Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest broadcast tower, officially opened to the public on Tuesday.
The massive grey structure, which looms over the eastern section of the city, will serve as a digital broadcast tower for Japan’s major television networks and radio stations when it comes fully online next year. It already broadcasts a special television and data service aimed at smartphones and other mobile devices, as well as wireless channels for taxis, and will be used for various broadcasts during natural disasters and other emergencies.
At 634 meters (2,080 feet), it is the second-highest man-made structure, behind only the Burj Khalifa, a skyscraper in Dubai that reaches over 828 meters.
The tower will double the current volume of digital terrestrial broadcast signals, and its height will mean less interference from Tokyo’s increasing number of tall buildings. The effectiveness of the city’s iconic Tokyo Tower, which opened in 1958 and is 333 meters tall, has been hampered by surrounding skyscrapers.
Skytree is part of Japan’s shift to digital terrestrial broadcasting, which has freed up much of the country’s spectrum for its mobile operators, who are struggling to keep up with the growing demand for high-speed data services. Japan officially ended analog broadcasts earlier this year.
Thousands crowded the area around the tower’s base Tuesday morning for its grand opening, despite heavy rain and thick clouds that often hid it from view. Trips up to an observation deck were available only for those that had registered and been chosen in a special online raffle. The tower is surrounded by an entertainment and office complex that includes shops, restaurants, and an aquarium.
News reports said strong winds and bad weather forced the tower’s high-speed elevators to stop running late Tuesday, temporarily trapping some tourists inside.
The tower’s height was chosen in part because it can be read in Japanese as “Musashi,” the name of an ancient region that included what is now Tokyo. Skytree stands about 5 kilometers northeast of the city’s central rail hub, Tokyo Station.