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The Rainbow Bridge

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Spanning Tokyo Bay to connect Odaiba Island with the mainland, the Rainbow Bridge serves trains, cars and pedestrians along its 800-meter length. We crossed the bridge frequently with the Yurikamome Monorail, but decided to walk across on one our final days in Tokyo.

Rainbow Bridge Tokyo

“A Stroll Across the Rainbow Bridge” sounds delightful, but the reality isn’t terribly charming. There’s a broad pedestrian walkway, but you’re never far away from the roaring traffic, consisting mostly of semi-trucks that shake the entire structure as they rumble past. The smell of exhaust is nauseating and the noise is nearly unbearable. But the view of the Tokyo skyline, visible if you walk along the northern side of the bridge, almost makes up for it.

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July 7, 2014 at 3:16 pm Comments (2)

The Skyscrapers of Shinjuku

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Although it’s considered Western Tokyo, Shinjuku can legitimately claim to be the new center of the city. Shinjuku Station is busier than Tokyo Station, serving nearly four million passengers a day. The city government has moved here, and Shinjuku boasts not only Tokyo’s most infamous entertainment district, but most of its tallest skyscrapers.

Shinjuku Skyscrapers

Shinjuku Station is easily the busiest train station in the world. It serves four separate railway companies and its labyrinth of underground passageways is bewildering, almost impossible to navigate. One day, having decided to tour the neighborhood’s skyscrapers, we had been careful to follow signs for Exit A2. After a lengthy underground odyssey, we emerged into the daylight and realized that we were at the wrong exit A2; there was another with the same name on the other side of the station, administered by a different company. We felt stupid, until learning that Shinjuku Station has over 200 exits. Yeah, there are going to be a few mix-ups.

Eventually, we found our way to the western side of Shinjuku and began our introductory course to some of Tokyo’s largest buildings. Between the station and Shinjuku Central Park, the skyscrapers are packed tightly together, one after the other. Many of them have free observation decks, although not all are accessible to visitors. We were stopped at the door of the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, which has won architectural awards and is one of Tokyo’s most distinctive buildings. Three universities are housed inside, and the building’s cocoon shape is meant to symbolize the nurturing of the students within.

To get a view of the Cocoon, we ascended to the top of the neighboring Shinjuku Center Building, which was built in 1979. We also scaled the nearby Shinjuku Nomura, Mitsui and Sumitomo skyscrapers, each of which offered a slightly different perspective over the neighborhood. Our favorite building happened to be the smallest we entered. The Shinjuku NS is only 30 stories tall, but has a glass elevator on its corner and a hollow atrium with a hypnotizing water-clock designed by Seiko hanging on the wall.

We now made our way to the Metropolitan Government Office, built in 1991 by Japanese star architect Kenzo Tange. Featuring two towers that stretch up to 242 meters and a facade inspired by the Notre Dame Cathedral, this has become one of Tokyo’s most emblematic buildings. Each of the towers has an observatory, and depending on when you’re visiting, one or both might be open. We ascended the southern tower, and enjoyed the best view we’d had all day.

Prominent in the foreground when looking out from the Metropolitan is the Park Tower, also designed by Tange. The three towers of this enormous building are unmistakable, lined up like brothers of ascending height. The Park Tower is most well-known as the setting for Sofia Coppolla’s Lost in Translation (a highly-praised film which Jürgen and I both hated for its ridiculous, borderline-racist treatment of the Japanese and for its fabulously rich and petulant protagonists.)

Despite our distaste for the film, we wanted to see the famous bar where Bill Murray’s character spent his nights. But as the elevator doors opened, we were met by uniformed hosts who apparently have the job of politely truncating such sight-seeing before it gets started. Annoying, but fair enough; we were dressed in t-shirts, wearing backpacks and probably sweating, so it was a good bet that we weren’t there for a fancy dinner. And it just gives us another reason to hate that stupid, overrated movie.

Locations on our Map: Cocoon Tower | Shinjuku NS | Metropolitan Government Office | Park Tower

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July 2, 2014 at 5:20 pm Comments (3)

The Tokyo Tower and the World Trade Center

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Although it’s been unseated from its position as Japan’s tallest structure (and, at 333 meters, is positively Lilliputian in comparison to the new champion, Oshiage’s 634-meter SkyTree), the Tokyo Tower remains a popular tourist attraction. Modeled on the Eiffel Tower and painted bright orange, the tower has been a part of the city’s skyline since opening in 1958.

Tokyo Tower

Our reaction to the Tokyo Tower was mixed. It’s a shameless copy of the much grander Eiffel Tower, but still an impressive sight. Maybe it’s the bold orange color which contrasts so strikingly against the normal steel gray of the city’s skyscrapers. Or maybe it’s the weirdness of seeing the Eiffel Tower in Japan. Regardless, we consider the Tokyo Tower to be one of the city’s coolest structures.

Unfortunately, visiting its observation deck isn’t all that great of an experience. The view is nice, but the observation deck is always crowded, and more than a little annoying. Besides, when you’re inside the Tokyo Tower looking out, the best-looking building has effectively been removed from sight.

World Trade Center Tokyo Video

For a superior view, walk to the nearby World Trade Center. It’s not as tall as the Tokyo Tower, but the observation deck at the top of this building is cheaper to visit and much more serene. The huge windows are spotlessly clean and you can sit at them for as long as you want, without impatient tourists trying to shove you aside. You’re even allowed to bring in your own food and drinks. And there, in the foreground, is the Tokyo Tower in all its bright orange glory.

