Tokyo’s Tallest, or Getting High In Japan

Given my well established love of very tall places, it is probably no surprise to anyone that I pointed out the view from Mori Tower in my Star Wars Visions post and the view from Granpark.  Mori Tower is the 12th tallest structure in Japan, and Granpark is the 25th tallest.

In Tokyo, there are many, many tall buildings.  During my time in Japan, I made certain to stop at as many tall places as possible.  Three of the tallest in Tokyo are Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, and the twin observation decks of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center.    This post is about my visits to these three.

I started with Tokyo Tower.  Tokyo Tower is painted white and international orange, the same color as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  This Eiffel Tower inspired structure was built in 1958, with a total height of 333 meters.  I visited the tower on an overcast day, approaching from the Akabanebashi station of the Metro.


The Tokyo Tower has two mascots.  Older Brother is wearing the blue outfit, and Younger Brother is in the red.  They were introduced on December 23, 1998 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Tokyo Tower.

It is not at all clear to me why Older Brother has a bandaid on his head.


Inside the tower, there are many shopping and tourism opportunities.


A thick glass floor is set into one area of the tower so that you can reach the parking lot in a hurry if you need to.


From the observation level of Tokyo Tower, I had a clear view of the Zojo-ji temple, less than a kilometer away.   I visited Zojo-ji on the same day, but I’ll be putting those photos in a separate post.

Anything further out than this was too hard to see, because of the very hazy air.


Fans of the popular anime “One Piece” have a special exhibit to see on one of the lower levels of the tower.


Distant viewing was useless during my visit because of the haze, but that didn’t stop other people from visiting.  The sign over this man’s head is pointing to Tokyo Disneyland, which I will also cover in a later post.


Tokyo Tower shaped water bottles- pure marketing genius.


The next tower in this post is Tokyo Skytree.  To go there, you will most likely see the Tokyo Skytree station, which has an advertisement for a Moomin Hosue Cafe.  I never had a chance to find the Moomins, but I wish I had.


Tokyo Skytree is the tallest structure in Japan.  At 634 meters, it’s the tallest tower in the world, and the second tallest structure.  (Burj Khalifa is the tallest structure in the world, with nearly 200 meters of height over Skytree.  Still, this is damned impressive, don’t you think?)


I waited for a sunny and clear day for my first three attempts to get into Skytree.

On the first try, I arrived later than I had planned and the line was insanely long.  I parsed several hours of waiting, so I opted to try again on a day that wasn’t a weekend.

On my second attempt, the line was also too long.  I needed to get to work, so couldn’t stay.  I decided to try to get there much earlier in the morning, closer to the tower’s opening time.

The third attempt was closer to successful-  I arrived much earlier in the day, and the lines were not so long.  However, the tower’s elevators had been closed due to high wind.  Strike three.

After my first three failed attempts to get into Skytree, my manager told me about the special foreigner line which is designed to allow tourists to bypass the longer lines by paying a slightly higher rate and showing their non-Japanese passport.  This turned out to be moot, though-  on my fourth and final attempt to see Skytree two days before leaving Japan, the weather was overcast and hazy so the lines weren’t very long anyway.


Skytree has mascots, of course.  The girl is called Sorakara-chan.  I’m not sure about the dog or penguin.


Tokyo Skytree has a glass floor panel as well.  This is definitely not for people with acrophobia.


Despite the haze, you can still see Tokyo Tower in the distance, nesteled in amongst some other very tall buildings.


The view was great, but I wish I’d managed to get up here on a clear day.


My third and final tall building for this post is the ninth tallest structure in Japan.  The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku is split into two separate towers above the 33rd floor.  The elevators to the observation level are free, which was a nice change after spending money at Tokyo Tower and Skytree.

The day before I visited this building, it had rained a great deal.   There were moderately high winds, which blew out much of the haze from my other tower visits.


In fact, the air was so clear over Tokyo that I was able to catch sight of Mt. Fuji!


Don’t be deceived by my amazing camera zoom, though-  Fuji-san is still a long way from the center of Tokyo.  This is the same view as the previous picture, with significantly less zoom.


The Kanda river.



A longer view of the river.


