It’s slightly outside the city center, but definitely worth a trip for the views!

One day, our Japanese-language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma, who typically commutes to the SoraNews24 office in Shinjuku, Tokyo by bus, found himself in dire straights with a stomachache so bad he didn’t want to use the bus’s tiny toilet. Luckily, at just the right moment, the bus was making a stop at Oji Station, north of central Tokyo, so he decided to get off.

Once he took care of business, he figured he might as well explore the area, starting with the neighborhood’s most iconic landmark: Hokutopia. Masanuki had a vague memory of Hokutopia being advertised by JR East as an excellent spot for train viewing since it’s over 80 meters (262 feet) tall and directly overlooks the Keihin-Tohoku Line, a busy commuter line. It sounded like fun, so Masanuki decided to check it out.

Hokutopia, which towers over Oji Station, is an 88.3-meter (289.7-foot) tall building that was built to support the development of industry in Kita Ward as well as elevate the cultural standard of its residents. At the time of its construction, it was the tallest building in the ward, but now there’s an apartment building that stands a bit taller.

Nevertheless, it remains a symbol of the neighborhood. According to JR East, its 17th-floor observation lobby, which is completely free, is a popular attraction because “you can enjoy the scenery in a quiet place.” Masanuki had to assume the view was amazing.

In front of the main entrance is a statue known as “Prayer for Peace,” a replica of the great statue in Nagasaki. This one was obviously much smaller, but was placed here in 1992 because the sculptor, Seibo Kitamura, was an honorary resident of Kita Ward.

After taking a moment to appreciate the statue, Masanuki rode the elevator to the 17th floor. Since it was around the time most people were commuting to work or school, the first floor of the building was almost empty. He realized with excitement that he might have an amazing view all to himself.

And he did! There was not a soul there.

Thinking it might be nice to stop by on his commute every once in a while, Masanuki checked out the observation lobbies. Three sides of the 17th floor were made of windows, and from the south-facing windows, he could see Tokyo Sky Tree faintly in the distance.

Just beneath him, a bullet train passed by on the Akita Shinkansen Line, which runs north of Tokyo, then turns northeast. Of course, there were also regular commuter trains coming and going too.

The fact that you can come up here and get this view for free was incredible. And that wasn’t the only view. From the east windows, the Sumida River glinted as it ran under Toshima Bridge, lined by the Shuto Expressway. It was a very peaceful view.

Then Masanuki progressed to the north lobby.

Here was the view he’d seen in the advertisement. It was an even better view of the Akita Shinkansen Line, which, from this direction, wound through the city in a pleasing S-shape. Masanuki couldn’t help but think any train fan would be delighted to watch the bullet train snake through those smooth curves.

Hokutopia is directly connected to Exit 5 of Tokyo Metro Oji Station, which is serviced by the Nanboku Line, so it’s easy to access even on a rainy day. Since the place is also open until 10 p.m., you could probably get a whole array of different views from its 17th floor observatory–morning, noon, and night, rain or shine.

Plus, Masanuki later learned that you can actually see Mt. Fuji from the small window beside the elevator on a clear day. Apparently, it’s a highly popular spot for the once-per-year-only “Diamond Fuji” phenomenon, when the setting sun descends exactly behind Mt. Fuji’s peak.

Masanuki would have loved to have a view of Mt. Fuji all to himself, diamond or not, but he sadly didn’t notice that view when he was there. Either way, it ended up being an awesome train-gazing spot, so he wasn’t disappointed at all. If you have the chance, definitely check it out!

Facility Information
Hokutopia / 北とぴあ
Tokyo-to Kita-ku Oji 1-11-1
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Images © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]