For years, Tokyo Tower has been an iconic figure in Tokyo’s skyline, but that may soon be coming to an end. After nearly four years in the making, the Tokyo Skytree has finished construction, and it will open to the public next week.
Even though it hasn’t opened yet, it’s already made headlines as the tallest tower and the second-tallest structure in the world. And just this past week, it captured the imagination of people around the world as it glowed in celebration of the Tokyo Hotaru (firefly) festival.
While Skytree’s massive height and glowing LEDs are cool and all, that’s not really what interests me. What’s really interesting to me is how the Tokyo Skytree is so super Japanese in so many ways.
There are a lot of aspects of Tokyo Skytree that are Japanese in ways you wouldn’t expect. Sure, Skytree is located in Japan’s capital, but lots of little things make Skytree the most Japanese building I have ever seen.
Height Based On Wordplay
For instance, Skytree is 634m. That might seem like just a random number but, like One World Trade Center’s height of 1776ft, Skytree’s height was no accident.
That particular height of 634m was chosen based on its wordplay value. Seriously! As we’ve written about before, the Japanese love their wordplay, especially when it comes to numbers.
634 can be read as “Musashi” which, not coincidentally, is also the name of the area where the Skytree is located. It boggles the mind that an important detail of such a significant project was changed just so it could be more pun-y.
Its Own Mascot
The Japanese wordplay is only the beginning of Tokyo Skytree’s Japanese-ness. What’s more Japanese than goroawase wordplay? How about mascots?
Everything in Japan – from cities to castles to police departments to companies – has its own mascot. Mascots just make marketing and branding that much easier. Plus, they’re super cute and easy to trot out for photo ops (like below).
Tower mascot, or Animal Crossing character?
So it’s no surprise that Tokyo Skytree its own mascot: Sorakara, or ソラカラ in Japanese (pictured above). Is it a girl with a star for a head? A Super Saiyan in a dress? I guess Sorakara makes about as much sense as my favorite Japanese mascot of all time, the controversial crab-girl Manbe-kun.
Tokyo Skytree’s Japanese-ness goes beyond the somewhat superficial aspects like wordplay and mascots. In fact, it cuts straight to some of Japan’s most core, traditional beliefs.
After construction on the tower finished up a few months back, people celebrated with some completion ceremonies. There were the predictable speeches by civic figures, but there was also a distinctly Japanese element: a Shinto blessing.
Buildings are, of course, blessed all over the world by nearly every religion imaginable. That alone isn’t something unique to Japan. But only in Japanese culture will you see a Shinto blessing.
All of those aspects combined together make Skytree the most Japanese building I’ve ever seen.
Or maybe I’m reading too far into things. In any case, Tokyo Skytree opens on May 22 and will, regardless of how Japanese it is, be sure to draw visitors from all over the world.