Tokyo is a very dense city, with many very tall buildings.


They still manage to squeeze a lot of green spaces in,though.  I think this is Shinjuku Central Park.


What’s the tallest building you’ve ever visited?


The Tokyo Robot Evening Cabaret Show

Perhaps one of the single most touristy things that I did in Japan was to go to the Tokyo Robot Evening Cabaret Show in the Kabukicho entertainment district of Shinjuku. This was the single most over-the-top show I’ve ever seen, without exaggeration.

It was on my walk to find this attraction that I spotted Godzilla on the Toho building.   I also liked the Taito Station building’s lights.


I think that the people behind the Robot Cabaret Show had a brainstorming session to figure out what Americans would like, and then they put all of it into the show.  All of it.  Very colorful signs?  Check.


A Daft Punk knockoff band in the waiting lounge before the show?  Check!


A waiting room that looks like Las Vegas drank too much Absinthe and threw up all over the ceiling?  That’s a big check!


Each admission to the show includes a ticket for a single drink.  I chose Ninja Lager, because it had ninjas on the bottle.


After a little while, you are seated for the 90 minute show.  First up, Taiko drums!


…with lots of led lights, naturally.


It wouldn’t be Japan without a dragon, right?


I think these guys were supposed to represent samurai warriors, but it wasn’t ever clear to me.


Vaguely geisha-like dancing girls and punk-looking dancing girls on the same stage?  Check again!


Kung-Fu Panda riding a giant Cow to fight the evil robots?  That’s a ridiculous check!


Elemental girl riding a dragon…. because why not.


She dismounts the dragon and fights the bad guy with a giant hammer thingie.


Next up, a spider queen, I think.  You can tell because of all the extra arms.  And the giant spider.


We can’t leave the giant sharks out of it.   They do their part in chomping the bad guys.


Plus giant snakes.  I think the point was supposed to be that nature defended itself.


Next, for some inexplicable reason, extremely creepy clowns!  Check!


The Taiko drummers have returned with a regular drum set.


In the second half of the show, we get more robots.  Lots more.


Plus neon dancers.  These were pretty cool, actually.


Just when you think it can’t possibly get more ridiculous, the Superman logos start to appear.  On the dancing girls.


On the robot with the clown afro wig.


It’s time for the big neon Superman robot finale!


The robots and the Superman dancing girls are living in harmony now!


The screens on the robots all have the Superman logo showing up on a field of stars now.


Robot Superman himself does a fly-by, to shower his blessings of superness on the dancing girls and robots below.


…and suddenly, it’s Superman logos everywhere!  Even on the walls behind the audience!


Would Robot Superman win in a fight against Kung-Fu Panda riding a Giant Cow?

Berlin’s Number Two!

Well, not quite yet.  Paris is still number two, right behind London.  According to European Cities Marketing, however, Berlin’s popularity is growing faster than any other city based on the number of overnight stays recorded in the city.   The number of overnight stays in Berlin in 2013 is chomping at the heels of Paris for that number two spot:


There is a more important reason that I’m looking at this chart though-  it’s a list!  Another checklist!  I’ve been to eight out of ten of these cities!  All I need is Madrid and Istanbul and I’ll have visited all ten!

Have you been to all ten of Europe’s most visited cities?



Nordic Adventure, Part 9: The Blue Lagoon

One of Iceland’s premiere tourist attactions is The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa in a lava field.

It’s not far from the airport, and many people choose to stop there either on their way to or from the airport.  I chose to go there from the city, but I can see the appeal of combining this with your flight.   Once you arrive, there’s a small building where you can store your luggage if you’re in transit, then you walk through a path carved into the volcanic rock.


Once you arrive, you pay your admission, then go change into a swimsuit.  If you didn’t bring one, don’t worry-  they’ll rent you one for a small fee.  Also on offer: Bathrobes, spa treatments, and massages.  The building in this photo is one of two or three places to get food and drink in the Blue Lagoon.


The lagoon is man-made, and is fed from a nearby geothermal power plant.  The entire body of water is renewed roughly every two days.   The water is heated to around 98–102 °F, so there’s always steam coming off of the water.


