Tokyo’s New Skytree Isn’t a Godsend For All


Tokyo Skytree is a new tourist spot in Tokyo. Since its open on 22nd May, it has been busy every day.

Millions of people flock to Sumida Ward to take a beautiful view of Tokyo and enjoy shopping. Small wonder that Tobu Railway, its owner, forecast net profit of 9.5 billion yen for the first half of 2012, a 43% increase from last year’s. But not everyone is happy.

A NHK TV program, Historia, showed on 26th September that Japanese people like towers throughout its history. Japanese towers have two distinguishing features. First, they put people first.

When Japanese people suffered from famine and diseases in the Nara era (710-784), the then emperor, Shomu, ordered to build towers in cities.

As a Buddhist, he believed that towers would end famine and heal people. Since then lots of towers have been built in Buddhist temples across the country.

Towers have been commercial attractions in modern times. For example, Tsutenkaku in Osaka.

It collapsed in 1943 because of fire accident, but local businessmen convinced Tachu Naito, a famous building designer, to build it again.

The new one was constructed in 1956. It was important not only to attract people to their shops; it developed their identity that they had lost, too. This area is busy to this day.

Second, towers show that Japanese people are excellent at making things.

Skytree is the tallest broadcasting tower in the world. When the earthquake hit Japan last year, the tower was safe.

Obayashi Corporation, which carried out its construction, deserves due credit.

Skytree, however, may be different from old ones. This is not because of its hight. It is because the tower may not serve the same purpose.

Near the tower is a shopping street called Takaradori (meaning in Japanese “treasure street”).

One old businessman grown up in Sumida told me that since the opening of the tower, eight shops have been closed. It is unfair to accuse it of the closure of those shops.

Before Skytree opened, less people had been shopping in this street mainly because of the new opening of a big supermarket store near there.

Some may have expected the new tower to solve the situation. It doesn’t. Rather, it changes from bad to worse: the tower has taken customers away from the shopping street.

According to one source, before the opening of Skytree, Yoshizumi Nezu, the president of Tobu Railway, was angry at Obayashi Corporation for calling it “Obayashi Tree”. When he heard it, he shout: “That is my tower!” Indeed. But this trouble may suggest that he is greedy and wants fame, making it unclear whether he cares about local people who don’t benefit from the tower. Since Mr Nezu is the president, he should have said that the tower is everyone’s.

The darkest place is under the candlestick. The role of the tower is changing. Is it possible that Skytree will increase inequality? I hope not, but we’ll see.


Ryo Kubota
Ryo Kubota is a staff writer at Transpheric Management in Tokyo as well as a freelance writer. He has covered Sports for the Nippon Newspaper Company in Tokyo and teaches at a private tutoring school in Iruma, Japan. Having studied in both Tokyo and England in the areas of sociology, he has a keen interest in the world at large.
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