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Travel & Holiday

Tokyo banks on its new icon

634m tower with observation decks and eateries set to bring in $1.4b
The Straits Times - May 18, 2012
By: Kwan Weng Kin
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Tokyo banks on its new icon When the Tokyo Skytree opens next week, it will be the world's tallest freestanding tower. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO - When it opens next week, Tokyo's newest attraction will not just be the world's tallest freestanding tower.

Tokyo Skytree, as it is called, will also be the biggest cash cow for the Japanese economy, poised to bring in at least an 88 billion yen (S$1.4 billion) windfall this year. Standing at 634m, the structure in Tokyo's Sumida ward is a broadcast tower with restaurants and two observatories.

The 88 billion yen estimate applies only to Skytree-related commercial facilities and other business establishments in Sumida.

With Skytree expected to be added to new tour itineraries of Tokyo and its environs for both domestic and foreign tourists, the ripple effect is likely to amount to a lot more.

Buyers shopping for apartments in Tokyo are reported to be snapping up units with views of the new landmark.

For the first year, 5.4 million visitors are expected to climb the Skytree tower using its high- speed lifts, the fastest in Japan. Including visitors to shops and restaurants in the immediate area, the figure goes up to 25 million.

Skytree, which is owned by a private railway operator, also features a commercial complex billed as the largest in Tokyo, with more than 300 shops and restaurants plus an aquarium and planetarium to boot. The famous Asakusa district is nearby.

It was built to replace the old Tokyo Tower, which is roughly half its height. Tokyo's shift to digital broadcasting requires a tower that stands far above the capital's soaring skyscrapers so as to minimise interference.

Entrance to Skytree, which opens next Tuesday, will be only by reservation until July 11.

This is to prevent a recurrence of the long queues that snaked around the neighbourhood when the old Tokyo Tower opened in 1958.

It is hoped that the opening of the gleaming white tower will offset some of the gloom likely to befall the economy if Japanese exports are curtailed due to the worsening debt crisis in Europe.

For now, however, the Japanese economy appears to be doing relatively well.

Reports yesterday showed the economy had expanded faster than expected in the first quarter.

Gross domestic product grew 1 per cent from January to March, much of it due to consumer spending and reconstruction of quake- stricken north-east Japan.

But the yen's long-term rise and Europe's debt crisis are keeping policymakers jittery.

'I'm closely watching the situation in Europe as it sways foreign exchange market moves. We will take bold steps against excessive foreign exchange moves,' economic and fiscal policy minister Motohisa Furukawa told reporters.

Tokyo Skytree was supposed to be only 610m high. When its designers heard that towers of similar heights were going up in Guangzhou and elsewhere, they changed the design to give the tower the new height of 634m. When pronounced the Japanese way, the figure 634 can be read as 'musashi', which is the name of the ancient Japanese province that includes present-day Tokyo.

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