Japan is home to supercharged cities. Packed with enormous concrete buildings and intertwining roads, Tokyo and Osaka are the country’s pinnacles of a continuously developing ultramodern environment. Pulsing through them are millions of its inhabitants (and thousands of tourists) going about their day. You would certainly feel this up-close as you walk through either of these cities, but you would feel it even more so at night, from a retrospective view, up in a very tall tower.
Tsutenkaku; The First in Osaka
The Tsutenkaku tower is a popular landmark in Shinsekai (also known for its great kushikatsu and spa world), which is the leisure district of Osaka in Kansai. It may not be the tallest tower in Osaka. Standing at 103 meters in total (though the observation deck measures in at 91 m) this tower is far from the tallest in Osaka currently, which is the Abeno Harukas, which was built in 2014, with a 300-meter measurement.
“Building Leading to Heaven”, or “Tower Reaching Heaven” is the literal translation of the word “Tsutenkaku” or “通天閣”; a metaphor of what its namer, Fujisawa Nangaku, wanted the tower to be. Tsutenkaku Kanco Co., Ltd. owns the structure. Hitachi, a multinational conglomerate of Japan that is currently 107 years old, is advertised by this tower. Its address is at Ebisu-higashi, Naniwa-ku, Osaka, in the Osaka Prefecture.
The History of Tsutenkaku Tower
Originally constructed in 1912, the Tsutenkaku is a combination inspired by two other French buildings; the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. During the period this structure was made, the Japanese was still in the process of opening to globalization, as well as developing to become an Asian stronghold. The point of its creation was to mark Japan’s entry into “a new world”, or “Shin-Sekai”.
The First Tower
There was an amusement park called “Luna Park” that was beside the original tower and was also connected to it. The one that stands there presently is completely newly rebuilt and has no remnants from the original Tsutenkaku Tower. The original Tsutenkaku Tower measured only 64 meters tall – that’s 39 meters less than what it is now. In 1912, however, 64 meters was considered very tall, as it took 2nd place when it came to tallest in height, out of all the buildings in Asia.
Because of the prestige that came with being the second tallest building in Asia, the Tsutenkaku tower became a large tourist attraction and drew in crowds of locals. Sadly, in 1943, a fire ravaged the tower, and instead of being repaired, it was taken apart, with the leftover steel repurposed for the upcoming war.
Tsutenkaku Tower, Rebuilt
Because it was such an iconic location and structure in Osaka, and also because many residents held it dear to their hearts, it was pushed for by citizens to remake Tsutenkaku Tower. This is when Tsutenkakuu Kanko Co. Ltd. was created; a private company with the specific purpose of recreating the building.
The new Tsutenkaku Tower would be designed by Tachu Naito, who was famously known around Japan as the “Father of Towers” (he had a hand at figuring out designs that were earthquake proof, applying his genius to the structures of the Nagoya TV Tower, Sapporo TV Tower, Beppu Tower, and Tokyo Tower). It was finished in 1956.
Information About The Billiken Inside Tsutenkaku Tower
The tower is known for its affinity to Billiken, which is a charm doll that is enshrined on the 5th floor, on an observation platform. Initially enshrined in Luna Park, the Billiken does not have pure Japanese origins – in fact, it’s American. It is a charm doll created by Florence Pretz, who hailed from Kansas City. Pretz was American and had a career in illustration and teaching art.
Since the Billiken has been introduced in Japan, it’s been referred to endearingly (in other cultures as well) as “The God of Things as They Ought to Be”, or The God of Happiness. It’s supposed to bring luck to whoever touches its feet or donates money. The original Billiken disappeared when Luna Park shut down in 1923, but a replica of the original Billiken was made in 1979 for the new Tsutenkaku tower, which thousands of visitors follow the ritual for a chance at good luck with their endeavors.
Light Up the Sky
Though it’s easy to see a tower in the daytime, there is an art to angling the lights to shine on the tower so that it looks just as beautiful at night. The Tsutenkaku Tower once had neon lights back in the 70’s but were not used from 1974 until 1976 due to the oil crisis.
Now, the Tsutenkaku Tower uses LED lights which have less power consumption and can portray different neon colors. Just like all the other prominent towers in Japan (as well as all around the world), it is used to show public service announcements and report the weather, commemorate events through its colors, and to advertise its primary sponsor; Hitachi.
Throughout the year, the tower changes color depending on which months of the year it is.
- On January and February, it glows white to symbolize snow.
- On March and April, it’s pink, for cherry blossoms.
- On May and June, it’s Green, which represents the new leaves of Spring.
- July and August light up the tower blue, which indicates the sea and sky on summer.
- September to November changes the tower’s color to a warm gold for the ears of rice that are harvested.
- December is blue-green, to pay homage to the Fir tree.
A Guide to Touring the Tsutenkaku Tower in Japan
Inside the Tsuteknkaku Tower, there are a bird’s eye view sights of Osaka to see, a museum, and many souvenirs to purchase from arrays of shops. Here is a quick guide to help you navigate through them.
To get into the Tsutenkaku Tower, there are two entrances; The Wakuwaku Land Entrance, and the Observation Platform Entrance. The entrance that has the elevator is the Wakuwaku Land Entrance, for those who prefer less walking. Each entrance has a completely different motif. The Observation Platform Entrance Staircase is much more serious and formal, while the Wakuwaku Land Entrance Staircase is much more colorful, exciting, and playful. Head to the basement to proceed.
