The World Trade Center Observatory: A Tokyo Time Capsule

It’s amazing how much of Tokyo’s history can be told through the city’s skyscrapers. The World Trade Center Building (WTCB), a copper-colored, perfectly rectangular structure is hidden among more conspicuous, contemporary office towers in the Hamamatsucho district of Minato Ward. Most locals and travelers alike simply pass unaware through the vintage building to transfer between the Toei or JR train and subway lines to the Tokyo Monorail via JR Hamamatsucho station. Take a closer look, however, and you’ll see that the WTCB is much more than a series of hallways between train stations.

2019-03-18   Visit: Modern Japan, Tokyo,


Past, Present and Future

The WTCB circa 2010. These days, it’s impossible to take an unobstructed photo like this (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).

Few people realize that this unassuming yet historic building is one of Tokyo’s first skyscrapers (completed in 1970) and home to the Tokyo branch of the World Trade Centers Association (WTCA). At the time of its completion, the WTCB was the tallest building in Japan. Unfortunately, its claim to fame had the permanence of a cherry blossom. By 1971, the building’s height record was topped by the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku.

Virtually buried by Tokyo’s ever-evolving skyline, time and progress have finally caught up with the Tokyo icon. The Nippon Life Insurance Company purchased the WTC Building and its surroundings in 2014 and plans to demolish the building as part of a large redevelopment project. The exact date of the building’s impending demise is unknown, but if you are a fan of magnificent panoramic views of Tokyo, you should make a visit to the WTCB a priority.

How to reach the top

Once you’ve arrived at the WTCB via one of the aforementioned train/subway lines, work your way up (if you arrived via subway) or down (if you came by train) to the first floor. Don’t be surprised if most of the people you pass by on the way are dressed in suits. The WTCB is primarily an office tower that just happens to have a tourist-friendly observation deck on top.

As you proceed through the first floor, look for a small alcove to the side of the main corridor that houses a reception desk for the observation deck.

Upon your arrival, a friendly staff member will help you purchase your ticket (620 yen for adults) from a vending machine and guide you into the express elevator. Once you reach the 40th floor, just hand your ticket to the staff at the counter near the elevator, and you’ll be free to explore the entire floor to your heart’s content.

Make yourself at home

I’ve covered numerous observatories for Tadaima Japan, so perhaps you are wondering what makes this place so special. It’s all about perspective. The WTC Building is one of the best places to take in the sheer scale of Tokyo’s world-renowned infrastructure—the train tracks, streets, and highways that serve as the steel and concrete arteries and veins that give life to the mighty metropolis.

It’s one of the few places in the city where you can look down on bullet trains as they snake their way through the city before darting off to distant destinations throughout the country. You can even marvel at the driverless Yurikamome as it barrels past trains on the Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku lines. It’s purely hypnotic to gaze upon all of this while kicking back in a window-side seat as a Muzak version of Lionel Richie’s “Stuck on You” plays faintly in the background.

Another distinguishing feature of the WTCB Observatory is its design and layout. Unlike the thoroughly entertaining yet touristy Sky Circus Sunshine 60, the WTCB Observatory feels more like a co-working space that happens to have an astounding view. The ample seating and pleasant atmosphere make it a great place to get some work done. In fact, I typed up my initial draft of this very article while I was there.

There is no stated time limit for your stay and you can purchase a wide selection of beverages from vending machines in the lobby. If you just need a couple of hours to catch up on e-mails, compile some code, or polish your next blog post, the WTCB Observatory might just be the most affordable temporary office in town. If you visit on a weekday morning, you’ll practically have the entire floor to yourself. Just make sure that you have a good power source for your devices as power outlets aren’t available.

Most of you, however, will simply want to take in the view and snap some photos of famous landmarks such as Tokyo Tower, Roppongi Hills, and Tokyo Skytree. And, like all observation decks throughout the city, this is an excellent place to do so. Just keep in mind that tripods are not allowed, and be aware that the windows are coated with a protective film that may alter the clarity and colors in your shots. That being said, skilled photographers have taken some of the most famous stock photos of the city from this very perch.

Before it’s too late

As someone who didn’t move to Japan until 2009, I always enjoy buildings and restaurants from the late Showa Era (1926 – 1989). Strolling through structures like the WTCB is a form of time travel, giving me a faint hint of what Japan was like during its bubble economy era. If the same applies to you, you owe it to yourself to check out the WTCB before it is relegated to the history books—or perhaps more accurately, its Wikipedia page.

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AUTHOR

Anthony

Anthony

Writer / Translator

Originally from Riverside, California, I've been living, working, and writing in Japan since 2009. Japan has become my second home, and I'm especially fond of Shinjuku, Tokyo. That being said, I also love getting out into the countryside and exploring the entire country. Through Tadaima Japan, I hope to share the wonders of Japan with a wider, international audience. Check out my articles if you enjoy exploring on foot, convenient cafes, and affordable dining.

Information

Address 2 Chome-4-1
Hamamatsuchō,
Minato-ku,
Tōkyō-to 105-0013
Hours 10 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Price 620 yen
Close None (may occasionally close for events)
Access Direct access from Daimon Station
(Toei Oedo and Asakusa Lines)
and Hamamatsucho Station
(JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku Lines).
Phone +81-3-3435-6026
Language Japanese
English
Website https://www.wtcbldg.co.jp/wtcb/facility/seaside/