The inspiration people seek: Views will differ by generation, but Tokyo Tower can be described as the “hope for a better tomorrow” or “the tower looking into the future.” Back when it was completed, and still today with its proud atmosphere that only something that has stood for over 50 years can command, Tokyo Tower will continue to have a special place in the minds of the people that come to Tokyo for as long as it stretches into the sky.
For some time after the tower’s completion, Tokyo Tower was the most prominent structure of Tokyo’s cityscape, which was still free of the high-rise buildings of today. Much like the days when the people of Edo would live out each day always under the gaze of the majestic peak of Mt. Fuji in the distance, Tokyo residents lived day to day with the Tower always somewhere within view. For the people who know what it was like back then, they can well recall those times when Tokyo Tower stood like a watchful friend that saw them through good times and bad. For them, Tokyo Tower triggers fond memories and nostalgia reminiscent of the Sunset on Third Street manga and movie series—Tokyo Tower is a central element of the story—that was such a huge hit back then.
The same holds true for what younger generations feel about Tokyo Tower. Some real examples are how often you hear them say, “I feel like I’ve won something whenever I manage to find a view of Tokyo Tower.” For this younger demographic, the “Light-down Legend” of Tokyo Tower is a piece of Tokyo culture more commonly known.
There are many who have unconsciously turned Tokyo Tower into something more than just a broadcast tower through the fond attachment that has formed over the past 50 years, be it the workers that originally built the tower, those that have diligently maintained it to this day, the people that come from all over to visit it or residents of the city who share their thoughts and worries with it like a friend who will always lend an ear.
Though Tokyo now has a seemingly countless number of high-rise buildings, Tokyo Tower still shines with a faint but somehow “Japanese” light that radiates “hope” and “visions of the future” to those who look up and find it towering overhead. It stands alongside Mt. Fuji as one of Japan’s unchanging and incomparable symbols. It also goes without saying that its presence and popularity in anime and tokusatsu action films/TV shows is in a class of its own.
In short: There are claims that the tower’s official name is the Nippon Denpatou (“Japan Broadcast Tower”), but its official name is actually, “Tokyo Tower.” It is one of the most representative structures of Japan and Tokyo, and for many years was the world’s tallest free-standing broadcast tower. With a height of 333 meters, its steel structure creates a picturesque silhouette with its spreading skirt-like lower portion and has also been praised for its functional and architectural beauty. As Japan is a land of earthquakes, the tower was designed making full use of the earthquake-resistant structural theory that developed in Japan over the years and was built by the hands of tobi (traditional Japanese construction workers that specialize in high-rise structures) and numerous other craftspeople with Japan’s trademark attention to detail. The tower they built is still greeting an endless stream of visitors from within Japan as well as overseas.
It was given a two-color finish of a shade of orange known as “international orange,” and white, one of Japan’s representative colors. Depending on the season, the colors emit different hues at night, and when an important national or cultural event is held, the tower is sometimes given a special arrangement of lights to celebrate the event. Some recent examples of these light-up schemes are Japan’s successful bid for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. Also, Tokyo Tower was one of the first structures in Japan to feature such light-up themes, and brought a new impression of buildings and structures as “things of beauty” and instilled a culture among Japanese people of lit-up buildings as places for special memories.
Tokyo Tower stands behind the Zojoji Temple, a building that has stood for over 600 years as a landmark of this area and a sightseeing spot that could even be found in the ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the Edo era (its grounds back then were far larger than today’s). Tokyo Tower is often visited by tour groups from other areas of Japan and abroad, and by school students on field trips. There are many famous spots across Tokyo where you can get an excellent view of Tokyo Tower, but if you’re on a motorcycle, the best place to see it by far is while riding the Uchikan as the road winds past it. You can get good views of it going either direction, but seeing it at night is highly recommended.
Some background: The area Tokyo Tower is located in was the sacred ground for a kofun (ancient burial mound and tomb) in the 4th and 5th centuries (it still exists today within Shiba Park). In the 14th century, the Zojoji Temple was established (it would later become the family temple of the Tokugawa line of shoguns) and the area played an important role as Edo’s urakimon (literally “rear demon gate,” a barrier to protect things entering the city from the southwest, which was considered an unlucky direction). In the Meiji Period, before the well-known Rokumeikan Villa was even built, the Koyo Hall was built here, a social club that the Japanese samurai, statesman and visionary Kaishu Katsu is said to have frequented. Entering the Showa Period, Japan’s postwar recovery was underway and the country began to regain its economic footing with high hopes of building a better tomorrow. On New Year’s Day in 1957 (Showa 32), an article titled My First Dream of the New Year appeared in the newspaper and triggered a debate for a sougo-denpa-tou (“comprehensive broadcasting tower”), and in May that year, a new company named Nippon Denpatou Co., Ltd. was established. The next month, construction on the Tokyo Tower began.
The “Tokyo Tower” name was chosen from among suggestions solicited from the public in October 1958 while the tower was still being built. The construction of the tower not only had no precedent to rely on but the hurdles for its completion were also high: to build the world’s tallest communications tower (at the time) in the middle of Tokyo, Japan, where earthquakes and typhoons are commonplace. Still, Tokyo Tower was finished in just a year and a half and the ceremony celebrating its completion was held on December 23, 1958. An NBC reporter from the United States covering its construction for a program highlighting dangerous occupations described the tower as a testament to how hardworking—and eccentrically so—the Japanese people are.
Over the 50 years since then, Tokyo Tower was not only the world’s tallest free-standing broadcast tower but it also became a symbol of the city and an irreplaceable landmark of Tokyo’s cityscape. In 1989, it was revamped with exterior lighting and ushered in a new age for urban lighting in Japanese cities.
In 2010, the title of the world’s tallest free-standing broadcast tower was passed on to the Tokyo Sky Tree, and though the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2011 bent and damaged the tip of the broadcasting antenna at the top of Tokyo Tower, it was up and running again just a week later. As when it was first built, Tokyo Tower still stands as a symbol of “hope for a better tomorrow” and its popularity as a destination shows no sign of waning.