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 a different perspective of Tokyo which makes it worth a visit if you are ever in the Oji area of Kita ward.
Hokutopia is famous for one a special reason. From the viewing deck you can get a good view of some trains, especially the Shinkasens (i.e. bullet trains). This place is just great for train-lovers. If you have a zoom or telephoto lens, it is one of the best spots in Tokyo to shoot trains from above as you can see the trains 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).
The other important thing to note, is that the views are a little different to other observatories in the city. As you are only on the seventeenth floor, you won’t be that high up, however, Hokutopia is the tallest building near Oji station so you get quite nice unimpeded views all the way across to Tokyo Skytree which is quite nice. Also the Oji area is not as developed, maybe I should say it lacks the density of other parts of Tokyo, for example Shinjuku or Shibuya. This area 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 viewing deck is only 270’. Only if you enter the restaurant which is on the same floor, will you be able to enjoy a the 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.
So, 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.
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.
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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