Among the many peculiarities of Tokyo compared to the other metropolises it is usually grouped with is the absence of an absolutely defining landmark like the Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. And although this fact might at first seem surprising, following its development one realizes that despite it being overpopulated from as early as the early 18th century, in reality it was never so much a city as a sum of villages –which makes perfect sense it was exactly that. Even today, many say that they “go” to Tokyo but few that they “live” or “work” there; most of the time they will refer to specific areas: Shinjuku, Shinbashi, Ueno, Asakusa or some of the newer ones like Shimokitazawa or Kichioji.
The Japanese’s anxiety for such a landmark is on the one hand funny and on the other moving: funny because a city doesn’t really need an internationally recognizable landmark and moving because it shows a hopeless attempt to approach the way the “foreigners” (en bloc) think. That it is indeed an anxiety became obvious when the discussion started about the “Sky Tree” project, a 634m/2,080 ft steel tower in the east side of the Sumida River, in the area called Oshiage, almost facing Asakusa: even for a country where everything is recorded almost hysterically, I doubt there is any project that has been documented in more detail or that each and every such detail has received more publicity. Already since 2009 when its construction began, the Sky Tree seemed as if it was promising the Japanese a dream.
Coincidentally rather than intentionally, I watched almost all the construction process of the Sky Tree, its completion in the week following the great earthquake of March 3, 2011 and its opening almost one year later, on May 2012. And although I can’t help being impressed by its size or by a know-how confident enough of itself to erect the world’s biggest TV tower (the basic function –or is it an excuse?- of the Sky Tree is that of television broadcasting) on the spot where a significant number of seismologists argue will be the epicenter of an earthquake bigger than the one of 2011, I am still missing the reason for their Japanese being so excited with it. I would like to believe that deep down they feel it is a symbol of non-conformism but I’m afraid this only demonstrates how inadequate my understanding of them still is.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.