A few rough edges mar Tokyo Sky Tree’s debut

June 4th, 2012By Category: Travel

Photo by Junichi Yamamoto

On May 22, the day the Tokyo Sky Tree opened to the public, shares in its operator Tobu Railways Corporation rose by 3 yen over the previous day to close at 389 yen. But Okasan Securities’ “New Tower Index,” a package of 50 companies expected to benefit from Sky Tree-related business, have done quite well. Pegging their average value at 100 at the end of 2009, they have climbed to a present worth of 115.73—as opposed the Nikkei’s average share value of 82.77.

So for some, at least, the Sky Tree turned out to be a good investment.

On opening day, according to the Sankei Shimbun (May 23), the Hato Bus company announced that tours during June which included admission to the Sky Tree were already 80% booked. All Nippon Airways has already sold some 6,500 package tours to Tokyo for people from west Japan that include airfare, Sky Tree admission and overnight accommodations. Two real estate companies have been planning to offer new condominiums with a view of the Tree. And Shiseido has announced sales of a original fragrance, “Shiseido Tokyo Sky Tree Parfum.”

According to Nikkan Gendai (May 29) the Asukasa area across the Sumida River from the newly opened Tokyo Sky Tree attracts some 32 million visitors per year—considerably exceeding Tokyo Disney Resort’s approximately 25 million.

The question is, how much money can be expected to trickle down, and rain on the neighborhood? In the first six days after it opened, an estimated 1.4 million people visited. But it seems most of them went to shop at the newly opened Tokyo Soramachi mall at the foot of the tower. Businesses in the nearby Oshinari shopping street (50 shops) and Honjo Azumabashi merchants association (70 shops) both reported practically no increase in their turnover.

Sumida Ward has projected the Sky Tree will generate revenues reaching 88 billion yen. “We try to appeal to visitors with a shopping street that brims with subdued appeal,” says Isao Kurokawa, director of the Honji Azumabashi Merchants Association.

Meanwhile, Nikkan Gendai (May 24) raises a completely unexpected safety concern caused by an invasion of jinrikishas around the Sky Tree.

“These days you see jinrikishas, which come over the bridge from Asakusa, all over the place,” says a local. “They are subject to the same traffic regulations as subcompact cars, and are prohibited from running or halting in pedestrian crosswalks. But some of them don’t pay attention to the traffic rules. With so many abuses, I suppose it’s just a matter of time before one of them is involved in a major accident.”

Jinrikishas are not regulated as are other public carriers, and no license is required to pull one. Over the past several years, their number in Asakusa is said to have increased to nearly 1,000, and complaints have arisen over aggressive solicitation by pullers.

“We’ve been getting complaints from residents about the jinrikishas,” says Kosuke Oze, a member of the Sumida Ward assembly. “I myself saw one running on the sidewalk near the Sky Tree. Some of them don’t use lights at night. Since they are carrying passengers, it’s strange that they’re allowed to operate without any controls. Some say with the new attraction their number may double over the next five years, which will lead to further traffic congestion and more accidents. We need to come up with some restrictions.”

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