Locations on our Map: Tokyo Tower | World Trade Center

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More Views from Tokyo’s World Trade Center
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May 21, 2014 at 8:52 am Comments (3)

Tokyo Station and Marunouchi

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When Tokyo Station opened in 1914, it served four trains. But just like the city itself, the station has grown a little. Today, the sprawling station in the middle of the city serves an almost incomprehensible 3000 trains, every single day.

Tokyo Station

The classic, red-brick western facade of Tokyo Station was designed by architect Tatsuno Kingo to evoke Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. Although it was boldly European and cutting-edge when constructed, today it looks positively quaint among the skyscrapers that surround it. But if it’s “modern” you’re looking for, just walk around to the sleek, steel-and-glass, eastern half of the station, built to accommodate Japan’s famous Shinkansen bullet trains.

Across from the station’s classic facade, is the neighborhood of Marunouchi. Meaning “Between the Moats,” Marunouchi literally occupies the area which lies between the two artificial moats that once protected the Imperial Palace. In the days of the Shogun, this was home to the more trusted and important lords, but with the rise of the Meiji Empire, the space was given over to business interests. Today, it’s one skyscraper after the other, each with its own shopping complex and set of restaurants.

During our time in Tokyo, we toured most of these skyscrapers, usually on the hunt for lunch. Each has a wide variety of restaurants, which almost always offer some sort of lunchtime special. Our favorite was the Kitte Building, which opened in 2013. Here, you can find a number of excellent places to eat (don’t pass up the okonomiyaki at Restaurant Nana), a dazzling line-up of shops can suck up hours of time, and the sixth-floor garden provides one of the best views of Tokyo Station.

Locations on our Map: Tokyo Station West Entrance | Kitte Building

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March 25, 2014 at 9:19 am Comments (4)

The Tokyo International Forum

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Built in 1997 by Argentine-American architect Raphael Viñoly, the Tokyo International Forum is found in the center of the city, next to Tokyo Station. The spacious exhibition hall stretches across four buildings connected by a curving glass roof. Steel, glass, sharp angles and plenty of light make the complex ideal for a photographer.

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There was an art exhibition in the basement, but we spent our time in the Tokyo International Forum photographing the architecture from the glass tunnels eleven stories above the lobby, and watching the indistinguishable people-specks scurrying to and fro on the bottom floor. Even if you don’t have a specific reason for going, and especially if you appreciate modern architecture, this futuristic forum warrants a visit.

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March 17, 2014 at 9:52 am Comment (1)

Shiodome

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Shiodome, the onetime railway center of Tokyo, has blossomed into one of the city’s most modern and important financial districts. We spent a day wandering around its skyscrapers, like ants in the presence of giants.

Just like Ginza, the neighborhood immediately to its north, Shiodome was originally swamp land, filled on the orders of Lord Tokugawa in the early seventeenth century. In 1872, during the Meiji Era, Shiodome became the terminal of Japan’s first railway line. With the closure of the train station in 1986 and the dismantling of its yards, a prime piece of real estate opened up, and Tokyo decided to build what Tokyo builds best: skyscrapers. Today, Shiodome is home to the headquarters of some of Japan’s biggest firms, including Fujitsu, All Nippon Air, Bandai, Dentsu and Softbank.

We were visiting on a Sunday, when Shiodome was taking a breather from the standard corporate hustle, so we didn’t really experience its true spirit. But that was fine. While in Tokyo, we wouldn’t exactly be suffering from a lack of “crushing crowds of businessmen,” and it was fun to have this ultra-modern skyscraper park largely to ourselves.

For lunch, we went to the top of the sleek Dentsu building, one of the tallest skyscrapers in Tokyo. Though we had expected outrageous prices, we found an excellent and extremely reasonable meal at a restaurant dedicated to the cuisine of Hokkaido. The view from here was perhaps even better than that of the SkyTree; not nearly as high, but closer to the city and far less crowded.

In the bottom levels of the nearby Caretta Building we came across the Advertising Museum of Tokyo (ADMT). With engaging exhibitions that take visitors on a chronological journey through the history of Japanese advertising from the 1700s into the present day, the museum is a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed the interactive booths where you could view television ads from throughout the years. Did you know that Orson Welles did an ad for Japanese whiskey? He did, and it’s as awesome as you’d expect. The ADMT is sponsored by Dentsu, Japan’s leading advertising firm, and is free to visit. Fair enough, considering that, while inside, you’ll be watching advertisements.

Before leaving Shiodome, we made sure to watch the hour strike at a giant copper clock outside the Nippon Television Building. Presented by Studio Ghibli, this clock marks the hour with a clanking, noisy show of copper robots, puffing engines and and tinpail percussion… like something straight out of a steampunk anime flick.

Location of the ADMT on our Map
Advertising Museum of Tokyo – Website

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March 17, 2014 at 2:41 am Comments (3)
The Rainbow Bridge Spanning Tokyo Bay to connect Odaiba Island with the mainland, the Rainbow Bridge serves trains, cars and pedestrians along its 800-meter length. We crossed the bridge frequently with the Yurikamome Monorail, but decided to walk across on one our final days in Tokyo.
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