OSAKA - Osaka celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Tsutenkaku tower on Friday as the landmark regained its popularity in recent years with a growing number of foreign tourists drawn to the retro allure of the relatively short observation tower.
“I’m surprised to hear this tower has a 60-year history. It’s tall and offers a great view,” said Husna Hasan, a 21-year-old tourist from Malaysia, at the observation deck.
The operator of Tsutenkaku slashed the ¥700 entrance fee for adults to ¥210 as a special offer for the anniversary day. The discount price is a pun as “tsuten” sounds similar to “two-ten.”
Masaaki Nishigami, president of the operating company, said in a ceremony, “These 60 years have seen the ups and downs of the tower. We would like to go back to the starting point on this occasion and strive anew to remain a symbol of Osaka.”
The number of visitors surpassed 1 million in the 1957 business year, shortly after its opening on Oct. 28, 1956. But it tumbled to 190,000 in the 1975 business year before rebounding to hit the 1 million mark again in 2007.
Between September last year and March this year, 670,000 visited, with 150,000, or 22 percent, being foreign nationals.
Local shop owners say the retro and folksy atmosphere of the tower as well as the Shinsekai (new world) district of Osaka where it stands is increasingly attracting foreign tourists.
Shinsekai used to be a “laborers’ town” with men working on day-wages crowding restaurants serving kushikatsu dishes of deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables.
But recently, there are “days when 40 percent of our seats are occupied by foreigners,” said a waiter at one kushikatsu restaurant in the area.
Some foreign backpackers opt for lengthy stays in the area by using cheap lodging facilities, according to Kojiro Onishi, head of an association of Shinsekai shop owners.
Tsutenkaku means “a tall building that reaches the heavens,” as the tower must have had such an image when it opened to the public 60 years ago. But the 108-meter-tall tower is now much shorter than its “rival” towers in Tokyo, with Tokyo Tower standing 333 meters and Tokyo Skytree at 634 meters.
The current Tsutenkaku is the second-generation tower after the original Tsutenkaku, built in 1912, burned down in 1943.
Local shop owners started a campaign to rebuild the tower in 1954 and the drive proved successful.
The operator unveiled a 60th anniversary memorial song while a restaurant at a nearby train station started offering a curry udon noodle dish that is a 1/500th model of the tower. The special wheat flour noodle dish is 20 cm (eight inches) high and uses chikuwa, a hollow tube made of fish paste and Japanese quail eggs, to create a miniature tower standing in a bowl of noodles.