I guess you could call Hokutopia, near Oji station, a multi-use building. It houses a concert hall, conference rooms, a planetarium, exhibition space spaces, music studios and it also houses an OBSERVATORY! While the observatory might not be among the very best in Tokyo, it is free and offers something a little different. It has trains!!
That is why some people go there. You can get a good view of some trains, in particular the Shinkansens (bullet trains) which pass the building practically right under you! If you have a zoom or telephoto lens, it is one of the best spots in Tokyo to photograph them from above as they approach from a good distance away, so shots don’t need to be rushed. You can also put some coins into the viewfinders to enjoy the view as well. The lines you can see are:
1) Keihin-Tohoku line;
2) Toden-Arakawa line;
3) Tohoku line (Shinkansen), and;
4) Joetsu line (Shinkansen).
Hokutopia is only on the seventeenth floor, so it isn’t that high. However, it is the tallest building near Oji station so you get mostly unimpeded views all the way across the city to Tokyo Skytree. The area around the observatory is not as developed, or maybe I should say lacks the density of other parts of Tokyo, for example Shinjuku or Shibuya. It is more medium-density commercial and residential so what you’ll see is completely different to say the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Hokutopia does have a problem, it suffers from the same design flaw as the Bunkyo Civic Center – the view is only about 270’. If you enter the restaurant which is on the same floor, only then will you get a full 360’ view. So, if you limit yourself to the free areas you are going to miss out on Ikebukuro, glimpses of Shinjuku and Mt. Fuji and that is a real pity. I think it would be fantastic if everyone could enjoy the sunsets and night views equally. (4)
If you are into trains and can do without views of southwestern Tokyo then the observation deck of Hokutopia would be a great place to visit. If you are after a free, full 360’ experience the Tokyo Metropolitian Government Building might be better. You can see Hokutopia’s (Japanese) website here. (5)
How to get to Hokutopia
Use the Yamanote line to get to Tabata station. From Tabata take the Keihin-Tohoku line to Oji station. Exit Oji station via the North Exit and Hokutopia is only a two-minute walk away.
Here is a Google map to show you:
Once inside take the elevator, which are on the left, up to the seventeenth floor.
Hokutopia is open from 8:30 to 10 pm, but operating times can change due to bad weather etc.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:
Gotokuji - the home of Japan's maneki neko (or beckoning cats)
Jindai Botanical Gardens - the most beautiful rose garden in the city
Omiya Hachiman - one of Tokyo's local shrines
Shitamachi Museum - a great place to find out how some of the old Tokyoites used to live
Zojoji – one of the most important temples in Tokyo