I so just wanna say, we’ve all been there and done that because that would just be easier that repeating myself again and again… After all, my long time readers have all been there and done that. In fact, if anyone knows anything about Japanese history, it’s the fact that the Tōkyō used to be called Edo and the name was changed after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. But if there’s any lesson I’ve learned from Kevin Smith[i] and from the resurrection of the Star Wars franchise[ii], it’s this: When you’re constantly writing about the same topic, you have to be remember that even though you have long time readers, it’s always someone’s first time to learn some of these things. If someone finds this blog post 2 years from now, it could still be their first time to learn anything about the subject.
And that’s where my job gets a bit tricky[iii]. I have to keep things interesting for everyone – longtime readers and first time readers. Hoping to keep everyone happy, especially the longtime readers who probably already know most of this story.
Well, anyways, enough of that. Today, we’re going to cover the Tōkyō Station area.
Tōkyō Station Area?
Yes. Tōkyō Station is a place, but I don’t think of it as just a station. It’s also the name of the city in general, a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked. This “area” is smack dab in the center of Edo-Tōkyō and it’s kind of one of the oldest developed parts of the city. And while it’s definitely a major hub station, the area itself represents so much more.
The station faces a wide open boulevard that has an Edo Period nickname, 大名小路 Daimyō Koji Daimyō Alley. This thoroughfare bisected an island located between the inner moat and outer moat of Edo Castle[iv]. On this fortified island sat the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residences of some of the feudal lords with the closest connections to the Tokugawa shōguns who lived within the inner moat. The area was 丸之内 maru no uchi inside the citadel[v]. It wasn’t just elite because of all of the daimyō living here with direct access to the shōgun that made this neighborhood unique; it was also its location. The north side of Daimyō Alley was located near the 大手見附御門 Ōte-mitsuke Go-mon Main Gate of the western citadel[vi], essentially the main entrance to the shōgun’s castle[vii].
Directly accessible from Tōkyō Station or accessible on foot if you care to walk 10-15 minutes are a plethora of famous spots:
- Marunouchi – a financial and banking district; it was formerly a daimyō neighborhood and includes Daimyō Alley (you can walk Daimyō Alley from Yūraku-chō to Taira no Masakado’s Kubizuka).
- Ōtemachi – a business/financial district; the name refers to the Ōtemon (main gate) of Edo Castle.
- Sukiyabashi – a shopping district/salaryman nightlife district between Ginza and Marunouchi; tradition says it refers to a tea ceremony instructor of the upper echelons of the daimyō class[viii].
- Masakado Kubizuka – a haunted tomb dedicated to the head of Taira no Masakado, a symbol of eastern independence from the imperial court in Kyōto.
- Anjin Street – the last remaining direct reference in Tōkyō to the English samurai William Adams (三浦按針 Miura Anjin in Japanese). He was a close advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu, though to increasingly lesser degrees to the 2nd and 3rd shōguns who were increasingly distrustful of foreign influences on their hegemony.
- Yaesu – a reference to William Adam’s associate who was given samurai status but was soon forbidden access to the shōgun because he was apparently a drunk twat of the highest order.
- Daimyō Koji – Daimyō Alley is actually still referenced on some modern maps, but it’s not an official street name.
Of all the stations in Tōkyō,
Why is this one called “Tōkyō?”
In 1914 (Taishō 3), this was the largest and most monumental train station in the East. Architecturally, it was more European than American, but in comparison to both modes of thinking, it wasn’t just hub station for Tōkyō, it was a hub station for the new imperial state. It was designed to ensure that Tōkyō was the capital of Asia and had the infrastructure to prove it. In a move the shōgunate would have never tolerated, the station was built on the then fallow yamanote lands confiscated years ago by the imperial government (that were later purchased by the Mitsubishi Corporation) – land that once stood at the front door of Edo Castle[ix].
