Tokyo Tower & Environs
Tokyo Tower Foot Town | Government Information and Statistical Information | Wax Museum | Inventions for Electric Guitar | Restaurant/Food Court | Tokyo Tower Aquarium | Shiba Park | Zojoji Temple | Tokyo Prince Hotel | Tokyo Tower Access
-One of Tokyo's most popular landmarks attracting over 3 million visitors per year.
-Erected in 1958, the world's tallest self-supporting steel tower, at 333 meters (1093 feet).
-Located in Tokyo's elegant Minato ward, surrounded by parks and temples and dotted with relaxed high class eateries.
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.
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 360-degree panorama afforded by Tokyo Tower.
Tokyo Tower's Main Observatory is 150 meters (492 feet) above ground level.
Entry: 820 yen for adults, 460 yen for elementary and junior high school students, 310 yen for children over 4 years old.
You enter the first floor of the building under the Tower greeted by women dressed something like 1970s air hostesses. After lining up at the ticket booth, you board the elevator, which takes you to the upper of the two Main Observatory floors.
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 smog, you would be very lucky to make out, even on a good day).
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 caf a souvenir shop, and even a small Shinto shrine.
If you have at least an extra 60-90 minutes, 600 yen and a large endowment of patience, you can ascend to the Special Observatory 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.
View From Tokyo Tower
Cityscapes are cityscapes, and, overall, Tokyo's is rather drab. If worth looking at at all, it is only for its breathtaking scale. Massive buildings here and there stand random sentinel over a 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.
When looking from the Main Observatory 150 meters (492 feet) up, you at least still feel as if you are inside the city. There, 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, the smoggy, model-like sprawl far below you has lost the color, dimension and resolution it still had from the Main Observatory. 15 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.
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.
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 to make 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.
[*Image - 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].
The 3rd floor is shared by the Wax Museum, the Guinness World Records Museum and the Holographic Mystery Zone. The latter two are strictly for the kids and require an entry fee. The Guinness World Records Museum charges 700 yen for adults, 420 yen for elementary and junior high school students, 210 yen for children over 4 years old, and is well done. The Holographic Mystery Zone charges 500 yen (350 for kids), and has a distinctly cheesy air. The Wax Museum is the same price, but is definitely worth a stroll through.
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 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, lighters, keyrings, and more. Five stars.
The 2nd floor of Tokyo Tower Foot Town is a touristic nightmare: endless junk food and souvenir trinket stores, all under a cold fluorescent glare. Avoid unless really hungry.
A better option is the 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), or the chic Restaurante Garb Pintino just across the road from the Tower's main entrance. There is also the nearby Tokyo Prince Hotel and The Prince Park Tower Tokyo with various options for high class dining.
Tokyo Tower Aquarium is located on the first floor, i.e. on the same level as where you first enter the Tower. Way over-priced at 1000 yen, it is no more than row upon row of plain ol' 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 better off wandering through the tropical fish section of a decent-sized pet shop.
Around Tokyo Tower
To make the most of your visit to Tokyo Tower, JapanVisitor recommends a wander around the neighborhood.
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 detached 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 the natural 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).
Zojoji is the main temple of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism. Zojoji 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 remains unfaded. Zojoji 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.
Zojoji Temple was closely associated with the Tokugawa family that ruled Japan in the Edo era from 1603-1867, 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 Temple is its huge 21 meter (69 foot) high gate, the Sangedatsumon, built in 1622, the only remaining part of the original temple.
Also of particular interest are: The Daibonsho, a giant 15 ton bell cast in 1673 and tolled six times a day. The Daibonsho bell is just inside the temple 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 (1822 - 1885), the eighteenth president of the United States, when he visited Zojoji Temple as a guest of the Japanese nation in 1879.
The rows of colorfully clothed and decorated stone jizo, (photo at right) 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, and soothed with the sound of sweeping, chanting and the occasional dull solitary bell.
Zojoji Temple 4-7-35 Shibakoen, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0011 Japan Tel: (81)3-3432-1431
The Prince Park Tower Tokyo is at the southern end of Shiba Park. While equally plush as the Tokyo Prince Hotel, it is more modern. Its 33 floors offer panoramic views of Tokyo. It has 14 restaurants and lounges, a fitness club, natural hot spring spa, full service beauty salon, and its grounds consist mostly of beautiful Shiba Park.
The Prince Park Tower Tokyo, 4-8-1 Shiba Koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-8563, Japan Phone 81-3-5400-1111 Book the Prince Park Tower Tokyo hotel
Just north of, and next door to, Zojoji Temple is the deceptively squat and plain-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.
The Seibu Pisa shopping department on the 1st floor (reception is on the second floor) boasts an often literally dazzling treasure trove of fine art and crafts.
Tokyo Prince Hotel 3-1, Shibakoen 3-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-8560 Japan Phone: 81-3-3432-1111 Book the Tokyo Prince Hotel
Akabanebashi station on the Oedo subway line. Turn left out of ticket gate to the Akabanebashi Crossing exit.
Daimon station on the Oedo subway line, exit A6.
Daimon station on the Asakusa subway line, exit A6
Onarimon station on the Mita Line, exit A1.
Hamamatsu-cho station on the JR Yamanote, Tokai-hondo, and Keihin-tohoku lines. Exit B2.
Hours: Main Observatory 9am - 10pm (last admission 9.45pm)
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