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Sunday, June 26, 2011
Tokyo, old and new
The bridge at Nihonbashi, a symbol of old Tokyo, has had a hard time in the modern age. A bridge was first built there in 1603, the first year of the shogunate in Edo, and the present stone bridge in the Meiji Era, in 1911.
Still bearing the marks of the wartime firebombing of Tokyo by American forces in 1945, it is overshadowed by an expressway built directly overhead for the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 and by later high-rise buildings.
In April, the 100th anniversary of the bridge was lost in the aftermath of the March 11 disaster.
The new symbol of Tokyo, the Sky Tree tower, seems to be faring better. Although suffering a delay of two months due to disaster-related shortages, it will open not too long after schedule, in May of next year.
The complex surrounding it, Tokyo Sky Tree Town, will have a planetarium, an aquarium, a 31-story office building, and a shopping area holding some 310 shops.
Several shops will be from the local area, which is looking forward to a positive "Sky Tree effect." Sumida Ward is expecting 5.5 million annual visitors to the tower and 21 million to the area, for an economic benefit of over ¥80 billion.
Neighboring Koto Ward is also counting on increased traffic to its temples and other tourist spots, remodeling a shopping street for a retro look and starting new river tours on traditional Edo-style boats.
In a sign of the times, the developer, Tobu Railway, is emphasizing the eco-friendliness of Sky Tree, providing reporters with a guided tour this month of its underground waterworks.
Seven thousand tons of water in 17 pools can be cooled in summer and heated in winter, using electricity in the off-peak, late-night hours, to roughly halve the electricity needed to cool the complex on a typical summer day.
The water could also be distributed to citizens in the case of an emergency.
Unlike the Nihonbashi area, in which the modern city has swallowed up the past, perhaps the Sky Tree project can combine the best of each, bringing new attention and vigor to the old Tokyo still alive in the surrounding shitamachi district.