Tokyo Skytree marks 10 years as symbol of capital's skyline

© Kyodo News

Cityscape-defining Tokyo Skytree, Japan's tallest structure, on Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of its opening to the general public and becoming a symbol of the country's pre-pandemic tourism boom.

Commemorative events celebrating the opening of the 634-meter structure's Tembo Deck and Tembo Galleria observation areas include an ongoing "JoJo's Bizarre Adventure" anime collaboration and a performance by Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo livestreamed on a screen from the tower's topmost point on the day.

Built on a disused railway shunting yard in the Oshiage neighborhood of east Tokyo's Sumida Ward, Tokyo Skytree doubles as a broadcasting tower and forms part of the Tokyo Skytree Town facility that includes the Tokyo Solamachi shopping center and Sumida Aquarium.

The tower project, led by Tobu Railway Co. at a total cost of around 65 billion yen ($508 million yen), was devised following major broadcasters' proposals for a structure to ensure digital TV transmissions without interference from the capital's numerous 200-meter plus buildings.

Huge nationwide interest followed Skytree's public opening on May 22, 2012. Admission lotteries in the first week offered odds of 1 in 335 for the 45 slots available at midday on the 22nd, and its millionth customer was welcomed on Aug. 1 that year.

Despite passing the 40-million guest milestone in December 2021, Skytree has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Its 780,000 admissions in fiscal 2020 were the first annual attendance under a million, and well below the around 3.6 million and 4.27 million ascending its elevators in fiscal 2019 and 2018, respectively.

But there are signs of recovery. In fiscal 2021 it welcomed 1.04 million customers, and was open for its first Golden Week in three years in early May this year. Inbound tourism's gradual return projected from June onward is expected to improve prospects further.

Just ahead of the 10th anniversary, the Tembo Deck 350 meters up was busy with tours, couples and others.

A group of first-year Tokyo high school students visiting for the first time said Skytree had become synonymous with the capital, and is cooler than older rival Tokyo Tower.

Natsumi Tsukui, a 21-year-old beatboxer from Osaka Prefecture who came with her mother praised the "amazing" views of the sprawling buildings below.

But for local businesses and residents just outside the tower and shopping center, its presence has had a mixed effect on the area.

Kiyoshi Tanaka, who has run local store Ajigin specializing in rice in tofu skin for over 50 years, said the area had become busier and more convenient.

Masataka Omine, who runs Omineratan workshop specializing in furniture, agreed that it has been "energized and renewed." But he added that the project had reduced the sense of community. "The old shopping streets, they've disappeared."