It seemed somehow fitting when, in late May 2008 at the 12th Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival (SICAF 2008), a charming, quirky little anime feature titled "Tokyo Marble Chocolate" was awarded the Grand Prize in the Feature Film Category.
After all, much of the anime’s unfolding romantic comedy and poignant philosophizing about love and life in contemporary Tokyo takes place around Tokyo Tower – an obelisk that in 2008 also celebrated its 50th anniversary.
While there are a lot of other symbols of Japan that weigh in much older and further tip the scale in the history stakes, when you’re debating the preeminent visual icon in Japan’s capital city, and its more famous ones, you can’t possibly ignore Tokyo Tower.
Besides, it’s impossible to miss the tower – painted, as it is, in vivid red and white and gorgeously spot lit after hours. Stature-wise, it reaches upward to a peak of 333 meters, thus edging out its earlier doppelganger, the Eiffel Tower, by around nine to 13 meters, depending on whether or not you include their antennas in the equation.
Tokyo Tower also continues to dominate the skyline as the world’s tallest self-supporting steel tower, easily seen from the Imperial Palace and Roppongi. It boasts an "otaku"-revered antenna that broadcasts all that vital anime we watch on TV stations here in Tokyo like NHK, TBS and Fuji TV.
The past 50 years have been quite remarkable, and monumental unto themselves in terms of the life of this tower and its impact on this city as well as Japan and the outside world.
It dominates the back-drop in the recent, nostalgic feature movies, "Always: Sunset on Third Street," parts one and two, that were directed by Takashi Yamazaki (of "Returner" fame) and set in the late 1950s, during the tower’s construction. And our metallic altar was used as the titular name of a movie in 2005 that starred Junichi Okada, who more recently did the voice of Prince Arren in Studio Ghibli’s "Tales from Earthsea."
And just two years ago the movie "Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad," starred the very cool Joe Odagiri (Shinobi).
In contrast to such dramatic attention, however, the tower has long been Godzilla’s and Mothra’s favored plaything, and in manga, has been particularly ill-treated: it was sucker-punched in "Geobreeders," became the center of paranormal activities in the pages of "Tokyo Babylon," and was the focus of some alcoholic excess in Wings of Wishes.
The tower also features heavily in anime.
It was shown destroyed in "Cybuster," then popped up in a more romantic light – before being partially ransacked – in "Sailor Moon," as well as in other anime like "Card Captor Sakura," "Magic Knight Rayearth," "Angelic Layer," "Someday’s Dreamers," and "Burn Up Excess."
In fact, if the anime outings are to be believed, the structure is actually a magnet for mayhem and a portal for inter-dimensional mysticism.
All the iconoclasm may be fictional, but the tower came a hair’s breath from destruction in September 2004, when a 747 accidentally passed within 200 meters, en route to Haneda Airport.
And yet, while the monument may have been crushed, squashed, melted down, transformed, and manhandled like a mammoth toothpick, and represent an object of some cynicism in younger Japanese’s minds, Tokyo Tower wasn’t raised for ruin alone.
Twenty-something Japanese English language school adviser Shoko Shima sees the tower in a more positive light. “For me, Tokyo Tower is one of the symbols of Tokyo. When I see it, it makes me feel nostalgic. It’s not cute, nor interesting, but I think we need it in Tokyo as an older symbol of the city.”
And acclaimed electronic music producer Toshiyuki Yasuda says that “It is most assuredly a romantic symbol in mid-Tokyo.”
The obelisk was designed by Nikken Sekkei Ltd, and constructed in 1958 by Takenaka Corporation, Japan’s oldest architecture and engineering and firm, at a cost hovering at around 2.8 billion yen.
It has an average 2.6 million visitors per annum and has been romantically illuminated at night – with 164 globes that change color according to the season – for enamored young and old couples alike since 1989. Many of them visit the first-floor aquarium, which houses some 50,000 fish, or the wax museum on the third floor, and then the self-explanatory Trick Art Museum. The view itself is an optional extra.
On a clear day, Mt Fuji is visible from the tower. On most days, unfortunately, it isn’t.
Regardless, all this is set to end in a way when Tokyo Tower is superseded by its younger, more virile replacement, the Tokyo Sky Tree – currently being constructed in Sumida - which aims at almost twice the size of our existing aging hero.
Turns out that Tokyo Tower just isn’t tall enough in the 21st century to offer complete digital terrestrial television broadcasting coverage – but at least this may mean that Ol’ Red will be left in a secure retirement from attacks by Godzilla and his cronies.
The Tokyo Sky Tree will just have to learn to deal with the abuse.
Andrez Bergen is senior editor of Impact magazine in the UK. He’s a long-term writer on Japanese pop culture, music, anime, movies and weird stuff who has covered the space since 2001. Andrez also runs Tokyo-based IF? Records, makes music as Little Nobody, writes a personal blog called JapaneseCultureGoNow!, and can be found on Twitter @andreziffy© Japan Today