How high is up: Tokyo Skytree boosts economy for some

May 31st, 2012 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

There’s a Japanese proverb that goes something like: Smoke and stupidity always rise to the highest places. It’s a useful saying when talking about the media frenzy regarding the Tokyo Skytree, which opened to the public May 22. Though it’s not our mission to ponder the psychology of why people like to go to the top of very tall structures and look down on everyone else, whatever the attraction, it hardly justifies the redundantly blanket media coverage of the new broadcast tower in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward. Of course, the Tobu Railway group, which owns and operates the tower, couldn’t have asked for better publicity. The number of visitors has so far exceeded its own estimates by 50 percent. No one has bothered to calculate the equivalent value in advertising that this free PR represents but it must

Skytree crowds on opening day (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

be in the billions of yen. And it’s paid off. As of last February, group reservations for tickets to the upper observation deck were booked until July 22, amounting to some 300,000 separate admissions. Because a number of people cancel on a daily basis, the operator of the 634-meter tower has decided to sell an additional 1,000 tickets a day to the lower observation deck (350 meters) between June 4 and July 10 at ¥2,500 a pop. The limit for daily admissions is 14,000, but after cancellations the number that have actually shown up is between 12,000 and 13,000. Altogether, 1.4 million
visitors have been in the tower, 85,000 of whom went to the upper observation deck (450 meters), which costs ¥3,500. Reservations must be made with a credit card (only those issued in Japan are acceptable), and there are no refunds. At those prices and those numbers, it should be no problem for Tobu to pay off its massive ¥400 billion construction cost in a matter or years rather than decades.

Tobu isn’t the only party counting on the Skytree to boost its financial situation. Tokyo Shimbun reports that the “economic impact” of the tower should also be felt nationwide to the tune of ¥174.6 billion and in the Tokyo metropolitan area by as much as ¥130 billion. Even more impressive, Sumida Ward expects ¥88 billion, and that’s just in income. Of the eight Tokyo districts where property values rose in 2011, two are in Sumida Ward near the Skytree. However, according to the Mainichi Shimbun there is some talk among Sumida residents of just how much they themselves will benefit in the balance. About 32 million people a year are projected to come to Tokyo Skytree Town and its retail complex Solamachi, which is considerable given that annual admissions to Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea total 25 million. But the surrounding area is more residential than commercial and while local merchants are trying to make the most of the tourist windfall, those who simply live there are wondering if the boost is worth all the trouble.

Already local civic groups and even merchants associations are saying that public safety and sanitation have been greatly compromised by the sudden influx of visitors since no countermeasures for crowds were implemented beforehand. Traffic congestion is approaching the breaking point. The biggest annoyance is improper bicycle parking. In some areas close to Skytree Town it’s become almost impossible to walk owing to the massive number of stationary bicycles. The complex has a facility for 2,000 bikes, and near Oshiage Station Sumida Ward operates a bicycle parking facility with 2,600 spaces, but neither is being used fully. The local government has money for only seven bicycle patrol people, and all they can do is tag the improperly parked bicycles with notices to remove them and park in proper facilities. There are no special funds for removal and storage of bicycles. Another problem is litter. The city employed only five people to collect litter. Before the Skytree opened they collected about 25 liters a day. That amount has doubled and so more staff have been added. In addition, the Sumida Ward Sanitation Bureau reports that visitors are leaving large amounts of garbage at residential refuse stations and that extra help is needed to clean it up.

The ward has also asked for a subsidy from the metropolitan government for 77 extra surveillance cameras, which it plans to install on utility poles throughout the Skytree vicinity to monitor public safety. In addition to the cost of installation, the ward will have to hire people to do the monitoring.

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2 Responses

  1. Tourist attractions create entertainment experiences but not durable wealth per se (see Tobu World Square for how that works).

    The tourist money flowing into Sumida-ku is tourist money other 区s are losing.

    Now, if the tower can attract new tourist visits from abroad it will certainly be wealth-generating (from the national weal perspective) but with a 32 million Japanese visitor run rate all of Japan will have filed through in 4 years.

    Here’s a recent shot of the tower’s view from a helicopter:

    One wonders if it wouldn’t have been more economical for Tobu to re-build Tokyo in scale, like the Mori empire has done:

  2. I live in the shadow of Sky Tree and I continue to be mystified at published accounts of trash in the streets, congestion from bikes, etc. It just is not the case. I think before anyone else publishes these reports they should come to Sky Tree and try to find these “overflowing piles of garbage.” I have, and they just are not there.


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