Although he lives in the shadow of Tokyo Skytree, the world's tallest freestanding broadcast tower, Kiyoyuki Takahashi sees mostly the low points.
Takahashi, 72, belongs to the 20-member “Motenashitai” group of the Sumida Ward’s silver human resources center, which picks up trash from streets near the 634-meter tall tower.
On a light rainy Saturday in June, walking about eight kilometers, Takahashi's five-member group filled a 45-liter plastic bag with refuse, including half-filled cans of beer and used diapers.
“I hope visitors will go home happily and will return, but …,” Takahashi lamented. “Where did our generation go wrong in raising our children?”
Tokyo Skytree opened to the public on May 22 to glowing media reports and the highest expectations.
The new Tokyo landmark in Sumida Ward is attracting train loads of visitors each day, with a total of 5.5 million people having passed through the tower and commercial complex since its opening. Along with those multitudes of tourists, however, come a laundry list of problems.
Local residents complain of some poor-mannered visitors, who leave piles of garbage and keep them up at night with excess noise.
“Young people make a lot of noise late at night,” said Tetsuyoshi Asakawa, a 75-year-old hardware shop owner.
Ward officials are also wrestling with illegally parked cars and bicycles on the streets. License plates of the cars parked along the narrow road showed they are from outside Tokyo. Motorbikes pass through the streets, their engines blaring late into the night. Illegally parked bicycles are also creating headaches.
A few bicycles were seen on narrow streets around Skytree, while parking lots that could hold a total of about 4,500 bicycles were not filled.
Sumida Ward employees spotted about 200 illegally parked bicycles shortly after the tower’s opening, but after a warning was posted, their number halved.
To combat these problems, the ward eventually allotted a total of 39 million yen ($484,900) for cleaning up rivers and roads, patrolling for noise reduction and taking measures against illegally parked bicycles.
The ward is considering setting up garbage bins this summer in parks in response to locals’ request. At present no bins are installed in neighborhood parks.
At the attraction itself, visitors wanting to go up in the tower have been caught off-guard by last-minute decisions to halt the elevators and to close the observatories at the top due to high winds.
Skytree has stopped its elevators four times during the past month, starting from the opening day, due to high winds. Operation of the two observatories atop the tower have also been suspended three times.
“It is so fragile,” said Masami Akasaka, who was forced to give up going up to one of the observatories on June 19 due to approaching Typhoon No. 4. The operator decided to halt the elevator.
“With the elevator having been suspended so often, what would happen in winter, when a strong wind blows?” asked Akasaka, 49, from Taito Ward.
The highest observatory, Tenbo Kairo, suspended operations on June 20 as well from the morning to 7:30 p.m.
While elevators in a building are not affected by winds in general, Skytree, a thin and tall structure, is different.
Tobu Tower Skytree Co., the operator of Tokyo Skytree, has a voluntary standard of halting elevators when the wind velocity reaches 30 meters per hour or higher. In actuality, however, the company halts the elevators even under lower wind speeds.
In the elevators, violent swaying of the cables that raise and lower the car could damage the elevators' operating mechanism.
A safety system to control the motion of the elevator--by automatic halting or lowering the speed--might be triggered in an emergency.
“But if the car stopped in the middle or if the passengers are forced to use emergency stairs, it would cause anxiety,” said a Skytree official.
The company stops the elevator before the safety control system kicks in, the official said.
Still, with no clear-cut standard based on wind velocity, for example, the decision to halt the elevators is based on rule of thumb, such as considering the duration of the wind. It is a difficult judgment call, the official said.
Following the opening, Tobu Tower Skytree increased the number of times it receives a private local forecast from the Japan Weather Association.
Skytree receives forecasts twice a day on velocity and direction of the winds, temperature and weather at six points at 650 meters high. It asked the association to provide the data every hour or two when strong winds are expected, instead of the usual twice each day.
Another challenge is how to inform the visitors of suspension of the elevators. Even though the company uses announcements, posting and a website, the notifications have not reached visitors quickly. On June 19, the company made the announcement only an hour before the elevators were stopped.
Hirotake Takanashi, a public relations official at Tobu Tower Skytree, said the company will try harder to make quicker decisions when elevators should be halted.
(This article was written by Kazuhisa Kurokawa and Kenji Katayama.)
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