There’s a swim-up bar where you can get a beverage.  I had a rather tasty smoothie.


The water is rich in minerals such as silica and sulfur, and has been shown to have positive effects for skin problems like psoriasis.  Lots of the people in the water had used the silica mud from special pots around the bathing area to make little clay masks.  It’s supposedly very good for your skin.


Once you’re thoroughly prune-fingered, it’s time to get out and get something to eat.   I had a nice panini sandwich at the Blue Cafe.


As you’re leaving, you have one last chance to look at the crystal blue waters of the Blue Lagoon.


Have you ever been to a geothermal spa?

Scheveningen, The Hague

When we went to Keukenhof for the tulip festival and flower parade, we stayed in Scheveningen, a district of the Hague which borders the North Sea.  It contains a nice seaside resort area.

Before we went, I was convinced that the name of the place sounded a little bit like a lawnmower starting up.  I was wrong, though.  Click play on the sound bar below to hear what it really sounds like.

The three of us stayed at a nice hotel called the Boulevard Hotel.  We wanted to stay near the ocean, and it was one of the few places in our price range that had a room with three beds.    My bed actually folded up into a console when not occupied.    Jenny said I looked a little bit like Harry Potter under the stairs when I was on this.


As soon as we dropped our stuff off in the hotel room, we walked back out to check out the beach and boardwalk, and to find some dinner.  It was windy, but amazing.


We stopped at ‘t Pannekoekenhuisje, a pancake house, for dinner.   When we were walking in, this adorable little moppet was playing in an alligator and I couldn’t resist taking pictures.  Cute, eh?

the-hague-3 the-hague-4

Anyway, back to the pancake house.   In the Netherlands, pancake houses aren’t much like iHop or anything that most Americans are used to.  For one thing, the pancakes are served as one ENORMOUS pancake that tends to be larger than the plate it’s served on.  For another thing, not all pancakes are sweet; some are savory.  Mine had mushrooms, garlic, and bacon.


After dinner, there was more walking around the boardwalk-  this far north, the sun doesn’t set until pretty late, so we had plenty of daylight.  I was tickled by some of the touristy stuff going on here.


I also think it’s kind of brilliant that spaced along the beach at intervals were poles with cartoon animals, the better to help children remember where their family is set up.   The beach wasn’t very crowded when we were there, but I can imagine that on a warmer day it would be utterly slammed with people.


There’s a seaside trampoline park here!  I was tempted to go for a bounce.


Not far from our hotel is a pretty amazing sculpture garden.  We missed it on our first trip down the beach because it’s up on the sidewalk and we were down on the beach.   On the way back to the hotel, however, it was impossible to miss.  The first two visible statues are enormously tall.


This was one of my favorites:  the traditional boy with his finger in a dike.


Most of these were based in fairy tales.  In fact, the entire sculpture garden is called SprookjesBeelden aan Zee (Fairytale Sculptures by the Sea) and it contains 23 sculptures by American sculptor Tom Otterness.

The sculpture garden is part of the Museum Beelden aan Zee, which is dedicated to sculpture and contains roughly one thousand different sculptures.  This one is called Crying Giant.


Some of them are tiny by comparison.  This one was just a few inches tall.


The fable of the Lion and the Mouse.  The lion had previously allowed the mouse to go free, and the mouse returned the favor later, after the lion had been captured by hunters.


The Herring Eater, a twelve meter tall statue.



I think we all know what this one is.


I’m not sure which fairy tale this represents.


These two are looking up at the Herring Eater.  I love the tiny ones hanging out with the midsized ones.


Hansel and Gretel, trapped in a cage.  The one in the background that I did not capture fully is also Hansel and Gretel, after they’ve been fattened up.


I really enjoyed these whimsical statues.


This one was my favorite.


Gulliver. I didn’t even notice the Lilliputian by his feet until Jenny pointed it out to me later.


I kept walking for a while after I finished looking at the sculpture garden.  I thought this was quite colorful.


Further down the beach is a traditional lighthouse and a memorial statue.  I haven’t been able to learn exactly what this is for, but the text on it says November 1813.


I’ll leave you with one last look out at the North Sea before I close up this post.


Have you ever been to Scheveningen?