The tickets are found in basement level 1 (behind Wakuwaku Land), which you must purchase if you want to go any higher than the first floor. This is where you get your Observation platform tickets. You then ride a special tubular elevator, leading you to the second floor, where you can claim a free Official Guidebook that comes with a paper figure kit.
Across the ticket counter is Wakuwaku Land, which sells many fun Japanese snacks, and serves as a gift shop even for those who don’t plan to buy tickets. They sell brands such as Morinaga (choco balls, Morinaga candies, kyoromel popcorn) Glico (limited edition candies, giant pocky, collon sticks) and Hiyoko-chan merchandise. Hiyoko chan is the mascot of Nissin, which is a brand famous for its cupped soup and noodles.
Choose Where You Want To Go
From there on, you’re free to choose whichever available floor you want to visit. You can have a bite first at the tower’s small café, or go straight to the main attraction of the tower, which is the observatory. To get to the observatory, you have to go to the second floor, as it is specifically only accessible from this level.
Watch the Sunset
The fifth (with a high of 87.5 meters) and fourth (84 meters up) floors are still open to the public, where you have access to a panorama of Osaka. A great time to go would be sunset, so you can experience the view in both daytime and nighttime. As the sun sets, you’ll notice how beautiful the light gradually fades away, and how lights suddenly perk up around the city like little dots. If you like, you can use the telescope offered there (usually 100 yen per use) that’ll help you get a closer look at the life around establishments of Osaka.
Do A Pilgrimage
Aside from rubbing Billiken’s feet, there are 7 other deities you can visit for more luck that is found on the 5th floor. These are namely Bishamonten, Kichijoten, Jurojin, Hotei, Benzaiten, Daikokuten, and Ebisu, all comprising the Eight Deities of Good Fortune. You can pay your respects, bow, and collect their stamps to complete your pilgrimage, and hope they help your best wishes happen.
For more luck, there’s a literal Lucky Elephant on the fourth floor. The atmosphere of the fourth floor – most prominently at night – mimics Outer Space, and enhances the panoramic night view with a dramatic look that’s out of this world.
Check Out The Museum and Souvenir Store
There is a museum on the second floor of the tower called “Tsutenkaku Kinnikuman Museum”, which opened on June 29, 2012. Here, you can find everything about Kinnikuman (translated to “muscle man”), which is a Japanese manga series about a muscular wrestler. It ran from May 1979 until March 1987, but was revived in 2011 and continues to run. So far, there are 59 volumes. In this museum, you’ll find a life-sized statue of Kinnikuman himself, as well as other special Kinnikuman-themed items (masks, figurines, t-shirts) that fans of the manga would enjoy.
Also on the second floor is the tower’s souvenir store, called “JanJan Town”. Here, you can find many quirky and unique gifts to give your loved ones. You can take your pick from Tsutenkaku paper fortunes, or have a go at the capsule toy dispenser corner, which holds dozens of dispensers for special little toys you won’t find anywhere else.
Other souvenirs include a Billiken-san figure, a stuffed Billiken-san plushie, Shochu sold only at this tower, a Billiken-san lotto ticket wallet, Tsutenkaku crispy chocolate bars, Billiken cakes, and Tsutenkaku rice crackers.
The Luna Park Diorama and Cafe
On the third floor of the building, there is a very detailed diorama of what Luna Park once looked like in the early 1900’s. Because it is so vastly different from what Japan looks like today, it helps locals pay homage to history, and gives an idea to tourists about how life in Osaka was once like.
In the same area, they also have a store called “Glico-Ya” which sells products made by Glico, a Japanese confectionery company. There’s also a restaurant called “Café De Luna”, which is a small station where you can sit and enjoy light snacks and refreshments. They are most known for their soft-serve ice cream, creamy parfaits, and of course, coffee.
The fee to visit the Tsutenkaku Tower costs 700 yen per head – with a discount if you are a student. It’s open from 9 AM to 9 PM, and you can get your tickets up until 30 minutes before closing time. The tower is open all year round. Their telephone number is 06-6641-9555. The best days to visit are usually weekdays if you prefer to be around fewer crowds.
How to Get To Tsutenkaku Tower
To get here, you can get off at the Shin-Imamiya Station, from the JR Osaka Loop Line, which is a 10-minute walk away, same with Dobutsuen-Mae, Subway Midosuji Line. The Ebisucho station is 3 minutes away, which can be accessed by two lines; Sakaisuji Line, or Hankai Line. The farthest away is the Shin-Imamiya Station, accessed by the Nankai Main Line, which is 15 minutes away.
Make Time to Visit Tsutenkaku Tower
One last fun fact – did you know that it also holds the biggest clock in Japan? You can see it on the east side of the tower. The entire face of the clock is 5.5 meters wide, and the minute hand is 2.5 kilograms heavy, measuring a staggering 3.2 meters.
Tsutenkaku Tower stands proud as the symbol of Osaka and has decades of years rooting to Osaka, beloved by its citizens. If you plan to travel around Osaka, there is no reason you should miss out on it. Try booking a nearby hotel, and marvel at this architectural wonder.