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Monday, Feb. 7, 2011
The Sky Tree phenomenon
Sky Tree, the new tower going up in Tokyo, has become a fixture in Japan's mass media. Each week brings another spectacular photo in the photogravure section of a weekly magazine, and newspapers breathlessly report each new benchmark passed on the way to its final height of 634 meters in the spring of next year.
The new landmark, a broadcast tower for digital television, has already brought tourism and increased development to the area, although this has proved to be something of a mixed blessing for local residents. While tourist spending is of course welcome, sightseeing buses and construction-related trucks have also caused traffic congestion. Authorities believe that the resulting diversion of passenger cars to back streets is a major factor in a rise in traffic accidents in four wards of eastern Tokyo, with 41 deaths as of Dec. 26, an increase of 12 over the previous year.
On a brighter note, Sumida Ward wants to use its higher profile to attract a university to a site not far from the tower. Originally the ward planned to build a track and field facility on the land, formerly occupied by an elementary and middle school, but now it hopes to bring in a new population of young people with a four-year or six-year institution of higher learning. It is presently accepting applications from institutions and will announce the final candidates in August.
Beyond tourism and redevelopment, Sky Tree is rapidly becoming part of the popular culture, as demonstrated by the choice last year of a Sky Tree scene for one of the special New Year's postal cards. It has even made the opening sequence of the long-running animated series "Sazae-san," as well as appearing in TV commercials, manga and video games.
The rising tower, juxtaposed against the everyday scenery of old Tokyo, is particularly popular with amateur photographers. Favored spots, especially at twilight, have already become established for the best view.
Why shouldn't Sky Tree capture the popular imagination? In a time of diminished expectations, it is a welcome sign that some Japanese still have the ability to think big.