Of all the sights, a solitary bird flying by the top observation windows of the Tokyo SkyTree stuck out as a dramatic example of height.
With airliners coming and going from Tokyo clearly below the line of sight, seeing the bird at eye level seemed out of place.
The elevation there is about 1,480 feet, almost exactly 600 feet below the top of the active broadcast tower, which stands at 2,080.05 feet.
Another figure: The tourist experience took about 80 minutes to get to that spot on a weekday morning.
Tuesday, Oct. 30, before 10 a.m. Arriving via train at either side of the SkyTree is a sneak peek to what train stations will look like in the future. An outdoor pavilion of mixed-use commercial space takes visitors on an array of escalators — all of different heights and angles to provide tower vantages — toward a path of young trees and shrubs that will one day provide peripheral organic foliage for the SkyTree.
10:30 a.m. If it weren’t for the throngs of Japanese posing for pictures at the base, the Tokyo SkyTree could be mistaken for a sort of pristine white oil rigging platform. Prior to July 11, only reserved tickets were available for Japan’s hottest tourist attraction, but now walk-ins are OK. The millions expected to visit in the first calendar year will likely be greeted by a steward holding a sign showing how long the wait is to purchase tickets. The time estimate was 40 minutes on this overcast weekday.
10:50 a.m. Step, step, step, pause and repeat. Disrupt the metronome of a Japanese line by not moving when prompted, and the entire society might collapse. Once those particulars are down, there are a few other things to note while in the initial rows of lines, such as the size of the massive pipes at the base of the tower. Also, as the female guide calmly shouted instructions to visitors, it’s hard not to notice their knee-length turquoise dresses patterned with lime green trees, uniforms that somehow seem both futuristic and nostalgic of a 1960s Nancy Sinatra backup dancer.
11:05 a.m. As the blue SkyTree ropes curl to the final stretch before the ticket counter, the visiting room entertainment gets an upgrade of excitement with six flat screens showing a loop of either a montage of the building process or a Japan anime of the Tokyo skyline — as seen from the SkyTree — that features giant, bobbing pieces of sushi.
11:23 a.m. Fifty-three minutes after entering the line, the smiling faces of the ticket agents are visible. A day-of ticket costs 2,000 yen for access to what they call the 350th floor. Purchase complete, English and Japanese pamphlet in hand, a short stroll takes visitors to security check and a shorter line for the elevators.
11:40 a.m. The elevator goes from the fourth to the 350th floor in about 50 seconds, reaching a top speed of 22 mph. That’s barely enough time for a head count — 23 Japanese adults, one baby stroller with baby and one oversized foreign journalist. The doors open and just past the two-deep stacks of humans at the railing it is immediately apparent that Tokyo could be the biggest metropolis in the history of mankind.
11:53 a.m. After one full lap in the glass circle, visitors will pass distant landmarks, a small standing-only cafe and a photo set reminiscent of a Sears department store, complete with cheery photographers. Snapshots cost 1,200 yen. There are no seats on the 350th floor — the Tembo Deck — but presumably there are a few in the restroom.
12:07 p.m. As the first hints at leg fatigue begin to tickle, the wait to purchase tickets to what is deemed the 445th floor is estimated at 20 minutes. Luckily, cell reception inside the digital terrestrial broadcasting tower is exceptional. And of course the views are nice, but it might be disheartening to see the tug boat pulling freight down the Sumida River move in and then out of view.
12:37 p.m. Ticket in hand, the move to the final ascent elevator and the ride to the 445th floor takes only a few minutes. The shorter elevator trip provides overhead views of the cables and also straight-out glances of outside.
12:45 p.m. The concourse that winds upward from the 445th floor to 450th is much smaller but also provides for better light via more glass exposure, which also means more bracings on the windows. While the extra 100 floors for 1,000 yen is not immediately dramatic when looking down, it is apparent when simply panning the head from left to right. Unlike from the first deck, the entire city seems visible from one spot.
1:06 p.m. Spotted: Two slabs of circular wood meant to be used for sitting. Moments later, the pedestrian path hits a traffic jam at the absolute top, marked by the “Sorakara” point (1,480 feet) and markers indicating southwest.
1:10 p.m. The next traffic jam is actually the return trip. There is neither the blue SkyTree tape for guidance nor a time estimate given, as one clever group of ladies takes out snacks and drinks from their purses.
1:25 p.m. What was thought to be the final elevator door actually drops visitors at the 345th floor and conveniently at a gift shop, which has a line. Compared to the size of the shops at the base of the structure, a wait for candy, sake and a stuffed SkyTree character might not be necessary. Access to the official restaurant is also on this floor. The course menu has two options, 5,000 and 7,000 yen.
1:36 p.m. One more escalator takes visitors to the 340th floor where there is another cafe — with seats and … a line — and the final elevator. There is hardly a wait to finally get off the SkyTree, but the earlier smiling enthusiasm from visitors is replaced with deflation and/or exhaustion.
1:46 p.m. Seven or eight eardrum pops later, the doors open to the fifth floor and access anew to the entire network of food and commerce. In addition, there are attached attractions like the Sumida Aquarium and a World Beer Museum.
The views from the top are spectacular, but the impact of the SkyTree on Tokyo’s skyline can be profound from the ground as well. The SkyTree looms over the nearby famous Asakusa Shrine and on clear days can even be seen some 25 miles away from Yokota Air Base.
KNOW & GO:
The Tokyo SkyTree is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Admission for adults to the first observation deck is 2,000 yen. An extra ticket to the top can be purchased from that first deck for another 1,000 yen. Three tiers of lower prices exist for children.
The SkyTree complex has two train stations: The Tokyo SkyTree Station and Oshiage SkyTree Station. Vehicle parking is limited, but there are indoor bicycle parking lots.
Through Dec. 25, Tokyo SkyTree is illuminated for the holiday season with 240,000 LEDs.
More SkyTree info in English is available at tokyo-skytree.jp/en.