While exploring several of Tokyo’s distinct neighborhoods, I sometimes failed to appreciate how huge Tokyo really is. Only by getting high up off the ground was I truly able to understand the size of the city which covers over 2000 square km. There are several places in town to get an phenomenal view from above, like the Skytree or the observation level of the Mori Art Museum, but for for those travelers really watching the budget there is a free option: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – centrally located in Shinjuku – offers amazing views from its observation decks and is open to the public for absolutely free.
Designed by respected architect Kenzo Tange, it was completed in 1990 and now houses the offices of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, governing over all 23 wards of the city. It is also known as Tocho, or Tokyo City Hall, but definitely is not a typical bland municipal building.
It actually consists of 3 large structures, with the tallest Building #1 hosting the observation decks in its North and South towers. It’s truly an impressive building and caught our attention immediately when we saw it from a distance away. Very imposing, it dramatically separates at the 33rd floor into two towers that extend another 15 floors into the sky. Apparently the architect intended these two towers to be reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral, and I can appreciate the similarity (especially after seeing Grossmunster in Zurich). Certainly an interesting juxtaposition with it’s futuristic style.
The observatory areas are on the 45th floor, and its worth visiting both towers even though it requires going down the elevator to the ground level and then back up on a different elevator to the 45th floor of the second tower. They each offer different views revealing an incredible panorama of Tokyo and going 45 floors in mere seconds in a high speed elevator is an unusual experience in itself!
It was fascinating to look down on the mix of old and post war buildings, and see the structures spreading out as far as the horizon. Skyscrapers, lower residential buildings with the bright spots of green parks and red temples among the glass and concrete. A strong visual example of the contrast of ancient and new that Tokyo is known for.
If the weather is agreeable it’s possible to spot many popular Tokyo sites from here, and on exceptionally clear days even Mt Fuji is visible. Helpful signage is placed in the proper spots to show visitors where to look for different notable places.
There are friendly guides on-site to answer questions and point out interesting things about the view, and also a helpful tourist center on 2nd floor with information about destinations beyond Tokyo. I really enjoyed seeing the city this way- next time I’ll check out the evening view. North tower is open until 10:30pm!