Japan’s Largest Tourist Trap
The third stop of my Tokyo trip (after leaving the Tokyo National Museum) was the famed and new Tokyo Skytree. Since I took the Skytree bus from near Ueno station (I saw it pull up to a line of people and jumped on. It cost about 200 yen and drove right under the skytree), I had no problem finding the towering tower. There are plenty of ways to get there.
It’s Part Mall
I was expecting an experience similar to Seattle’s Space Needle. I should have known better. The central tower actually sits on top of a massive 5 story structure called Skytree Town, along with a separate eastern tower. After arriving, I worked my way up in search of the entrance. There signs and layout weren’t very clear. Inside on the fourth floor there’s a place that looks like an entrance, only it is limited to group tours. For the regular guests, you have to go outside.
I don’t know if the system I experienced is only during peak season or if it is a daily occurrence, but you could not just enter the ticket line (which took a bit of walking to find). Between the main tower and east tower, I found a tent with people handing out time cards. The cards were color coded with times at which you could line up to… enter the line to buy tickets.
I arrived around noon and they were handing out tickets for 2:00 to 2:30 so I decided to stick it out. I had yet to eat so I headed downstairs in search of food.
The Bowels of Skytree
So under skytree are two whole floors of massive complex full of stores, restaurants, and shops. Not only was there restaurants, but an actual market (who buys whole fish at a skytree?) as well. The entire place felt like it was meant to keep you wandering as the restaurants I passed had entrances on the outside, instead of inside where everyone was walking. I’m sure they did this so that only those people who really wanted to eat there would go through the trouble of finding the entrance. Still, one Italian restaurant looked packed from the artistic glass doors that weren’t an entrance.
Eventually I found a map which showed all the kinds of food and fun there within my grasp. Only they names they used to divide up the different areas were very close to each other and rather confusing. I eventually found a McDonalds and managed to grab a single barstool at which to scarf down some food.
On a more happy note, after that I found a Cold-Stone creamery right around the corner. I didn’t even know they had made it to Japan. That helped while away a few more minutes until my turn came to get in line.
The Artistry of Waiting
Outside once again I grabbed a bit of bench outside the entrance (Gate B I guess). They had two attendants with signs coded to the colored cards. A bit before 2:00 they started up a blue line and I jumped in, about 30 people behind the front, all the while, people with pink 1:30-2:00 cards could still enter. Finally, the time came and we were let inside. To another line.
Ropes wound through a huge entry area until we were lined up before a huge bank of cashiers. Groups got to go ahead, but eventually I made it to the front of the line. There I was lucky enough to give 2000 yen for a ticket to ride to the Tembo Deck. After leaving the cashier, I joined another line as we passed through turnstiles that scanned the tickets. Strangely dressed attendants herded us around the core of the tower. We worked slowly past the bank of elevators until we made it to the far end and a group of us were counted out and
slaughtered selected for an elevator.
Inside, the elevator had bright lights and sounds to distract people from the high-speed ascent to the 350th floor.
Wait there’s More!
I looked around a bit but I hadn’t quite stood in line enough, so I paid another 1,000 yen to get in line again. Since I was already there, I figured I might as well go to the top. The extra fee made it extra exciting. This time the elevator allowed a few glimpses of the outside as we rode up to the 450th floor.
From both Tembo Deck and Galleria you can see 360* of Tokyo. The view is interesting, but would probably be far more entertaining for those who have lived in the city (or at least visited a few times) and have an understanding of the layout. I saw a lot of buildings, but they didn’t mean much to me. After the obligatory photos, I headed back down (after waiting in line for an elevator).
One cool thing in the Tembo deck was a small area of glass floors. More so than the view, it was fun to watch half the visitors trying to convince the other half to stand over them. The ones who ran away were the most entertaining. The Tembo Deck featured a shop, restaurant, and cafe, but they were all to packed for me.
After another wait, I found my way down to the lobby.
You might have noticed the tone of this post is a bit different from my usual ravings about how great a place or cultural experience has been. Is the Skytree worth seeing? Sure. It’s beautiful, tall, unique. The whole experience is extremely and smartly plotted out. There was plenty to do while I was waiting, and I had ample opportunities to spend money. The thing is, everything else I did in Tokyo helped me connect a little bit more with Japan. The Skytree didn’t.
It’s an experience, but from so high, the buildings all kind of muddle. I wasn’t able to draw myself away from the knowledge I was in a place build for tourists.. If you have limited time, skip it. Instead, head over to the nearby Senso Temple.