Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sky Tree Downs Averted

In a few minutes' time the Tokyo Sky Tree, the world's tallest free-standing tower, opens for business. I must confess I am royally sick of the whole circus surrounding what is, in grossest fact, just a tower from which to beam out digital broadcast signals, the 1958 vintage Tokyo Tower being too short (333 m) for the job.

I am sick of the pun on the height of the Sky Tree, 634 meters = 6 Mutsu + 3 san + 4 shi = Musashi, the name of the ancient province where much of modern Tokyo is now located (J). I am sick of the product tie-ins. I am sick of the uniforms of the information girls. I am sick of the cost to ride up to the second observation level: 3000 yen, or US$37.85 at current rates. I am sick of everyone's ignoring the reality that compared to the Burj Al-Khalifa, the Tokyo Sky Tree is a pipsqueak.

Leave it up to the cartoonist at the Tokyo Shimbun to find a new, refreshing angle to look at the opening, one that can make even a grump like me smile:

In the first panel, citizens are looking up with safety glasses at the ring eclipse that appeared in the skies above Tokyo on May 21.

In the second, the people are looking up with cameras, binoculars and the naked eye at the Sky Tree, which opens for business today, May 22.

In the third panel, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko remarks to Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma, "The citizens of Japan have come alive, haven't they?" Koshi'ishi cannot for the life of him understand what has the PM thinking this way.

The hook in this instance is in the title on the left of the panels. It reads:

Futsuka dake no utsumukanai hibi.

"Just two days when people are not looking at the ground as they normally do."
The hook is the term utsumuku,"to look down," "to keep one's eyes down." The second half of the word, muku, and the images in the first two panels, take the reader on a mental leap to what is probably the best known Japanese song in the English-speaking world, "Sukiyaki" -- the only Japanese-language tune to ever make it into the Top Ten of Billboard's music charts, this in July 1963.

The song, by composer Nakamura Hachidai and lyricist Ei Rosuke, was a huge hit for the singer Sakamoto Kyu in 1961. It begins with what is probably the third best known opening line of any Japanese song, after the national anthem and "Sakura, sakura":

Ue o muite, aruko...

"Let me be walking, looking up..."
The song, written after the first burst of Japanese economic growth and on the heels of the "doubling of incomes in 10 years" economic strategy announced by Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato, typifies the hopeful attitude of the times.

In the song, the young man is trying not to cry but ends up doing so because he is all alone. However, he vows to keep looking up -- just as the whole of the country was, hoping for a better tomorrow.

Here is Sakamoto singing and whistling the song in 1983 (You Tube).

Hence Prime Minister Noda's conclusion, after two straight day of people looking up: "Hey, the hope is back!"

Of course, the song has a tragic coda. Sakamoto died in the JAL 123 air disaster of August 12, 1985 -- still the worst single-plane air accident in history. The 747, crammed with passengers heading home for the Obon holidays, lost its the hydraulic steering system a few minutes after takeoff, becoming a veering, swerving uncontrolled mass of terror. After 44 minutes of out-of-control flight, the plane plowed into a mountainside in Gunma Prefecture, killing 520 passengers and crew.


Jan Moren said...

Just a minor thing, but for accuracy: the Tenerife accident was the worst. This one comes second.

MTC said...

Herr Morén -

The Tenerife accident was the worst ever. However, it involved the runway collision of two 747s. As I wrote in the post, JAL 123 was the worst accident ever involving a single aircraft.