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Japanese History

Why is Shinbashi called Shinbashi?

Shinbashi means “new bridge” but is that all there is to the story? Shibashi Station is one of the oldest and most important train stations in Japanese History.

新橋
Shinbashi

(new bridge)

Present Day Shinbashi Station

Today, I’m a little busy so I chose an easy place name.

Or so I thought. As usual, the history of even the simplest place name turns out to be rich in history. FML

View of Shinbashi Depot from across the Shiba River in the very early Meiji Period (the river has long since been filled in and there is now a high that goes over where it used to be).

Anyhoo, the name is straight forward. It’s the new bridge, as opposed to the old bridge – presumably any older bridge in the area. Also known as the 芝口橋 Shibaguchibashi (Shibaguchi Bridge), the “New Bridge” was first erected across the 汐留川 Shiodomegawa Shiodome River in 1604. This would place Shinbashi among the earliest of major urban projects in the development of Edo as the capital city of the Tokugawa (and within the lifetimes of the first 2 Tokugawa shoguns).*

A view from Shibaguchi looking towards Toranomon. This ukiyo-e is from the early Meiji Period, note the very un-Edo-like telegraph poles.

In the Edo period, the name Shinbashi was applied to the whole area right up to the border of Tsukiji, which is quite north of what is now called Shinbashi. The area was covered with daimyô residences all the way from 丸之内 Marunouchi (Edo Castle grounds) and 京橋 Kyōbashi right up to present Shiba Park. (This area was called 大名小路 Daimyō Kōji Daimyō Alley, an area I will come back in a future post).

In the Meiji Period, 新橋停車場 Shinbashi Teishajō Shinbashi Depot was built on the site of the former upper residence of 仙台藩 Sendai-han Sendai Domain (present day Shiodome). The area on the south side of Shinbashi Depot, formerly called 芝口 Shibaguchi, came to be referred to as Shinbashi.

Shinbashi Station (formerly Karasumori Station) from across the river. If I’m not mistaken, this river is also no longer there.

Shinbashi Depot was the starting point of the main Tokaidō Line until 1914. If you visit Shiodome today, you can see a reconstruction of the original station. If you walk a little ways towards Ginza, you can find the remains of the Meiji Era bridge (essentially, an old lamp post). Unfortunately, in typical Tokyo style, the river has been filled in and is overshadowed by a massive freeway which totally kills the natural beauty of the river and contributes to noise pollution. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

The modern reconstruction of Shinbashi Depot in present day Shiodome.
This lamp post is all that remains of the Meiji Era bridge. (The original Edo Period bridge was wood, silly…) Note the shadows cast by the crappy highway that now looms overhead.

Present Shinbashi Station is located in “Present” Shinbashi. The station opened in 1909 under the name 烏森駅 Karasumori Eki (Crow Forest Station). When Shibashi Depot was closed and demolished, Karasumori Station was renamed Shinbashi Station (1914). Actually, there is still an exit called Karasumori. In the post war era, Shinbashi was a bumpin’ Tokyo hot spot. There were lots of places to go eating, drinking and whoring and today the Karasumori keeps up the tradition as a “salaryman pleasure quarters” where you can see drunk office workers eating, drinking and whoring all night long in dingy Showa Era dives.

It appears that in the 1970’s when Shinkansen service began, old parts of the station were removed because they were in the way. The simple, streamlined station of today looks very little like the classic Meiji Era building that survived the Great Kantō Earthquake and the firebombing of WWII.

Shinbashi Station before and after the Great Kanto Earfquake (1923).

If you want to see some pictures of Shinbashi Depot and Shibaguchi, check these out!!

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*FYI, the 3rd Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, was born in 1604.

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