Despite the much-ballyhooed arrival of its taller, crosstown rival, visitor numbers have remained solid at Tokyo Tower.
During the Golden Week holidays, visitors formed long lines, impatiently waiting to travel up to Tokyo Tower’s observation deck at a height of 150 meters. Inside the 333-meter orange and white tower in Minato Ward, excited children pressed up near the windows and pointed at the 634-meter Tokyo Sky Tree, clearly visible in Sumida Ward.
Given that Tokyo Sky Tree is the tallest tower in the world and has an observation deck 450 meters above ground, speculation was rife that visitor numbers at Tokyo Tower, long a standard stop for school field trips, would plummet.
However, according to a major travel agency, many schools continue to go to Tokyo Tower because it is difficult to obtain admission tickets to Tokyo Sky Tree.
Although a Japan school tours association official predicted that “many schools will change their destination to the Sky Tree," Ken Sawada, head of publicity at Nippon Television City Corp., Tokyo Tower's operator, said the company is not too concerned.
"Rather, we're thankful because the new Sky Tree is bringing people to Tokyo," said Sawada, 40.
Tokyo Tower's observation deck has experienced a "V-shaped recovery" in annual visitors. In fiscal 1959, right after Tokyo Tower opened, 4.93 million people visited. The number fell to 2.32 million in fiscal 2000, but then surpassed 3 million for the first time in 13 years, when 3.2 million people came in fiscal 2006.
Since then, the annual number has not dropped below 3 million, with the exception of last fiscal year, after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck.
"We've tried to make it a 'regular stop' for young people to visit on their way home from work," Sawada said.
In 2002, a new stage and café were built in Tokyo Tower’s observation deck, allowing visitors to watch weekly live jazz and pop music performances and live FM radio broadcasts. Stand-up comedy acts, the 333 carp streamers on the ground outside and a full calendar of events have also received a positive response.
Sawada said Tokyo Tower used to be "a place you go up just once," but it's now become "a tower you want to go to again and again."
The tower is also benefiting from attempts to bring together both new and old.
Two years ago, Hato Bus, a Tokyo-area tour operator, began offering its Tokyo Two Towers Contest course, taking sightseers near Tokyo Sky Tree under construction and to Tokyo Tower. It is still one of the company's three most popular tours.
Hato Bus normally sends one or two buses on the route each day. But during some consecutive holidays, it dispatches seven. The company expects it to remain a key route even after Sky Tree opens.
The restaurant-bar on the 39th floor of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Minato Ward offers a view of both towers. For a limited time, customers can order the Double Tower Cocktail, which resembles the night view as it will appear after Sky Tree opens on May 22.
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