Tokyo Tower

Maki Nibayashi

In the postwar boom of the 1950s, Japan was looking for a monument to symbolize its ascendancy as a global economic powerhouse - it was also looking to build a television and radio relay tower. Looking to the occident for inspiration, the Tokyo Government decided to erect its own Eiffel Tower. Constructed by Takenaka Corporation, Japan' oldest architecture, engineering and construction firm, and completed in 1958 at a cost of JY2.8 billion, this grand edifice, at a height of three hundred and 333m, entered the record books as the world's highest self-supporting iron structure.

Taller than the Eiffel Tower by just thirteen meters, Tokyo Tower, while maintaining a commanding presence on the Tokyo skyline, has never gained status as a monument of international repute. However, due to its advanced steel construction, it is half the weight (4,000 tons versus 7,000) of its French sibling, and represents Japan amongst "The World Federation of Great Towers," in which 21 other towers and monuments around the world are also listed.

Chiefly a relay tower for nine TV stations and five FM radio stations, the tower is better known as the city's preeminent kitsch tourist destination. Surrounded by Tokyo Tower tea towels and key rings, the first floor houses an aquarium - home to 50,000 (rather small) fish - the third floor a wax museum and the Mysterious Walking World, and the fourth floor the decidedly low brow Trick Art Gallery.

In the '60s the iron monolith towered above a predominately low-rise skyline; however, these days it stands out less in the relief of the glass towers built around Shinjuku and Akasaka. Still, the tower offers a mildly spectacular sight at night, with its 164 lights whose colors vary by season. The Tokyo Tower has two observation galleries - a "main" one at 150 meters and a "special" one at 250 meters. On a fine - and relatively unpolluted - day, particularly when the humidity is low during winter, the observatory offers spectacular views of Mt. Fuji to the west, the Boso and Miura peninsulas (on either side of Tokyo Bay), the Hakone mountains and Mt. Tsukuba to the northeast.

The object of attacks from Godzilla, Tokyo Tower, which was snapped in half by the creature, has been forever lodged in pop culture folklore. But its finest moment might have been in 1983 when the supernatural psychic Uri Geller used the Tower as a relay station to bend spoons and fix broken watches in homes all over Tokyo.

As it approaches its half-century, Tokyo Tower's days as a broadcasting station might be numbered. Plans to construct a new tower in Saitama - the Saitama New Metropolitan Tower - at the unprecedented height of 500 meters will make the aging antennae obsolete. Furthermore, Nippon Television City Corporation, who manage Tokyo Tower, are also planning to supercede the structure, having outlined a construction plan for a new 700-meter-tall broadcasting tower. Whatever happens, Tokyo Tower will live on as the capital's most recognizable, if not cherished, postwar icon.

Stuart Braun

381: Tokyo Tower
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350: Umeboshi
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ISSUES 248/9-