World’s Tallest Tower: the Tokyo Sky Tree. From the Narita Express.

I snapped these three views of the Tokyo Sky Tree back in August 2011.  I was riding the Narita Express out of town, heading towards Narita Airport and a plane back to the U.S.  The Sky Tree (see Fact Sheet below), the world’s tallest tower, second tallest man-made structure, will open to the general public next week, on May 22, 2012.

Between Buildings: the Tokyo Sky Tree. August 2011.


Above Buildings: Tokyo Sky Tree. August 2011.


On the Horizon: Tokyo Sky Tree. August 2011.


When you take the Narita Express in from the airport to Tokyo you’ll see it out of the right-hand side of the train.


* At 634 meters (2,080 feet) the Sky Tree is second only to the 829 meter (2723 foot) tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Toronto’s CN Tower is 553 meters tall.  Tokyo Tower, built in 1958, is 333 meters (1091 feet) tall.  Seattle’s Space Needle rises  184 meters (605 feet).

*  Owner:  Tobu Railway Co., Ltd., Tobu Tower Skytree Co., Ltd.

*  In Japanese:  東京スカイツリー.

*  The Tokyo Sky Tree is actually the world’s tallest tower.  The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is a “building,” not a “tower,” as it has floors all the way up

Constructed:  July 2008 – February 2012.  Principle Contractor:  Obayashi Corp.   Architect:  Nikken Sekkei.

*  Elevators 13.  At 350 meters, the Tembo Deck features a Cafe, Restaurant, Shop and a 360-degree, 70-meter (more than 43-mile) view into the distance.  Here’s the official “Floor Guide” webpage for this US$440 Million project.

English Website (including “How to Buy Tickets“).

*  Adult Tickets range from ¥1,000 to ¥2,500 (about $12.65 to $31.60), depending on ticket type.


The Sky Tree is on the Tobu Isesaki Line and is one stop from AsakusaAsakusa Station is a stop on the Ginza (subway) Line.

 > From in Tokyo

So if, for example, you’re in Ueno, just get on the Ginza Line heading for Asakusa.  Go 3 stops to Asakusa (a terminal station).  At Asakusa, change to the Tobu Isesaki Line and go 1 stop (to the next station) to Tokyo Sky Tree Station.

 > From Narita Airport

Well, the geniuses who designed all this didn’t make it very easy for the international traveler laying over in Tokyo for a few hours to go visit the Sky Tree. Here’s what I think is as good a way as any, but if someone knows a better way, please contact me and I’ll edit accordingly:

Narita Express (from airport) -to-> Tokyo Station (53 min).  Yamanote Loop Line -to-> Shinbashi, or Ueno.  Ginza (Subway) Line -to-> Asakusa.  Tobu Isesaki Line 1 stop to Tokyo Sky Tree Station.

As I’m very comfortable and well-traveled on the Tokyo rail system, this (above) is no big deal to me.  But given the size of and number of rail lines at Tokyo Station, etc., I’d be a little anxious about the first-time traveler into Tokyo navigating this without a Japanese friend in tow.

> The Tokyo Sky Tree and Earthquakes

I found a very good article on the Sky Tree (in general) which included this particularly interesting essay on measures taken to mitigate the effect of earthquakes on the tower:

The Sky Tree makes use of a shinbashira [link to more information on shinbashira], a central column that features in the architecture of Japanese pagodas. The column acts as a stationary pendulum to counterbalance seismic waves, greatly reducing the sway in the surounding structure.

Indeed, there are virtually no records of pagodas being toppled in quakes in Japanese history. The tallest wooden tower in the country, the 55-meter (180-foot) pagoda of Toji temple [link to my site’s Toji Temple piece –] in Kyoto, has been standing firm since 1644.

The Sky Tree’s shinbashira is a hollow concrete tube housing elevators and stairs. It’s structurally separate from the exterior truss but is joined by oil dampers, which help reduce quake shaking.

“The anti-quake measures in this structure can reduce quake vibrations by 50 percent,” Hirotake Takanishi, PR manager for Tobu Tower Sky Tree, told me. “We’ve run simulations showing the Sky Tree will withstand an 8.0-magnitude earthquake, and can withstand even stronger ones, but we can’t say definitely what its upper limit is.”

More on the Tokyo Sky Tree’s link to the ancient past

Japan’s Yayoi Era spanned from 300BCE to 300CE.  Long-time Kyoto resident John Dougill recently traveled down to Kyushu and visited the reconstructed Yayoi settlement Yoshinogara.  In the wake of his trip he worked-up this excellent blog piece, article and photos, on Yoshinogara.  Read John’s piece on Yoshinogara and see his photo of a burial mound pillar, what archeologists suggest would be a precursor to the shinbashira.  Of course totemistic pillars are not unique to Japanese culture.  But incorporating them into pagodas, then modern buildings and towers, which dampens the effects of earthquakes is uniquely Japanese.  This shinbashira article, from The Economist, tells us that this unique pillar was but one of the dampening elements incorporated into ancient pagodas.  Also, it mentions that archeologists in Japan have found evidence of pillars antecedent to the shinbashira actually dating back to the Jomon Period, some 12,000 years ago.

.               .               .

World’s Tallest Towers. Source: Wiki Commons.


  1. An instagram friend I meet a few weeks back in Tokyo told me her father had won tickets to go up in the Sky Tree the day before. HOWEVER, the weather in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago was extremely cloudy… he could see absolutely nothing!


      • letsjapan
      • May 18th, 2012

      Heh, Robert, I can actually top that (pun sort of intended). On my second trip to China, back in ’06, I finally made it to The Great Wall. I’ve rarely been in the middle of such dense, thick fog. One could see perhaps a few dozen yards up and down the Wall at best, but none of those stirring, awesome vistas were to be beheld. The only reason I say my Tale of Clouds & Fog tops your friend’s is I dare say getting to the Sky Tree is easier (for a second try) than getting to the Great Wall. Alas!


  2. I don’t have a particular fear of heights, nor am I subject to vertigo under normal conditions, but I must say – reading the floor guide left me wondering if I “would” if I “could”.

    Your other links led to some interesting reading, particularly in light of today’s earthquake in Northern Italy. I was intrigued by the cultural/religious aspects of the shinbashira. By the time I finished reading all that, I was thinking of the famous song from the American Depression – “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” – and these lines particularly:

    “Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
    Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?”

    You have a way of making Japanese culture accessible. Great post.

      • letsjapan
      • May 20th, 2012

      Thanks so much, Shoreacres. As I mentioned in a recent post, “Everything’s Connected.”

      I think the worst vertigo I ever experienced was when I and my former spouse walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. I think that that height was “perfectly suited” for vertigo: it was low enough for me to feel like the water was right there, but high, really high, enough, for me to get the screaming willies (though I didn’t actually scream).


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