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Shinagawa Station – Then and Now

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on October 11, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I haven’t updated in a while, so please accept my apologies. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment but there is an article in the works. That said, an idea came to me while on the shitter thinking about Edo Bay vs. Tōkyō Bay (as one does). So I thought I’d share a bunch of cool pictures of Shinagawa.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book. Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book.
Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

In the Edo Period, the Shinagawa/Takanawa area was a collection of bustling seaside villages, but compared to castle town of Edo, it was quite rural. It was the literal edge of Edo. The Tōkaidō, a highway connecting the shogun’s capital in Edo with emperor’s capital in Kyōto, began in Nihonbashi and the first post town (rest town) was Shinagawa. The men leaving the capital could a decent meal, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and hob nob with samurai from various domains (which was arguably illegal). The men coming into the capital could get a decent meal, get their garments cleaned or pick up something new, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and any other final arrangements before entering the shōgun’s capital[i]. Shinagawa’s growth was a byproduct of sankin-kōtai, the Edo Period system of “alternate attendance.”

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

In the Meiji Era, the Tōkaidō was the obvious route for a new railroad. Connecting Edo→Tōkyō with Ōsaka and Kyōto was necessary and preserved the life of many villages by pulling them into the fold of Meiji Japan’s “modernization” efforts. The modern bay area was built up bit by bit since the Meiji Era, but the bulk of construction took place in the post WWII years. By the time of the Tōkyō Olympics in 1964 shit was out of control. Today, Edo’s shoreline is long gone. A few place names preserve its memory— a river channel here and there survive along the old coastline. But for better or worse, Tōkyō Bay is completely different animal than the former Edo Bay.

The former shoreline roughly follows the modern day JR tracks, ie; the Yamanote Line.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn't accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn’t accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

This was Tokyo's beach at one time.  All I think is... tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened.

This was Tokyo’s beach at one time.
All I think is… tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened. Also notice the stone walls. Love Edo Period stone wall work!

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Shinagawa Station. On the sea. Note the breakwater out there. I wish this photo was in color.

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Steam locomotive pulling into Shinagawa Station. The coastline is beautiful. But those boats on the water. I’m way more intrigued by them!

Shinagawa Station in the late 19th century, with the Tokyo Bay shore visible immediately next to the station

This is a different scan of one of the photos from above. It’s amazing how much of a normal beach Edo Bay was. Today, most of Tokyo Bay is deep.

Shinagawa_Station_circa_1897

Maybe your last view of Edo Bay before it REALLY becomes Tokyo Bay.

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Shinagawa today. The right side of the train tracks is the former bay

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[i] By the way, a walk from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa is not a day’s walk. Today you can make the walk in less than 2 hours – but that’s with paved roads. If you were moving in a large group, the pace of walking was formalized; you were a kind of regularly occurring parade, especially near the major villages and cities. My guess is the rate that the palanquin bearers could comfortable carry their passenger determined the pace. I’m guessing that at a leisurely pace from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa in old style shoes, on old style roads, it could easily take double that time… maybe triple. And surely, you’d be hungry.

  1. Oh, is this post in the drinking and whoring tag? I see it in the text. 😉
    Wow, it’s easy to forget how different the landscape is now, compared with before. I remember seeing pictures of Shinjuku (post WWII, completely flattened vs today) and being completely astounded. The fact that there was a big river and no crazy-labyrinth station… My husband’s grandfather even supposedly rowed a boat from Ibaraki to central Shinjuku back in the day. I suspect it’s a tall tale with some truth lurking in there, but interesting nonetheless.

    • Well, with the network of rivers being used for all kinds of traffic before cars became an every day reality, it’s not entirely unbelievable to think someone could come from Ibaraki to Shinjuku via boat (off the top of my head, the Kanda River flows through Shinjuku). One person rowing the hole way is… yeah… a little suspicious, but who knows?!

      The whole Konan Exit area was supposedly built up about 3 years before I arrived in Japan, so that would be…. maybe 2002? I’m writing from my phone while walking so I can’t look it up, but there has been massive expansion in that area it’s all fairly recent.

  2. That’s crazy seeing the station right on the bay. I wonder if there was ever a tsunami.

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