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Tokyo City Hall: Taking in the View

The classic Tokyo destination for a big view of the city is Tokyo Tower, which looks like a cross between a communication mast and the Eiffel Tower. What stopped me from visiting it was the ¥1600 (€12.50) fee to reach its upper observatory at 250 meters.

Tokyo Tower visible behind Zojoji temple in Shiba Park

Tokyo Tower visible behind Zojoji temple in Shiba Park

Alternatively, the newer Tokyo Skytree is taller, but also more expensive: ¥2,060 (€16) for the observatory at 350 meters and an additional ¥1,030 (€8) for 450 meters.

I was on a very tight budget, so, instead, I headed for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, generally referred to as Tokyo City Hall, simply because it’s free of charge.

Getting to Tokyo City Hall

It took a while to get there. Take my word for it, if you get off at the wrong end of a metro station in Tokyo, it can add literally kilometers to your travel! From the west exit of the Shinjuku station it takes about ten minutes to walk to this massive building filled with city government bureaucrats.

Much of that walk can be underground if you want, and the tunnels are well sign-posted, but I stayed above ground as much as possible, passing some interesting modern architecture and street art. It makes a pleasant walk.

I would advise, however, against going at rush hour; I never experienced the full force of a Tokyo rush hour, but many of those packed into the metro with you would be heading for Tokyo City Hall or other office buildings nearby. The sidewalks must be mobbed at rush hour!

Tokyo City Hall Observatories

Tokyo City Hall has two observatories: in the north tower and in the south tower. I chose the south one because a random stranger claimed it was the better of the two. There’s nothing to stop you from visiting both though.

A view of some nearby office buildings as seen from Tokyo City Hall

A view of some nearby office buildings

First I had to wait in line with a few other tourists, but it didn’t take longer than about five or ten minutes. Friendly but non-English-speaking guards searched our bags, and we were soon ushered into the next elevator.

Emerging 202 meters above the ground, I entered a large, high-ceilinged room that encompasses almost the entire 45th floor. With a café in the center, most of the space, except where the café’s kitchen and the stairwell are, is lined with huge floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows, revealing enormous views of the city.

general urban sprawl as seen from Tokyo City Hall

general urban sprawl

Visitors can wander around at will, and no one pressured me to move through quickly. As a matter of fact, it turned out to be hard to get out. Whenever I stopped to study a view, a woman, who seemed to be assigned to follow me around, started reciting a string of detailed facts and figures about the building and about what was visible outside. She wasn’t going to stop talking till she was finished, and it seemed impolite to interrupt or walk away. While her English was excellent—a rarity in Japan, I found—I could have used less of the detail and just had my questions answered as needed. There were several of these over-eager docents wandering the observatory and accosting tourists with too much information, but I guess that’s the price you pay for the free view.

looking down from Tokyo City Hall

Looking down

And it’s a wonderful view. 202 meters is plenty high to see a wide swath of a huge metropolis, but it’s also close enough to the ground to make out quite a bit of detail when you look down. I enjoyed trying to identify the places I’d already been. Unfortunately it was a rather grey, humid day; on a clear day (December to February is when that’s most likely.), Mt. Fuji is visible on the horizon.

Without having been to the other two towers, I can’t say how this one compares, but I can say that the views are breathtaking … and free!

Read my other posts about Japan too!

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