The Umeda Sky Building was built in the 1990s and originally inspired by a dream of a ‘City of Air’, in the form of four huge, interconnected towers. The outcome was a futuristic skyscraper that consists of twin towers, linked by a floating garden observatory, which hovers above the city. Today, the 40-story building has become one of Ōsaka’s most recognisable landmarks.
The unique shape of the floating garden is said to resemble a mid-air crater, left behind when a spaceship flew away. The architect, Hara Hiroshi spoke of the design in an interview, saying “The design of the circular aperture was the key issue when visualising the mid-air garden. I made a mortar-shaped glass surface because a person’s reflection surrounded by the sky would be on the surface when seen from the rooftop, and I thought the scenery would be very fitting for the mid-air garden of today. As the design developed, I began to have a strong mental image that the aperture in the mid-air garden represented a ‘vestige’ remaining from where a spaceship had flown away.”
In 1992, the unprecedented method of constructing the uppermost section of the Umeda Sky Building attracted enormous attention. Work on the rooftop had to be carried out at a height of over 150 metres. To ensure safety, while allowing the project to be completed in the shortest amount of time possible, the ‘lift-up’ method was developed. The foundation was assembled on the ground, before being hoisted up in one piece by a wire. This was, at the time, the first such attempt made anywhere in the world.
Early on the morning of the 18th of May 1992, four winches started lifting the 1,040 ton Floating Garden Observatory, at a speed of 35 centimetres per minute. It took around seven hours for it to reach the top. At 21:00 the same day, this section was fixed in place, bringing the construction of the building to an end.
The Umeda Sky Building continued to draw attention, as the world’s first linked twin skyscraper. In 2008, The Times named it as one of the Top 20 Buildings Around the World.
Below the building is The Island Garden, an island of green trees and waterfalls. With a diameter of 70 metres, it was designed to give the complex a ‘sense of nature’. Set in its very modern surroundings, it provides a sanctuary for birds and animals, as well as a welcome respite from the hustle-bustle of one of the world’s largest cities. The Floating Garden Observatory is reflected in the pond, which is the centrepiece of The Island Garden. Built from four metres underground, the garden features a network of streams, rivers and waterfalls, which give life to a variety of wildlife, including insects, fish, birds and squirrels. It is also home to around 36,000 trees from approximately 100 different species.
To reach the Floating Garden Observatory, visitors take a glass elevator to the 35th floor. They then board a mid-air glass escalator to the 39th floor.
The observatory, which straddles the towers 173 metres (576 feet) above the ground, offers spectacular 360-degree views over the city and the Yodo River. It is home to a restaurant, the Sky Lounge, a café and the official Sky Shop. Visitors can also enjoy the Sky Walk, an open-air corridor around the top of the building and lovers can add a personalised padlock to the heart lock fence.
The night view from the top floor has been selected as one of Japan’s ‘Top 100’. Visitors can watch the sun set behind the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge from one of the rooftop bars.
The Umeda Sky Building can be reached via the JR Train to Osaka. Admission is 700 yen and the observation deck is open from 10:00 to 22:30, with the last entry at 22:00.
- Wanderlust Pocket Guides – Best of: Japan
- DK Eyewitness Japan
- Information signs at Umeda Sky Building
- Umeda Sky Building leaflet
- Lonely Planet: Japan