Tokyo Skytree: World?s Tallest Tower Opens In Japan [PHOTOS]

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on May 22 2012 10:38 AM

The 2,080-foot Tokyo Skytree, the world's tallest freestanding tower, rises just 640 feet shy of the world-record-holder for tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa. But that hasn't tampered the excitement in Japan.

Twice as tall as the Eiffel Tower, the world's second-highest building and tallest tower was expected to welcome around 8,000 visitors on Tuesday for its official opening, even though cloudy skies obstructed the panoramic views. Some of Tuesday's visitors reportedly waited in line for more than a week to be the first to the top.

The opening day, while celebratory, was not without a hitch. High winds forced two elevators to halt at around 6 p.m., according to local reports, temporarily stranding visitors in the observatories.

The Skytree's main attraction is a restaurant and two observation decks, located at 1,150 feet and 1,475 feet above the Japanese capital. The top deck can hold up to 900 people at a time, while the lower accommodates an astounding 2,000, according to a report from the Japan Daily Press.

Once you go up here, you will see the entire Tokyo region, Yoshihito Imamura, deputy manager of the Tokyo Skytree Town, told AFP. You will see the curvature of the earth.

The $800 million structure looms above the capital's upscale Sumida Ward and replaces the 1,092-foot Tokyo Tower, built in 1958, as the broadcast hub.

The needlelike radio and television tower doubles the coverage that was previously available, enabling signals to get past the countless other skyscrapers along the Tokyo skyline. Engineers constructed the tower in just four years with steel tubes surrounding a central concrete column. It takes just 50 seconds in a high-speed elevator to arrive at the lower observation deck and another 30 seconds to the top deck. A trip down the emergency staircase, however, involves 2,523 steps.

Tokyo's tourism bureau hopes the Skytree will be a big draw for foreign tourists, whose numbers plummeted in the aftermath of last year's disastrous earthquake and tsunami.

Earlier this year, the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute said the Japanese metropolis, which sits at the intersection of four tectonic plates, has a 50 percent chance of suffering a major earthquake in the next four years. Engineers, however, have promised that the Tokyo Skytree was constructed with state-of-the-art technology and will survive the worst of Mother Nature.

Though tourism officials see the structure as a potential draw, the exorbitant entrance fee may keep people away. Tickets to go to the highest accessible point in the world's tallest freestanding broadcast tower will cost a steep $37.50.

Prices at the gift shop are said to be equally dear. The Sky Tree Shop sells around 600 high-priced items ranging from food and beverages to towels, mugs, and pens holders. Many of the trinkets sport the Skytree's mascot, Sorakara, said to be a young girl with a star-shaped head who descended from the skies to Tokyo Skytree.

Six nearby hotels offer visits to the lower observation deck in combination with a room reservation in an effort to ramp up tourism. Three of them have been branded Tokyo Skytree Official Hotels, while the other three are called Tokyo Skytree Friendship Hotels.

Local reports indicate that, despite the cost, ticket sales remain high. Until July 10, only those with advanced reservations will be allowed to go up the tower. After that, tour operators will sell some 6,000 tickets to the decks daily through an online lottery system.

The Skytree's parent company, Tobu Railway Co., expects about 5.5 million people to visit the tower and about 20 million to visit the overall complex in the first year.

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