at least to a New Yorker. Obviously, those used to rural areas in any country will be absolutely overwhelmed by Tokyo, but the population density of Manhattan and central Tokyo are pretty similar - and remember that Manhattan has a huge swath of land right in the middle of it devoted to a giant park. The point being, while stories of commuters having to be physically packed into subway trains like sardines abound in the west, Tokyo is really no more crowded than a lot of other cities, and it's got plenty of big open spaces like this.

Almost directly beneath the tower. Tokyo Tower is different than Kyoto Tower in that there are a bunch of other attractions inside the tower itself - it's not strictly for sightseeing (and it's not sitting atop a hotel). There is a wax museum, for example, as well as a few other things that we didn't try. It's a whole big building full of attractions, and it looks pretty new inside - so it's a pretty major spot for tourists.

Here's the English version of the Tokyo Tower brochure - I also have (or had) a Japanese version but I may have given it away already. (Multi-page PDF):

Tons of cool stuff in there. Tokyo Tower's a happenin' place.

Obviously, the more you do there, the more you're gonna pay - everything requires its own ticket (even going all the way to the top observation deck requires two separate tickets).

Part of the view from the main observation deck about 1/3 the way up the tower, looking towards Odaiba. You can see Rainbow Bridge towards the right, with Odaiba beyond. It was really smoggy that day (actually this is not that bad for Tokyo) so we didn't bother paying the extra to go up to the "special" observation deck near the top - on some days, though, you can apparently see as far as Osaka, hundreds of miles away.

One of the only knocks I have against Tokyo is that it does not have a particularly compelling skyline. Part of that is the earthquake zoning provisions that make it prohibitively expensive to build tall - 35 stories is a skyscraper in Tokyo. The "sunshine laws" also restrict the amount of shadow a building can cast on the surrounding neighborhood - though these are now being relaxed a bit as the city runs out of land (it's dawned on political leaders that building vertically frees up surrounding land for parks or other uses). Tokyo is also not a city in political terms, which is one reason why you see wildly varying estimates of its population - it depends on what you're counting. But this means that there is no "center" of the city, really. It's just one big sprawl, with a few smaller city "centers" around the edges.

This is the view of Zojoji Temple from above.

And Tokyo Tower from directly below.

Next up: our hotel, getting around Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine and Harajuku!

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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