Friday, October 11

Tokyo Skytree

The Tokyo Skytree Tower rises a staggering 634 metres (2,080 ft). It’s currently the world’s second tallest structure, only surpassed in height by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. It’s also the world’s tallest tower, exceeding the height of Toronto’s CN Tower and Guangzhou’s Canton Tower. Skytree has observation decks at 350 m (1,150 ft) and 451 m (1,480 ft). The later deck is reached via a spiral ramp that rises more than 20 metres from the lift lobby.

Skytree was built to relay digital television and radio signals across the Tokyo metropolitan area. It replaced the region’s previous transmission tower, Tokyo Tower, as it signals became increasingly compromised by high-rise buildings in the same area. I vividly recall my first visit to the base of Tokyo Tower. It’s a wonderful structure, whose elegant design was inspired by the Eiffel Tower. However, it was clear at the time that the tower was over-shadowed by many of its neighbours. 

Skytree has no such problem. It stands alone, well clear of any tall structure, less than a kilometre from the Sumida River. Since its opening in May 2012, the tower has become a popular tourist attraction. Media reports claim that an incredible 1.6 million people visited Skytree during its first week. More than a year later, tickets to the tower’s main observation deck continue to sell out on public holidays and many weekends.

As many readers will know, I’m an avid civil engineering fan. Therefore, it goes without saying that I was keen to see the tower for myself. The opportunity to do so came during my recent Japanese vacation. I had a full day to fill before my mother’s flight arrived from Auckland. As a frequent traveler to Tokyo, I’d seen most the city’s classic tourist venues so Skytree was obvious place to go.

Getting there is a bit of an exercise. Skytree sits on a private railway line. This means that most visitors must make numerous interchanges to reach it by train. However, the inconvenient transit was worth the effort. Skytree is spectacular. It’s an incredibly sturdy looking structure. The lifts are ear-poppingly fast.  

At 450 metres the view is simply mind-boggling. You feel as though you’re flying over the surrounding area, with an unimpeded view of the vast Tokyo metropolitan region. It’s difficult to convey in words what it’s like to look dozens of kilometres in any direction and see nothing but a vast sea of buildings.

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