Tokyo Sky Tree: a Definitive Guide (part 2) – The Site
In part 1, Tokyo Sky Tree: a Definitive Guide – Progress, the growth of Tokyo Sky Tree was seen from afar. Today, we’re getting up close.
Tokyo Sky Tree – What’s Happening On Site
As expected with such a significant construction project, public interest has been huge. To have the world’s second tallest building going up in your own backyard is quite a thing.
People have gathered at the site to view the construction ever since the first hole was dug back in the middle of 2008, but it wasn’t until the building became visible from various points around Tokyo, rising up from the familiar existing skyline, that the number of curious visitors started to swell. Since then, the higher the tower has climbed, so too has the size of the crowd.
Now every day hundreds of people wander the streets around Sky Tree, gazing upwards in awe, snapping thousands of photographs of the building and of their friends and loved ones standing with Sky Tree towering behind and above the heads.
Work had been underway for over 18 months before I visited the site. I knew about the tower from videos I’d seen as early as 2006, but was not really aware of what was going on until the building was more prominent.
13th December 2009
I first visited the site when it stood at 231m, a mere third of its final height. A small information centre had been set up nearby and a few posters featuring in-progress construction shots pasted up on the fences around the perimeter. I walked the perimeter, shooting from various directions, seeing very little indication of what was to come.
It was a cold, grim, cloudy day but I was nevertheless surprised by the enthusiasm of a steady stream of spectators wandering around.
At the time the surroundings were still rather rough – big raw concrete blocks lining one road, basic chicken-wire fences and traffic cones lining another, a minimum of decoration.
A nearby bridge was already a main gathering point. Photographers crowded to take shots of the growing Sky Tree stump from this ideal viewing spot, fathers crouched to take pictures of their children making V-signs, and local passers-by pulled out their mobile phones to take snaps.
The bridge afforded a clear view of the site and a reflection of the tower in the water of an old canal with aging concrete walls. Further away, the canal banks gave way to grass, weeds and wildlife.
At 231m, construction of anything other than the tower itself appeared to be in the early stages. Sky Tree still had a long way to go.
14th February 2010
The tower had grown to 300m. At this point the lower shaft was almost complete and construction of the first observatory would now commence. The surroundings of the site however had changed little since my earlier visit.
11th August 2010
By summer the large lower observation deck of the tower was complete and Sky Tree had grown to over 400m high, the tallest structure in Japan. Work was well underway on the surrounding buildings on site and the canal had been cleaned up and was taking shape.
Crowds had dramatically increased. Excited children were milling around shouting “Sky Tree, Sky Tree! It’s amazing!” and explaining all the technical details to their parents.
In Japan it’s uncanny how technically knowledgeable small boys can be, especially when it comes to construction and trains. I’ve met 5 year-olds who can identify trains from all the different lines in the country, tell you the stations they travel to, distinguish between different generations of carriage, even recognize subtle technical differences on the exterior. It really is gobsmacking.
But I digress…
At the Sky Tree site, the surrounding fences were now slowly gathering signs and advertising boards, and a few decorations were finding their way on to nearby walls and posts.
Sky Tree itself was incredible to see. It was only two-thirds of its final height, but already one had to crane one’s neck to look at the top. The tower completely dwarfed all other buildings around it.
Visiting the information centre, there was still very little to see other than a couple of video presentations, walls with construction photos, booklets filled with technical information and a single plastic architectural model in the window. Perhaps this was due to a general lack of media coverage until relatively recently when the tower’s height had surpassed that of Tokyo Tower.
At the time the project was certainly in the media. The building would be mentioned occasionally, but with the opening date still another 2 years away there was relatively little awareness among the general population.
But that would all change very soon.
24th July 2011
What had not yet been apparent during my previous visits was the extreme way in which Sky Tree would affect the local area. From being one of the more downmarket areas of Tokyo with a rather banal, unexciting atmosphere and cheap property it had been slowly changing but is now undergoing a much more rapid transformation. As Sky Tree’s opening date of 25 May 2012 approaches, the pace of change is set to explode.
Property prices have been soaring although they still seem to have quite a way to go yet.
Restaurants are opening, many buildings in surrounding streets are being bought, converted, reformed, and rebuilt.
It’s an incredible stroke of luck for owners of the buildings along the perimeter streets. What were formerly old and rather cheap apartments fronting a vacant block of light industrial land have suddenly become the most sought-after real estate in the city. Sitting on some of the prime pieces of land in Tokyo, with the sole uninterrupted views to the world’s second tallest building (and arguably one of the most stunning) the owners really have hit the jackpot.
Sky Tree imagery has now sprung up everywhere:
Walls are covered in decorative designs, and the fences surrounding the site are in places covered with a vast array of posters, photographs and promotions.
Like every attraction in Japan, Tokyo Sky Tree has its own character. While I was visiting the site I suddenly noticed a huge commotion a little way down the street, a throng of people clamouring around with cameras and delighted coos and giggles.
To be blunt, it’s pretty awful as far as characters go, not cute by any stretch of the imagination. Disappointing indeed, although the crowd of excited children and even more excited adults didn’t seem to share my lack of enthusiasm.
An enterprising older resident of a building opposite the site is running the only Sky Tree gift shop that has so far opened. As a result, it’s doing an absolutely phenomenal amount of business. During the 30 minutes I spent inside there was often standing room only, and I counted around 20 purchases totalling over ¥60,000 (US$800). If that was typical of their business, a quick calculation shows they’re taking in upwards of $14,000 a day!
The building itself is truly staggering. One has to tip one’s head back as far as it will go to see the top. It’s awesomely, unfathomably tall. It has to be seen to be believed, and of course photographs can’t even begin to do it justice.
A constant stream of visitors wander around taking photos, and as the tower grows they need to bend back further or crouch lower and lower.
In fact photographing Tokyo Sky Tree is a challenge in itself – the building is so tall that even with a 24mm wide-angle lens one cannot fit the entire building into the frame. As a result some locals (in typically considerate Japanese character) have set up convex mirrors around the perimeter and a steady stream of visitors queue up to take their photos looking away from the building and into the mirror:
And a mirror attached to the bicycle of a local resident. He would ride around to different locations and park by the side of the road, allowing spectators to use the mirror to take photos of themselves in front of Sky Tree. Thank you sir!
Although concreting of the canal is total, it hasn’t eliminated the wildlife. Local turtles are now taking advantage of construction pipes to bask in the sunshine.
|The canal in July 2011||…and back in December 2009|
As one walks away from the site, construction continues along the canal.
The same spot in December 2009
And photos are still being taken from a distance…
Finally, here’s the view from a position 634m away – the same distance from the base of Tokyo Sky Tree as the top of the tower.
Read other Tokyo Sky Tree reports on JapanGasm here: