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Friday, June 22, 2012

Skytree a mixed blessing for locals


Staff writer

A month after the opening of Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Skytree Town in Sumida Ward, the world's tallest broadcasting tower and its shopping and entertainment complex continue to draw hordes of visitors, reaching 1.6 million in just the first week, according to operator Tobu Tower Skytree Co. and its parent, Tobu Railway Co.

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Hot property: The Solamachi shopping complex near Tokyo Skytree in Sumida Ward attracts visitors Tuesday. SATOKO KAWASAKI

The outcome, so far, has been something to celebrate for the Tobu group, but the thousands of visitors are a headache for some local residents.

"It's really noisy outside at night with cars and motorcycles coming in and out, and young people gathering around the tower," said Suzuko Asai, 83, who lives in an apartment just across the river from the complex.

The area used to be very quiet before the construction of the tower began in 2008, according to Asai, who has lived in the area for over 50 years. "I barely saw a person on the street (in front of the apartment), and just two or three bikes passed down the street a day," Asai said.

Asai said the illuminated tower is certainly beautiful and it is really convenient to have fresh fish shops nearby, which didn't exist in the neighborhood before. But in return, her tranquil life is gone.

"Some of my neighbors are considering moving because they can't get a decent sleep at night because it's noisy," Asai said.

According to the Tobu group, the 634-meter tower, aquarium, planetarium and 312 shops and restaurants expect to draw about 32 million visitors in the first year, and about 25 million each year after that. It expects ¥28.3 billion in sales and ¥3.2 billion in operating profit for the current business year ending next March.

News photo
Exception to the rule: A sign showing the location of designated bicycle parking areas near Tokyo Skytree goes unheeded Tuesday. SATOKO KAWASAKI

Sumida Ward also estimates the surrounding area will benefit to the tune of some ¥88 billion a year, according to a report issued in 2008.

If all goes as projected, the tower will bring significant benefit to local businesses, but a month of operation has also revealed its negative side.

Since the tower opened on May 22, residents have had their bike parking spaces commandeered by visitors and garbage thrown into their baskets. Strangers trespass on their property to get photos of the tower from different angles. Even worse, some have openly urinated around their houses and apartments, residents said.

Residents and real estate agents have responded by putting up signs banning such bad behavior. But, so far, they've had little effect, they said.

Sumida Ward is also taking action, operating nightly patrols of the complex and putting up "Keep quiet" signs. The ward is also considering placing garbage bins around the neighborhood, according to Akira Nishida, a Sumida official.

But the signs continue to be pulled down and the patrols have failed to stop all the nighttime noise, Nishida said.

"We don't have that many people for patrolling. There are limits to what we can do," Nishida said. Police are also cooperating to help keep the area quiet at night, he added.

Meanwhile, local shops are hoping to boost their businesses by appealing to tourists.

"This is a great chance for us. Because, with the opening of the tower, Sumida Ward's population doubles on the weekend," said Noboru Yamada, head of the ward's shopping area association.

In recent years, the area's shop owners have seen business decline and it's difficult to find people willing to take over, Yamada said.

The opening of the landmark tower inspired shop owners to get together and create a point card system and offer coupons.

Sumida Ward also started operating three new bus routes in March to bring tourists to the tower and other areas in the ward.

But they have yet to see clear economic benefits, Yamada said.

Meanwhile, some are worried the hundreds of attractive new shops in the complex may lure away long-time customers.

"We have yet to conclude what the impact of the new shops is on our business," said Akemi Hojo, 48, who works at a bakery just a few minutes on foot from the tower.

"So far, the overall volume of customers hasn't changed" since the opening of the complex, she said. "But on a rainy day, tourists don't leave the complex so (the number of customers) drops," she said.

Kazuyuki Omiya, a 39-year-old who works at a small supermarket nearby, said tourists head to the Asakusa district — a popular sightseeing spot just two subway stops from Tokyo Skytree Station on the Toei Asakusa Line — without stopping at neighborhood shops.

"I haven't seen a sharp decline in the number of customers yet. But tourists don't seem to come out from Skytree Town. . . . But I believe it's too early to make an assessment. I think things will change after the summer, when all the hype calms down," Omiya said.



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