Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tokyo's Current #1 Attraction is 451.2 Meters in the Sky

The 634 meter
Tokyo Skytree casts a
shadow onto Tokyo
We officially made it all the way around the world when we finally arrived at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo on Friday morning, December 7th at around 4 am after being delayed in Incheon, Korea for about 5 hours due to a huge snowstorm from which the airport was still trying to recover from.  Amazingly, after approximately 18 flights during our entire trip, this was the first and last snafu we had with any flights.  We secretly wished our flight would get canceled so we would have to spend the night/day in Korea and get one more country under our sabbatical belt.  It didn't happen that way, and we were actually glad to have finally arrived at Akiko's dad's house around 7 am.  We were planning on a relaxing week, unwinding from all our backpacking.

We already spent 2 full weeks in Tokyo back in May when we officially started our Travel Sabbatical 7 months ago, not to mention this is Akiko's second home and Mike has visited at least 6 times.  So, it would seem that we've exhausted almost every touristy thing there is to do in Tokyo over the years.  Not so, especially when they keep building new things!

Our "Next, and Last Stop" of our Travel Sabbatical, Ogikubo in Tokyo where we started this RTW adventure. 
Incheon International Airport, Korea.  Delays due to snow and ice. 
The much anticipated Tokyo Skytree actually opened on May 22nd, 2012 while we were here previously, but advanced tickets were already sold out for the next several months.  We didn't have a chance, nor did we feel much appreciation for long lines and the feel of a packed observation deck at 1500 feet up in the air.  

Akiko's dad, Shinji, and Mike with Skytree view from Oshiage Station. 

Since then, CNN Travel published an insider's guide to the Skytree, which was quite helpful, especially since there's very little information written in English.  Some tidbits from the guide include: 
  • Best locations for photos (start at Oshiage Station instead of the Tokyo Skytree Station)
  • Various souvenirs and retail options in the Solamachi or SkyTown building
  • Dining guide, including the tip that most restaurants do not have anything written in English.  [True, but there's always the handy wax replica of the food on display.  Anyone can point without knowing any Japanese!]
  • Details on unique finds in the East Yard, Tower Yard, and West Yard surrounding the Skytree.
  • Best times for viewing the Tokyo skyline
  • Etc.

We heard that the tower observation deck gets very, very crowded on the weekends and in the afternoons during the week, so we headed out early, aiming to get to the ticketing office by around 9 am.  We lucked out with absolutely no lines at that time of day.  ¥2000/pp later, we were getting beamed up (it was still an elevator, but a really really fast one traveling at 600 meters/min) to the first observation deck at 350 meters (1148 feet).  With an additional ¥1000/pp, we were able to get on another elevator to access the second observation deck at 451.2 meters (1480 feet).  The tower itself stands at 634 meters and is the tallest broadcasting tower in the universe...okay, at least in this the world.  

While gawking at the 360 degree view of Tokyo and beyond on this gloriously clear day, we were able to see the "tiny" skyscrapers in Shinjuku, downtown Tokyo, Odaiba, Tokyo Bay, the now-castaway former tourist attraction with the observation deck - The Tokyo Tower, and a glimpse of the elusive Mount Fuji teasing us with a partial view from behind the clouds.  The windows were decorated in "Tokyo Skytree Dream Christmas" theme (Japan goes gaga for Christmas, we swear) with lots of opportunity to pay for a portrait amongst the Christmas decorations and a Tokyo skyline backdrop.

We timed our visit just right because when we landed back on earth, the ticketing line looked like a line at Disneyland.  There's no telling how long these people were planning on waiting.  

A visit to a major tourist attraction in Japan wouldn't be complete without perusing the never-ending souvenir displays and shops.  We made our obligatory round and had a nice lunch at an Italian place.  

Now, you can count us in as 3 of the approximately 170,000 visitors/day to Tokyo SkyTown!