I’ve lived in Japan for five years–three months of which, I spent in a rented apartment one block from the famous Tokyo Skytree–a 634-meter tower that was the tallest man-made structure in the world when it first opened in 2012. As of 2023, the Skytree is “only” the third tallest (behind the 828m Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the 678.9m Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumpur) but it’s still an impressive sight.
It’s visible from many locations in Tokyo–but more impressive still, on a clear day you can see the Skytree from many miles away in the surrounding mountains, on the border between Tokyo and neighboring prefectures!
At night, the skytree lights up in a rainbow of shifting colors, intended to call to mind the resilience of water and the human spirit (blue), the shifting elegance of traditional Japanese robes (purple), and the stately tradition of koinobori (carp streamers) used to celebrate Children’s Day in Japan (orange/red).
Inside the base of the tower, decorative panels show a cartoon view of Tokyo, as seen from the Skytree’s two observation platforms.
Although I’ve been to the base of the tower (and the Solamachi Skytree shopping center) many times, I confess that until a few months ago, I never went up inside. I’d like to say this was just because I never had the time, but in truth I was a bit afraid.
I’m not scared of heights, per se–but I am scared of falling from heights in a massive earthquake.
Even so, this January I found myself off work on a clear, bright afternoon that promised excellent views, and I decided it was time to screw up my courage and see the view from the highest point in Tokyo.
A note, for those who might have nerves about the whole experience: if you buy your tickets online, you can choose your entry time in advance, which means no waiting–and less of a chance to get cold feet.
After handing my ticket to the staff, I boarded one of the three super-fast elevators–as you see on the screen below, it was rising at a rate of 600m/s–for the startlingly fast ride to the 350-meter Tembo Deck. The elevator has no windows (not really surprising, considering how fast it moves), and it was a little startling to step out onto what felt like the roof of the world.
The Tembo Deck feels very futuristic, and the enormous windows give a 360-degree view of Tokyo.
The day was a little hazy, and the late afternoon sun gave the haze a dusky tint – it looks smoggy in the photos, but the air actually looked far more clear in person than it does in the images. I suspect this is partly light refraction and partly the way my camera processed the images.
I walked all the way around the Tembo Deck as the sun began to sink toward the horizon. I saw planes taking off from Haneda Airport and Narita Airport (the two major airports serving the Tokyo area), and watched the skytree’s massive shadow grow longer and longer as sunset drew near.
In several spots, the windows let you look nearly straight down, which probably isn’t suggested if you have a fear of heights.
Just before sunset, I boarded another elevator for the short trip to the Tembo Galleria, at a height of 450 meters–where I found the highest bathroom in Tokyo.
And yes, I used it. Simply so I could say I had.
I walked around the Tembo Galleria to the west side of the tower, where a crowd was gathering to watch the sunset. The fog was rolling in, which made visibility worse, but added a nice touch to the photos.
Can you see Mt. Fuji in the background, to the right of the setting sun and the plane?
We watched the sun sink below the horizon, and the crowd broke into spontaneous applause as the sun slipped out of sight.
As the daylight faded, the lights came on across Tokyo, revealing just how very, very large the city is.
The lights seemed to go all the way to the horizon. The cars on the roads were tiny moving specks, so far below that it was difficult to see them clearly.
Curiously, I didn’t feel scared at all on the viewing decks. The view was spectacular, and always changing–in fact, if you plan to go, it’s well worth going to see the sunset and then staying to enjoy the city lights. The experience was completely different in daylight and after dark.
There’s even a restaurant on top of the Skytree–though it fills up quickly, so definitely make reservations in advance if you want to go.
After five years of enjoying the Skytree from different locations around Tokyo, it was cool to finally see the view in the opposite direction. I’m glad I conquered my fear and made the trip–and I’ll probably go again. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be!
Would you like to experience the view from 450 meters, or are you happier staying on the ground, and looking up?