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Get up high to see how the past has shaped present-day Tokyo

by Olga Garnova

Staff Writer

Tokyo spreads out from the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda Ward like a massive concrete jungle. Though the numerous skyscrapers can be impressive during the day, at night the lights come on and the metropolis really begins to sparkle.

Unlike many capitals, which feature myriad heritage buildings, the city has almost no buildings that are older than a century. Deanna MacDonald, an architectural historian and co-author of the book “New Japan Architecture,” says that in Tokyo “it is still financially and culturally more common to demolish and rebuild. In Japan, half of all houses are demolished before 38 years (compared to 100 years in the United States).”

The average life span for a building in Tokyo is even shorter — about 30 years, according to the Housing and Land Survey by the Statistics Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Despite fast changes in the skyline, however, it’s still possible to hear an echo of the past: streets twisted in impossible directions, the occasional downtown cemetery and, of course, the temples and shrines. These features tell the story of Edo, the former name for the capital, and make the futuristic characteristics of Shinjuku and Shibuya stand out even more.

One of the best ways to see any city is from above, and Tokyo has a number of spots that will let you do this free of charge.

The most well-known and easy to access is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Each of its two towers has an observation deck that offers a good view of Shinjuku’s skyscraper district. The building closes late, so head there for sunset to get a possible glimpse of Mount Fuji.

A view of the Tokyo skyline and Mount Fuji is also a trademark of the Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Deck. It’s hard to see the mountain on most days because of haze, but Golden Week offers your best shot at a glimpse due to the reduction in traffic.

This section, appearing in the early part of each month, offers a snapshot view of areas that may interest tourists.