Deja vu as Tokyo Sky Tree is completed

By Anna Watanabe

LAST Christmas I visited my Grandmother who, although she is Australian, lived in Japan with my Grandfather for many years during the 1950s and ’60s.

While rummaging through her things one humid and rainy afternoon, I came across a forgotten collection of over a hundred 35mm slides. Tourist snaps of Tokyo and Yokohama, taken by my then, twenty something year-old Grandfather.

A dusty viewfinder, held together with yellowing sticky tape, became the key to a world of photography that had been locked away for almost 50 years.

Unfortunately I couldn't steal my family's slides of Tokyo Tower, but this picture is not that dissimilar from those in my Grandmother's collection. Picture: shop boy/Flikr

The first set of slides I picked up had been processed by another symbol of a by-gone era – Kodak. And they revealed a shopping list of must-see attractions in Tokyo: The Imperial Palace, the Kaminari-mon in Asakusa and the brand new Tokyo Tower.

It was astonishing to see how much the Tower dominated the skyline of 1960s Minato – in only one of the slides could the tops of surrounding buildings be seen. But, today, standing at only 332 metres, Tokyo Tower is actually just under half the size of the newly completed Tokyo Sky Tree.

It was somehow comforting to see that only the Tower’s surroundings had changed. Even then it was a bright orange Eiffel Tower. In fact, time had probably enhanced its garish, air-safety standard colours.

By today’s standards, Tokyo Tower is a fairly B-grade attraction. But looking at these slides, it’s clear the Tower symbolises much more. It’s a constant reminder that despite Japan’s defeat and economic ruin after World War II, the country sprung back, Daruma-like, to achieve its goals.

The similarities between Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Sky Tree, completed Wednesday, are uncanny. Both are towers of record-breaking heights at the time of their completion. At 634 metres, Tokyo Sky Tree is the tallest tower in the world, knocking Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China into second place.

The completed Tokyo Sky Tree. Picture: ykanazawa1999/Flikr

Both are broadcast towers that have been built with function in mind, as well as form and revenue. Like Tokyo Tower that features restaurants, stores and a museum, Tokyo Sky Tree is a tourist attraction. Pre-orders for tickets to look out of the Tower’s two observation decks – one at 350m and the other at 450m – will begin from March 22.

Nuclear disaster and economic downfall preceded construction of both towers, which have since become a symbol of the healing process. Construction delays caused by the March 11 earthquake set back it’s opening date by over two months.

And both are intended to encourage foreign money – Tokyo Tower as a show of strength by Japan’s construction sector and the Sky Tree to bring back scared tourists. Beauty company, Shiseido, has even put forward a new perfume inspired by Tokyo Sky Tree that will sell at its base for 63,400 yen ($US800).

But most importantly, I think, both towers have forced the Japanese to look “up” during a period of complete uncertainty. To take one last look at 1960’s Japan, I’m reminded of the lyrics to that karaoke classic, Sukiyaki: “Ue wo muite arukou namidaga koborenai youni.” Look up as you walk so your tears don’t fall.

A woman looks up to take a photo of Tokyo Sky Tree, a new landmark tower still under construction in Tokyo. Picture: AP

My hope is that in 50-odd years someone will find a telling artefact of the Tokyo Sky Tree – maybe a Tweet from the observation deck or footage taken on a 3D home video camera – and see it as I now see Tokyo Tower. And I hope the Sky Tree brings with it all the good fortune that Tokyo Tower seemed to herald those many years ago.

This article was first published at Rakugoka, Anna’s blog at