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High Drama: Travel around Japan in a single building

One of the most dramatic sights you’ll see around Japan’s tall buildings is men dangling on wires far overhead, washing the windows. When I stepped out of JR Yurakucho Station one recent sunny day, the janitorial daredevils in this photo caught my eye as they polished the front of the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan building.

At 15 stories high (if you count the hat-shaped revolving restaurant that sits on its roof) the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan does not dominate the skyline. But, having opened in 1965, it has been a Yurakucho landmark for half a century. Covering one city block, it is roomy enough inside to accommodate a number of Japan’s prefectures and cities – or at least their commercial outposts.

Inside this building, you will find “antenna shops” selling a variety of local goods, mostly edible items, from around Japan. In the Akita Prefecture shop, for example, you can find cute Akita dogs on cups of pudding and scowling namahage monsters on bottles of Akita microbrews. The Wakayama shop sells items made with the prefecture’s mikan oranges, and you can buy retort-pouch curries made with Kobe beef or Awaji onions at the Hyogo Prefecture shop.

A few of the shops prepare food on the premises. There’s hot shrimp tempura at the Toyama Prefecture shop and soft-serve ice cream at the Hokkaido shop. The Osaka store even has a window out to the sidewalk at the building’s northwest corner, through which it sells takoyaki octopus dumplings to passersby.

These shops also promote tourism to the places they represent, which is fitting since the word “kotsu” in the building’s name means “transportation.” Other occupants of the building include a passport office and various travel-related companies.

Travel buffs who visit the building should climb the Escheresque squared-spiral staircase to the third floor, where a large garden balcony on the west side is almost exactly level with the nearby elevated Shinkansen tracks. Bullet trains go gliding by every few minutes, shuttling between nearby Tokyo Station and far-off Shin-Osaka Station. If you’re more interested in vehicles with tires, the east side of the same floor has a smaller balcony right next to a toll booth on an elevated highway.

— Tom Baker

Japan News Staff Writer