Tokyo oasis: Sky Garden

The Otemachi-Marunouchi area of Tokyo has been in a state of almost constant change since I first began working there nine and a half years ago.

Not long before I arrived, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper company had torn down and rebuilt its Otemachi headquarters. According to old photos, the previous Sankei building looked like a giant cement milk carton, but the new building is a dark glass tower that tapers toward its base and faces a plaza where local office workers eat lunch al fresco almost every day, and where the Fuji TV network sometimes shoots scenes for its shows.

A few years later and a few blocks to the south, a pair of skyscrapers across from Tokyo Station, the Marunouchi and Shin-Marunouchi buildings (commonly known as the Maru-Biru and Shin-Maru Biru), were also torn down and replaced with sleeker versions of themselves. They serve mainly as office towers, but the first several floors of each building are filled with restaurants and shops that have made them popular with the public. Each has a lofty atrium to welcome visitors in.

Also within the past decade, a drab and hulking government building in Otemachi that housed an immigration office where I once or twice renewed my visa was torn down. After that, the three nearby buildings occupied by the Nippon Keidanren business federation, the Nikkei business newspaper, and the Zen-noh agricultural association (which calls itself JA on the English pages of its website) were also all torn down. Only about a year ago, these three organizations moved into a row of three brand new (and much taller) towers on the site of the old government building. And yet another set of towers is now under construction on the site that those three organizations left.

Just a few blocks to the south, the old Palace Hotel has been torn down, and a new building is now going up in its place. And just to the east, a large post office building was leveled several years back. (Last time I looked, the lot was still vacant, but things change fast in Tokyo.) Another large post office building, adjacent to Tokyo Station and the Maru-Biru pair, has been gutted, and its old façade will become part of a modern new high-rise.

This is far from a complete list. Several other buildings in the neighborhood were razed before I had even mentally registered what they were, and the Otemachi headquarters of  The Yomiuri Shimbun is set for demolition and replacement in the very near future.

The good news is that the results of all this activity have been visually pleasing. Despite being filled with private offices, many of these buildings include attractive public spaces. For example, on a fourth-floor balcony connecting the Nippon Keidanren and JA buildings, I recently stumbled across a small but very nicely landscaped “Sky Garden” that includes a stream, fruit trees, tea bushes, a rice paddy and a Shinto shrine.

See for yourself:

Tea shrubs

To find the Sky Garden, go to Otemachi subway station and use Exit C2b, which leads directly into a long corridor full of restaurants in the shared basement of the three office buildings. Once you’re inside, just follow the signs to the Sky Garden.

By the way, this is not the first rice paddy to appear in this part of the city (during its time as a city). The Pasona company also famously had one in its nearby headquarters, which recently moved to the Yaesu area on the other side of Tokyo Station. There’s a detailed description and critique of that project at the blog Tokyo Green Space.

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