Tokyo Tower - Everything You Need To Know About Tokyo's Most Famous Landmark
The world-famous Tokyo Tower is instantly recognizable amongst Tokyo's sprawling skyline. Located in the center of the city, the bright orange replica of the Eiffel Tower can make a pretty strong claim to be Tokyo's most famous landmark. Though the Tokyo Tower's primary function is a communications tower, it is perhaps more well known as an observation deck, offering spectacular views across the city and far beyond. In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about Tokyo Tower, including its history, the reasons for its unmistakable design, and everything to see and do!
Jun 18 2021 (Sep 06 2021)
The History of Tokyo Tower
Though officially called "Nippon Denpatō" ("Japan Radio Tower"), Tokyo's iconic landmark is much more commonly known as "Tokyo Tower." Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 to cater to the growing demand for transmission towers from television stations in Tokyo during Japan's post-war boom. Rather than build multiple television towers all over the city, it was decided to build one tower at such a height that TV signals could be transmitted across a city as large as Tokyo from a single location.
Realizing that such a tower would become a significant part of the skyline, the designers of the Tokyo Tower looked for inspiration from other notable landmarks around the world. Eventually, the Eiffel Tower was chosen as the model, and Tokyo Tower would replicate the lattice steel design of Paris' most famous landmark.
Design Features of Tokyo Tower
Located in Shibakoen in the central ward of Minato at 333 meters tall, Tokyo Tower was the tallest freestanding tower in the world when it was built. Ironically, the previous tallest was the Eiffel Tower. Since its completion, a host of TV and radio stations have used antennas to broadcast from the Tokyo Tower, and it continues to be used for both analog and some digital services today.
Besides broadcasting, Tokyo Tower has also been an observation tower ever since it opened. Tokyo Tower features two observation decks: the Main Deck at a height of 150 meters, and the Top Deck at 250 meters. The Top Deck is still the third-highest observation deck in Tokyo, behind the two observatories at Tokyo Skytree. It's estimated that over 150 million people have visited the Tokyo Tower since it first opened over 60 years ago. Despite competition from a host of other observation decks throughout the city, Tokyo Tower still receives around three million tourists every year.
Why is Tokyo Tower Orange?
Perhaps Tokyo Tower's most notable design feature is its color. In order to comply with air safety laws, Tokyo Tower is painted a fetching shade of bright orange, officially known as "International Orange." Every five years, the tower is given a fresh coat of paint, which takes a whole year to complete.
At night, Tokyo Tower is beautifully illuminated by a series of floodlights that were specially designed to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Glowing bright against the night sky, the view of the Tokyo Tower after dark is perhaps the most famous sight amongst the city's clustered skyline. The Tokyo Tower's lights turn off at midnight each night, and it's claimed that if you see the tower's lights turn off at night with a loved one you're guaranteed to have a long and happy relationship together.
In the hot summer months from July to September, the Tokyo Tower's lights are set to a cooling shade of white. In the cold of winter, the tower's lights are changed to a deep and warming orange. Every Monday, the tower is illuminated with a special light display called the Infinity Diamond Veil, the colors of which change every month of the year. There are also special illuminations to commemorate certain events, such as new year celebrations and Valentine's Day, and once a month, the top lights are dimmed completely when there's a full moon.
Visiting Tokyo Tower
Where is Tokyo Tower?
Tokyo Tower is located in Shibakoen in the center of Tokyo. It was deliberately built in central Tokyo so that the tower's TV and radio antennas could reach as far as possible. The Tokyo Tower is around three kilometers south of the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station, and just a few stops from the art museums and notorious nightlife of Roppongi.
How to Get to Tokyo Tower
There are several stations close to the Tokyo Tower. The nearest subway stations are Akabanebashi station and Onarimon station. The nearest JR station is Hamamatsucho Station, which is around a 15 minute walk away.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Tokyo Tower?
Tickets for Tokyo Tower's Main Deck cost 1,200 yen for adults and between 500 to 1,000 yen for children depending on their age. Tickets for the Top Deck Tour cost 3,000 yen for adults and between 2,800 and 1,400 yen for children, again, depending on their age. Note that you can save 200 yen per person for the Top Deck Tour by booking tickets directly at the Tokyo Tower's website in advance. Tickets for the Top Deck Tour include admission to the Main Deck.
What To See And Do At The Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower's main attractions are the two observation decks that offer glorious views across Tokyo and way beyond. From both decks are sweeping 360-degree panoramic views of one of the world's most spectacular cityscapes.
