Go to new heights to explore Shinjuku, Tokyo
Downtown Shinjuku can be one of the liveliest and most intimate places in Japan with all kinds of subcultures. The western part of Shinjuku, however, is known as a hustle-bustle business district of urban sub-center, home to numerous skyscrapers.
Nishi (western) Shinjuku is Tokyo’s first major foray into building skyscrapers. The first super high-rise building of Japan, 47-storied 178-meter (583-ft) Keio Plaza hotel was built in the district in 1971.
Although laws define a skyscraper, or super high-rise building, as 60 meters (196 ft.) or higher, dozens of buildings twice or three times as high are packed in this small district. In fact, 49 skyscrapers in this district are 100 meters (320 ft.) or higher, and 10 of them are 200 meter (656-ft) or higher.
While most of these skyscrapers are used as offices, some also have admission-free observation decks with shops and restaurants, so anyone can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the city.
Be sure to explore this Town in the Sky when you visit Shinjuku.
Most of these skyscrapers can be accessed within 10 or 15-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station. When you get off a train at the station, be sure to go out through the western exit. At the exit, you will find gigantic electric signs directing you to major skyscrapers.
Although you can access many of the major skyscrapers by following the signs underground, I suggest you explore these buildings on the surface to see their uniqueness on the outside.
If the weather permits, climb up to any of their observatory platforms to get a look at the whole city of Tokyo.
Among the skyscrapers that have an admission-free observatory deck, Tokyo Metropolitan Office Building (48-floors, 798-feet) is the highest and is worth visiting. Completed in 1991, its twin towers each house an observation deck on the 45th floor.
The direct elevators take you to the 202-meter (662-ft) high deck in just 55 seconds.
From the top, you can see not only Tokyo with Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, but all over the Kanto Plain, including Hakone and the Tanzawa mountains. If the air is clear, you can catch a glimpse of majestic Mount Fuji and Japan Alps.
Both the north and south observatory decks have a restaurant, café and gift shops. The north deck is open until 11 p.m., so you can enjoy beautiful sunset with some wine and a jewelry-box like view of the city.
When you visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Office Building, be sure to drop by the Tokyo Tourist Information Center located on its 1st floor. Here you can gain endless information about exploring Tokyo including free maps and guides. English-speaking staffers are there for any questions you have regarding Tokyo.
Enjoy a panoramic dinner
Aside from the Metropolitan Building, there are more skyscrapers that will give you a bird’s-eye view of the city. The following three buildings have admission-free observation decks, along with gift shops and a restaurant.
Shinjuku Sumitomo Building (52 stories, 210 meters): There is an observatory lobby on the 51st floor. This building has restaurants from 48 to 52nd floors. Some restaurants offer a lunch set for a reasonable price. (www.shinjukusankaku.jp/index.html)
Shinjuku Nomura Building (50 stories, 210 meters): There is an observatory lobby on 50th floor, and restaurants from 48th to 50th floors. (www.officenomura.jp/nomurabldg/)
Shinjuku NS Building (30 stories, 133 meters): There is an observatory lobby on the 29th floor that faces the south and houses 12 restaurants. (www.shinjuku-ns.co.jp/)
Enjoy art in the sky
You can enjoy both fine arts and a vast panoramic vista of Tokyo on the observation gallery of the 200-meter (656-ft) high Sompo Japan Head Office Building.
The museum, officially called “The Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art,” displays many top-rated pieces of art from both Japanese and Western artists.
This museum offers periodical special exhibitions with a specific theme. These change every two or three months, so it’s good to check online before visiting the museum.
The exhibitions go along with some of the museum’s 620 art pieces, including the works of Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso, Rouault as well as Seiji Togo, Ryusei Kishida and Kaii Higashiyama.
Among the permanently displayed exhibitions, Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” is a must-see.
In fact, Sunflowers is one of the most famous Western pieces art among us. Yasuda Kasai Kaijo Insurance Company bought it for an astonishing 5.8 billion yen ($58,000,000) at an auction in 1987. At the time, the then-director of the company, Yasuo Goto, said it was a really cheap and good purchase. The work is now considered a symbol of the so-called “economic bubble” of Japan in the late 80s.
This epoch-making painting of sunflowers arranged luxuriantly in a yellow jar is displayed along with Gauguin’s “L’Allee des Alyscamps, Arles” and Cezanne’s “Pommes et Serviette” at the deepest corner of gallery.
If you like the art enough, you can even drop by the gift shop to buy miniature copies, posters or post cards of the works.
Tokyo Metropolitan Office Observatory Decks
Hours: (South Deck) 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., (North Deck) 9:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. Closed 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month (south deck), 2nd and 4th Monday of each month (north deck).
Location: 2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art
Hours: Tues. – Sun., 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Location: Sompo Japan Building [42nd Floor] 1-26-1, Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo (5-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station West Exit)
Admission: Fees vary by exhibit
Read a related article: The many layers of Shinjuku