The Tokyo SkyTree and Solamachi Mall
After arriving in a new city, we often try and find a panoramic viewpoint for a bird’s eye view of our new home. So our first activity in Tokyo was destined to be the SkyTree which, at 634 meters, is the world’s tallest tower.
We planned to get moving early on our first day in Tokyo, and visit the SkyTree as soon as it opened. Rising early wasn’t a problem; Japan is fourteen hours ahead of New York, and our jet lag was of comical proportions. Wide awake by four in the morning, we were polishing off a third cup of coffee before the sun had risen. So how was it possible that we didn’t reach the top of the SkyTree until late afternoon?
The short answer is that we got distracted. In the sprawling complex attached to the SkyTree, we encountered our first Japanese shopping mall. I knew we were in trouble, when I saw the Studio Ghibli store at the mall’s entrance: Jürgen and I have been obsessed with the studio’s films for years. Unable to resist, we spent an hour inside the shop, admiring miniature figurines of Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo.
The rest of our morning was devoured by the Solamachi Mall. It was such a different shopping experience to anything we were used to. Smiling workers bowed as we passed by stores dedicated to anime, chocolate, clothing and sake. We visited a couple art exhibitions, including one that featured a life-size jet/robot fighting machine. We were introduced to Nanoblocks, which are like mini-Legos, and even marveled at the mall’s toilets, complete with butt-warmers and automatic bidet. Before we knew it, lunch time had rolled around.
Our first lunch in Japan! Yes, the SkyTree could wait. On the upper floors of the Solamachi Mall, we found a wealth of mouth-watering restaurants on its upper floors. We got into the longest line we could find, at a place called Rokurinsha. After a 30-minute wait, we were led to a vending machine in the restaurant’s doorway where we chose and paid for our meals and then we sat down to steaming, delicious bowls of ramen.
Having had our fill of both shopping and food, we could finally scale the SkyTree, and joined the unbelievably long queue for tickets. Unfortunately, the weather which had been so lovely in the morning was clouding over dramatically. As we progressed slowly toward the counter, the sky continued to darken. By the time we were on the observation deck, the SkyTree had been completely enveloped in a blinding snowstorm and we couldn’t see a thing. Oh well. At least the tickets only cost $60 apiece.
We’d been in Tokyo less than 24 hours, but had already started to learn that patience pays off, even in the world’s fastest city. Whether you’re squeezing onto a crowded train, waiting for a seat at a popular restaurant, standing in an hour-long queue to scale a tower, or hoping for better weather, the key to sanity in Tokyo is to take a few deep breaths and remain calm. Eventually, you’ll get on the train. You’ll get your table, or reach the end of the line. And eventually, the weather will clear up. We had to wait two hours at the top of the SkyTree, but when the clouds finally did part, the view over the sprawling, endless city was unforgettable.