Tokyo Tower, the fading symbol of a bygone era

Tokyo TowerOriginally built in order to provide a centralized radio and TV transmission facility during the communication boom of the late 1950's, the 333 meters tall Tokyo Tower (東京タワー) was, up to very recently, the tallest free-standing framework tower in the world. It held this record until it was beaten by the new Tokyo Sky Tree when it reached its full height in 2011. Built in 1958 based on the design that French engineer Gustave Eiffel used for the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Tokyo Tower topped its predecessor by 13 meters. Another distinction notable between the two sister towers is that Tokyo Tower was painted in white and orange in order to comply with air traffic regulations.

Not unlike like the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo Tower has also become a very recognizable symbol for the capital that harbors it, even though it never acquired the same sort of international fame. Domestically however, one would have a hard time counting the number of documentaries, TV shows and movie that contain shots of the monument, making use of its intrinsic potential to provide a quick localization short cut to the drama or the action. An interesting fact for those of you who are Aikido practitioners, the documentary Rendez-vous with Adventure sees the two journalists, Lee Green and Herman Jensen attending the opening ceremony of Tokyo Tower in 1958 before going to meet O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba for the first time.

Rendez-vous with Adventure by Lee Green (the full 68 min documentary can be purchased from Aikido Journal).

The Tower stimulated the imagination of the greatest artists who contributed to make it the icon that it is known to be nowadays. Interestingly, particularly in the case of the science fiction writers, their creations hinted at a somewhat weaker, more ephemeral aspect of the structure. Some of the most dramatic examples of that are amongst others, the 1961 movie Mozua (モスラ) where the famous monument has to sustain the attacks of a giant caterpillar and later in 1962, the almighty Gamera (ガメラ) which show the monster breaking the Tower in half as if it were made of straw.

At the feet of Tokyo Tower

At the feet of Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower was considered for a long time as a symbol of modernity in the prosperous post-war Japan. Japan, at the time of its construction, was still heavily scarred and burdened by losses of war; and the construction of the tower constituted a giant leap forward for a whole nation. An interesting fact, and a real symbol of the prosperous times that were to come, is that bout a third of the metal used for its construction came from American tanks damaged during the Korean War (1950 - 1953). Still today Tokyo Tower attracts a considerable number of visitors and will soon reach its 160 million's visitor since its opening.

Tokyo Tower by night viewed from Roppongi Hills

Tokyo Tower by night viewed from Roppongi Hills

Over the years however, this iconic status has somewhat changed and Tokyo Tower now stands for a certain nostalgic vision of the past. This feeling was beautifully captured in the movie Always Sanchōme no Yūhi. If somewhat of a tearjerker, the film manages to carry the optimistic feeling of post-war era represented by the construction of the Tokyo Tower, when everything was possible and Japan was on its way to become the economic superpower that it is today. The movie shows that long before any of the skyscrapers were built, Tokyo Tower could be seen from miles away.

Excerpts form the movie Always Sanchōme no Yūhi

while today, it tends to be hidden and somewhat diminished by such neighboring behemoths as the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. The movie is perhaps the last remaining way to experience the sense of optimism that the tower once stood for, particularly given the current pessimistic mood that runs across Japan in the aftermath of the bursting of the Japanese asset price bubble (1991), followed by the global economic crisis, and more recently, the March 11th mega quake and its associated nuclear accident.

Always Sanchōme no Yūhi poster

Always Sanchōme no Yūhi poster

The imminent completion of Tokyo Tower's successor, Tokyo Sky Tree (東京スカイツリー) is a final reminder of the status of Tokyo Tower as a relic of a bygone era. Although eagerly awaited, the opening of Tokyo Tower's replacement fails to carry the same feeling of awe and optimism that the 1958 monument represented. This is probably the card that Nihon Denpatō (Nippon Television City Corp.), the owners of Tokyo Tower, will play in order to keep visitors coming, hence turning it from a monument that is no longer facing a bright future into an icon that celebrates a bitter-sweet age when Japan, as a whole nation, had a sense of purpose and optimism.

Daylight view from Tokyo Tower

View on Odaiba Bay from Tokyo Tower

About the author
Guillaume Erard
Author: Guillaume ErardWebsite: http://www.guillaumeerard.com
Biography
Founder of the site in 2007, Guillaume has a passion for Japanese culture and martial arts. After having practiced Judo during childhood, he started studying Aikido in 1996, and Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu in 2008. He currently holds the ranks of 4th Dan in Aikido (Aikikai) and 1st Dan in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu (Takumakai). Guillaume is also passionate about science and education and he holds a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology since 2010. He currently lives in Tokyo and works as a consultant for medical research. > View Full Profile

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