The classic destination for a big view of Tokyo is Tokyo Tower, which looks like a cross between a communication mast and the Eiffel Tower. What stopped me from visiting it was the ¥2800 (€22 or $25) fee to reach its upper observatory at 250 meters.
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Alternatively, the newer Tokyo Skytree is taller, but also more expensive: ¥2,060 (€16 or $18) for the observatory at 350 meters and an additional ¥1,030 (€8 or $9) 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 its view of Tokyo is 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! 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.
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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.
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.
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!
Getting to your free view of Tokyo
The building’s street address is 2-8-1 Nishishinjuku. From the west exit of the Shinjuku station it takes about ten minutes to walk to this massive building filled with city government bureaucrats. Be ready for lots of walking, even if you end up at the west exit end of the station. Shinjuku is huge! Just follow the signs if you stay underground, and above ground you can see the building.
If you still want to see the view from higher up, you can buy your skip-the-line tickets for Skytree here.
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