TOKYO (AFP) — The Tokyo Tower turned 50 Tuesday with a big party featuring a rock concert, sales of memorabilia and a talk show with the author of a best seller which uses the landmark as an emotive backdrop.
Singers and groups performed into the evening at a plaza on the ground while nearly 20,000 visitors flocked to observation decks at the world's tallest self-supporting steel structure, which stands at 333 metres (1,093 feet).
After nightfall, some 100,000 bulbs lit the tower like a Christmas tree.
Modelled on Paris' 324-metre Eiffel Tower but painted orange and white for aviation safety, the Tokyo Tower has attracted 157 million tourists, some 3.3 million last year, since it opened for business.
A symbol of Japan's post-war economic miracle, it has been the centrepiece of a dozen novels and movies as well as 20 songs and a haunt for young lovers in the heart of the capital.
"It has stood there as if all was right. I like that indescribable sense of security that the Tokyo Tower gives," said Mako Ishino, 47, after singing an ode to the tower.
Her song included the tribute: "It has always watched and shone a light on thousands of tales/It is shining with a look that seems to melt all the sorrows away."
But the tower, the tallest man-made structure in Japan, faces burgeoning competition from rival tourist spots present and future -- including a planned communication tower, twice as tall, and clusters of new high-rise buildings.
In an anniversary message, the Tokyo Tower's owner, Nippon Television City Corp., vowed to secure its future with a makeover and safety maintenance work.
"Looking ahead to its 100th anniversary, we aim to make the Tokyo Tower one of the best city landmarks in the league of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty," said the company's president, Shin Maeda.
"We will strive to become more attractive and compatible with the society of digital information and the age of international tourist exchanges."
Maeda blew out candles on a birthday cake with Masaya Nakagawa, alias Lily Franky, whose autobiographical novel features the Tokyo Tower as a place watched by his mother as she is dying of cancer in a nearby hospital.
The 2005 book has sold more than two million copies and its movie version won the country's top cinema awards, contributing to a revival of the tower's popularity.
After bottoming out at 2.3 million in 2000, the number of visitors has risen for five straight years, helped by nightly light shows. The tower also has a four-storey annex featuring a wax museum, an aquarium, a "Guinness World Record Museum", souvenir shops and restaurants.
The new 610-metre Tokyo Sky Tree tower is to be built in 2011 and will take over television broadcasts from the Tokyo Tower the following year -- just months after Japanese networks are due to switch entirely to digital transmissions.
The Tokyo Tower, which has depended on antenna leasing for half of its revenue, will become a substitute television post but will continue to be used by FM and other broadcasters.
"Without the Tokyo Tower, a painting of Tokyo won't be complete," said Nakagawa, 45, also an illustrator. "It has already become something of a national monument. It cannot be torn down."
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