From the glass-enclosed observation deck atop Mori Tower, Tokyo has the look of a city heading everywhere and nowhere at once. It is a dense but sprawling metropolis, a hyperactive place where the traffic is sluggish, yet the rat race still runs at full speed. It is a vivid, vibrant city with no epicenter, but a scattering of hubs that clamor for attention: the neon-splashed chaos of the Ginza district, the round-the-clock commotion of Shinjuku and Shibuya. All around the city, brake lights wink in a slow procession, inching through the narrow streets around the Imperial Palace, crawling over the harbor on the Rainbow Bridge. The Tokyo Tower, a knockoff of the Eiffel, reaches conspicuously upward. But unlike Manhattan, Tokyo hasn't sprouted a signature skyline. It is a horizontal city, a patchwork of largely low-lying neighborhoods laid out one after the other, extending almost as far as the eye can see.
It wasn't intended to be this way.
Modern Tokyo emerged from the ashes of World War II in a vacuum of urban planning. Small landowners drove development in the city, following the whim of individual interest without paying heed to grand design. The result is something magical but maddening - a global destination with all of the richness of the world's greatest cities and even more of the challenges. Living spaces are tiny. Green spaces are few and far between. Cultural attractions, such as museums and theaters, are abundant yet not centrally located. The average Tokyo resident, traveling through the congested reaches of the city, faces a nearly two-and-a-half-hour round-trip commute each day.
In the midst of the hubbub, the 54-story Mori Tower, with its commanding view of the hectic spread of the Japanese capital, stands out as a structure and a symbol: It was built to rise above it all.