What to Do: Tokyo City Hall v. Tokyo Tower

You'll continue to indulge me, as I really like going to the top of tall buildings and looking out at the city we will/just have explored. With such an interest, can you beat a place that's high, enclosed, has nice maps AND (wait for this…) is FREE?

Nope, neither could I. Tokyo City Hall offers great views for free, and is easy to get to and easy to enjoy with your kids.

You can walk to City Hall (called tochoo in Japanese) from the Shinjuku shopping and entertainment area in about 10 minutes, or, take the Oedo Subway Line to the “Tochoo Mae” station. Use any exit out of the subway and follow the crowds and/or the signs. Your goal is to keep going up. A few escalators will challenge strollers but nothing too rough. City Hall has two towers, and usually only one observation deck at a time is open (look for the longer line at the elevators). Opening hours are 9am until 10pm, Tuesday through Sunday, closed on Mondays, open most holidays. The elevator ride takes a whole 55 seconds to deposit you on the 45th floor observation deck, 202 meters off the surface of the earth.

The deck is fully enclosed, so no rain, no falling kids, all with about a 270 degree view of the city. On a clear day you can see Mount Fuji and on most other days most of urban Tokyo. Many windows have a photo map telling you what you are looking at, though many labels are mostly in Japanese (bring your own guidebook and map and have the kids look for your hotel, or maybe your rental car being towed away). If you're sharp, you might spot the McDonald's sign sort of across the street. Or, you can steer the kids the other way, as appropriate.

If you insist, you can also buy slightly over-priced coffee, snacks and cheesy souvenirs, but it is a low key sales pitch and not too likely to initiate a “Mommy I want it!” incident and even if so, you're on the 45th floor and then…

OK, OK, just say no firmly then. This is good fun, so go. Or, you can look at more photos of City Hall if you like.

Tokyo Tower

And now, for the competition. Yeah, it is corny and yes, it is not free (kids=Y350, adults=Y820), but you can see Tokyo Tower from lots of places in urban Tokyo and sooner or later the kids will notice it too. The view on a clear day is great, Godzilla once trashed it and for some reason there is a bowling alley at the base. There is an elevator for most, stairs for those with too much energy to spare.

Yet while the tower itself is cheesy fun, the totally worthless wax museum and hologram showcase are total rips offs and should be avoided, using violence if necessary. I also have to spank the TT (Tokyo Tower) people over the sleazy way the DOWN elevator lets you off at the second floor “amusement center” instead of the ground floor. Be sure to visit the tower in the daytime. Though the view at night is very pretty with all sorts of twinkly lights, the area around the tower butts into Roppongi, a massive scab on Tokyo full of bars and “entertainment.” It is all closed up in the day so no worries but oozes ooze at night.

For more info in English try the Official Tokyo Tower web site.

Across from the Tower is Shiba Park, with its cherry trees, gardens and mostly open space. In the park is an old temple with a rock that supposedly has one of Buddha's foot prints in it. A nice break from the urban experience.

Also, nearby, within walking distance, you'll find Zojoji Temple, a 17th century temple with an ancient wooden gate dating from 1622. Also nearby is Atago Jinja (shrine), with its wooded outcropping rising above the city.

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