Taking a more traditional view

by Gary Tegler

For many residents of Kyoto, the Kyoto Tower brings to mind the story about the Parisian artist who railed to whomever would listen about how much he hated the Eiffel Tower.

One day a friend of the artist went to the restaurant atop the newly completed tower and, lo and behold, there was the artist sitting at a table reading a newspaper.

“Anton,” said the man, “what on earth are you doing here? I thought you hated this structure!”

“I do,” replied the artist, “but this is the only place in the city I don’t have to look at it.”

Likewise, Kyoto Tower is the most visible landmark in this low-rise cityscape.

Constructed in 1963-64 on the former site of the central post office, it rises to a height of 131 meters and, on clear days and in the evenings, when it is illuminated until midnight, can be seen for 30 km to the north and south.

Designed by Makoto Tanahashi, a doctor of engineering at Kyoto University, the 800-ton, needle-shaped spire incorporates unique, tubular rods of reinforced iron.

“The tower is extremely safe,” said Tsuyoshi Tamura, head of the tower’s business section. “It can withstand winds of up to 90 meters a second and survive an earthquake of far greater magnitude than that of the Hanshin or Tokyo quakes.”

There was public opposition when the tower was first proposed, not only because of its 380 million yen price tag, but because many felt it was too modern for an ancient capital. But it was the ’60s, a period of rapid economic growth and the baby boom, and construction went ahead anyway.

It opened in 1964, and 1 million people visited the tower’s observation platform in its first year. By 1999, that figure had dropped to less than 400,000 a year, or about 1,000 people a day.

The tower sits atop the Kyoto Tower Hotel, directly to the north of Kyoto Station. It will cost you a hefty 770 yen to ascend one of the nine elevators.

Your destination — the 360-degree observation area — is lined with game machines, a small kiosk selling the usual assortment of trinkets favored by junior high students and a number of telescopes — 100 yen for 90 seconds of gazing time.

The view, though, is actually spectacular, with the roofs of many of Kyoto’s famous temples and pagodas peeking above patches of green. All that, and the mountains to the north, east and west provide a stunning backdrop to the city.

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