The Main Deck
Tokyo Tower's lower observation deck is called the Main Deck, which is spread across two floors. At a height of 150 meters from ground level, the view from the Main Deck is still level with many of the rooftops of nearby skyscrapers and office blocks. However, there are still fantastic views way across the city and far beyond, even as far as Mount Fuji to the west when the weather is clear. The recent refurbishment of the Main Deck saw the installation of larger window panels, allowing for a much clearer view of the whole city.
A prominent feature of the lower floor of the Main Deck is the Skywalk Windowsーlarge, clear glass panels built into the floor that looks directly down upon the street 140 meters below. Also located on the Main Deck is the Great Shinto Shrine of Tokyo Tower, the highest altitude shrine in Tokyo, where people come to offer prayers to find love, and students pray for success in exams. The Main Deck also has a small cafe where you can stop and pick up a bite to eat whilst enjoying the incredible views.
The Top Deck
The Tokyo Tower's higher deck, called the Top Deck, is a much smaller circular viewing space. Access to the Top Deck observatory is only available on the Top Deck Tour which includes the cost of admission to the Main Deck. A small elevator on the Main Deck takes you halfway to the Top Deck, where you're offered a free drink and the chance to have a souvenir photo snapped by the tower's photographer. You can buy prints on your way out at the end of your visit. From here, you transfer to another lift to the Top Deck.
Though the Top Deck is a much smaller observation deck, it does offer an incredible bird's eye view of Tokyo. With a vantage point of an extra 100 meters, there is a much clearer view over the nearer areas of Tokyo than from the Main Deck. The Top Deck Tour also includes a free audio guide that explains the history of each corner of Tokyo as you walk around the observation deck. As part of the tower's recent refurbishment, the Top Deck's interior has been fitted with dazzling geometric mirrors which reflect the light during the daytime and the lights of the city skyline at night.
What Else Can You Do at Tokyo Tower?
You Can Climb Tokyo Tower
If you're feeling adventurous (and fit), then there's an alternative way to reach the tower's Main Deck. Instead of taking the elevator, you can choose to climb the Tokyo Tower's external staircase that starts on the roof of FootTown, the food and shopping complex that sits underneath the tower, and leads all the way to the Main Deck. It's 600 steps in total and it can get pretty breezy along the way, but if you're looking for a very memorable experience, as well as some unique views of the city, climbing the Tokyo Tower might be for you. Be aware that despite the extra effort involved it still costs the same to take the stairs as it does to take the lift to the Main Deck.
At the base of Tokyo Tower is FootTown, a five-story building that features a host of shops selling Tokyo Tower souvenirs and Japanese confectioneries. There is also a host of restaurants, including Japanese fast food staples Mos Burger and Pizza-la, as well as more traditional ramen and "donburi" (rice bowl dish) restaurants. Also inside FootTown is the Tower Gallery, which has displays and photos that document the history of the Tokyo Tower. The base of the Tokyo Tower outside FootTown is also regularly decorated throughout the year to celebrate annual events and traditional Japanese holidays such as Children's Day.
What Else Is Near the Tokyo Tower?
Directly in front of the Tokyo Tower is Zojoji Temple. Zojoji Temple dates back to the 16th century and sits right beneath the Tokyo Tower. The contrasting styles of architecture between Zojoji Temple and the Tokyo Tower beautifully illustrate how the old and new sit side by side in Tokyo and make for a great photo.
Surrounding Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple is Shibakoen, or Shiba Park, one of the oldest parks in the city and a beautiful green space. Largely dominated by the grounds of Zojoji Temple, as well as two high-end hotels, Shiba Koen has excellent views of Tokyo Tower throughout the park. Featuring a waterfall and an artificial gorge, Shiba Park is particularly resplendent during the cherry blossom season in spring. During the autumn, the trees in the Autumn Maple Leaves Valley, right beneath the Tokyo Tower, turn stunning shades of red and gold.
Not far from the Tokyo Tower is the vibrant district of Roppongi. One of Tokyo's major entertainment hubs, Roppongi is home to a number of high-end malls and gleaming modern skyscrapers. Roppongi is also famous for its raucous nightlife scene, packed with a multitude of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Roppongi is also a great place for art lovers, with numerous contemporary art galleries to be found here, including the Mori Art Museum located inside the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. Also inside the Mori Tower is another of Tokyo's famous observation decks, the Tokyo City View, located on the tower's 52nd floor.
Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree
The advent of digital television and radio broadcasting brought new challenges for Tokyo Tower. In order for digital broadcasts to be received, they need to be transmitted at much higher frequencies than analog broadcasts. Those higher frequencies need to be transmitted from a much greater height than Tokyo Tower can offer. As a result, a new broadcasting tower, the Tokyo Skytree, was built in 2012.
At 634 meters tall, Tokyo Skytree is just over 300 meters taller than Tokyo Tower and now dominates the city's skyline. Tokyo Skytree has taken over from the Tokyo Tower as the main broadcasting tower in the city. Today the antennas on the Tokyo Tower mostly broadcast analog TV and FM radio stations. Just like Tokyo Tower, Skytree is also home to two observation decks, one at 350 meters high and another at 450 meters.
Facing competition from Tokyo Skytree, alongside a host of other observatories that have sprung up across the city over the years, Tokyo Tower has had to change with the times. A complete renovation was carried out on the Tokyo Tower's two observation decks to tie in with the tower's 60th anniversary in 2018, aimed at boosting visitor numbers. As well as installing larger, unobstructed window frames to give a clearer view of the city, more signage and information were installed pointing out the location of Tokyo's landmarks and famous areas.
Tokyo Tower or Tokyo SkyTree - Which Is Better?
As observation towers, the Tokyo Tower and the Skytree offer very different perspectives of Tokyo. The Tokyo Skytree certainly offers a much higher view of the city. Located on the eastern side of Tokyo and slightly removed from the center of town, the views from the Skytree are looking out at the city, as well as many miles way beyond the metropolis.
Being close to the center of Tokyo, Tokyo Tower's observation decks offer a much more intimate view of the city, as it is located in and amongst everything. Many more of the city's landmarks are easier to see from the Tokyo Tower, especially from the higher Top Deck.
It's also worth taking into account that the Tokyo Skytree is a much more modern commercial complex than the Tokyo Tower. Whilst the Tokyo Tower has a few shops and restaurants at FootTown, at the base of the Tokyo Skytree is Tokyo Solamachi, a huge mall filled with over 300 stores and restaurants. If you're looking for an overall day out to go along with a breathtaking view of Tokyo, you might prefer a trip to the Tokyo Skytree. Bear in mind though that, due to its popularity, waiting times for the Skytree can be incredibly long and tickets are usually issued for specific time slots. When it is at its busiest you can easily face a wait of several hours for an available time slot to the Skytree's observation decks.
Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree - Comparing Costs
Affordability may be a key factor in helping you to decide which of the two towers you'd prefer to visit. In terms of pricing, Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree aren't too far apart when comparing combination tickets. The cost of an adult ticket for the Top Deck Tour at the Tokyo Tower is 3,000 yen, and this includes entry to the tower's main deck. At Tokyo Skytree, an adult combination ticket for both observation decks costs 3,100 yen on weekdays and 3,400 yen on weekends.
However, the cost comparison for entry only to the two tower's main observation decks shows some disparity in pricing. Tickets for the Tokyo Tower's Main Deck observatory are only 1,200 yen, but an adult's ticket for the equivalent Tembo Deck at Tokyo Skytree is almost double at 2,100 yen on weekdays and increases to 2,300 yen on weekends. It's worth remembering though that even though the Tembo Deck is the lower of the Skytree's two observation decks, the view is still 200 meters higher than the Tokyo Tower's Main Deck. Alternatively, you could choose to skip Tokyo Skytree's lower main deck altogether and instead buy a ticket for the Tembo Galleria, the tower's higher observation deck. At 450 meters high, a single adult ticket to the highest observation deck in Tokyo is a relatively cheap 1,000 yen on weekdays and 1,100 yen on weekends.
Tokyo Tower - A Much Loved Tokyo Icon
As one of the world's most famous landmarks, the Tokyo Tower remains a hugely popular tourist attraction, even 60 years after it was built. Even though it's no longer Tokyo's main broadcasting tower, the Tokyo Tower's iconic orange design and location in the heart of the city means that it is still a much-loved piece of Tokyo's ever-expanding skyline. The recent refurbishments of the tower's observation deck have only added to the Tokyo Tower's appeal, with millions of visitors coming to take in the tower's breathtaking views every year.
Title image credit: ESB Professional / Shutterstock.com
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.