Long time readers may remember some of the earliest major stations in Tōkyō. The stations that stick out in my mind are Shinbashi, Shinagawa, and Ueno. These stations had all been built in the very early years of the Meiji Period and any of them could have been expanded to become the main station for the city. They were getting a lot of traffic for sure. The problem was that construction would have interrupted traffic for years. Not including the delays cause by the Russo-Japanese War, the actual construction took about 6 years. It was better to leave the other stations alone and build a grand new hub in the former daimyō lands that connected the 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line with the north-south running 東北線 Tōhoku-sen Tōhoku Line[x] while giving direct access areas of the former Edo Castle that were slowly being opened up to the public, sold off to real estate developers, or repurposed by governmental agencies of the Japanese Empire. In short, the station was central[xi], it linked important existing lines, and showcased the city as capital equal to the capitals of Europe and the United States[xii]. That’s a station worthy of the name “Tōkyō Station.”
The station took a bit of a hit in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake, but it suffered serious damage in the firebombing at the end of WWII. The original building was 3 stories, but 3rd floors of the north and south wings weren’t rebuilt. Although it was repaired and train service was greatly expanded between 1945 and 2000, the station remained a shadow of its former glory until the Bubble Economy. The station was slated for demolition, but an effort to preserve the station as an historical landmark saved the brick monstrosity it had become. From that time on, more and more people became interested in the revitalization of the station and the Marunouchi area in general. Recently, the 3rd floors of the north and south wings have been rebuilt and the temporary triangle shaped rooftops were replaced with domes in accordance with the original design.
When I first visited Japan, some 15 years ago or so, the station looked like ass. However, today it is actually quite impressive. There are a lot of skyscrapers towering over it that detract from its original Taishō Period glory – and the fact that at the time of writing, the main approach to the station is undergoing redevelopment, doesn’t help – but if you spend a little time checking out the exterior of the building, you can clearly see the new bricks and the old bricks. When I see the restored Tōkyō Station, I’m struck by the amazing history of the area. Standing in this area – former holdings of feudal lords, a few minutes’ walk from Edo Castle – a flood of thoughts come to me. I think of Ōta Dōkan. I think of the Tokugawa Shōguns. I think of the Meiji Restoration. I think of the quirky Taishō Era that ended amid recovery from the Great Kantō Earfquake. I think of the rise of ups and downs and subsequent ups of the Shōwa Period. This area, while it looks like a central business district built around a huge garden where the emperor lives, is actually one of the most profound historical areas in Japan. Sadly, most of it doesn’t exist anymore, but Tōkyō Station is most definitely there linking the past with the present.
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[i] Writer, filmmaker, podcaster, professional geek, and a bit of an inspiration to me: Kevin Smith.
[ii] Star Wars: the Force Awakens was Mrs. JapanThis!’s first exposure to the Star Wars universe. I tried to get her to watch the originals but she wasn’t down with it at all. The Force Awakens changed everything.
[iii] That’s metaphorical. This isn’t my job. I write this for free and cross my fingers that one or two of you might decide to donate a dollar or two each month. Fingers crossed!
[iv] The outer moat was filled in after WWII and is now a major thoroughfare called 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri Outer Moat Street, despite not a drop of water in sight.
[v] 丸 maru, which literally means “circle” but in military use means “enclosure” or “encincture,” referred to a variety of fortified enclosures within the walls or moats of a Japanese castle – ie; a “citadel.” In the Edo Period, the 本丸 honmaru main enclosure usually referred to encincture that protected the living quarters of the shōgun or a daimyō (though technically speaking, this was the most secure and final defensive position, so it could also refer to a position a warlord could retreat to and try to hold out or commit seppuku before being overtaken).
[vi] That name is the formal Edo Period parlance; today the gate is just called 大手門 Ōtemon the main gate.
[vii] For you nerdy nerds, Daimyō Alley now stretches from 数寄屋橋 Sukiyabashi (the legendary home of Oda Nobunaga’s younger brother who was a tea ceremony instructor to daimyō; and 数寄屋 sukiya means a kind of tea room) to the 将門塚 Masakado-zuka burial mound of Taira no Masakado’s Head – something I talked about in this unrelated article.
[viii] A 数寄屋 sukiya is tea house for practicing tea ceremony.
[ix] Or as the imperial court liked to call it 東京城 Tōkyō-jō or Teikyō-jō Tōkyō Castle. But until the end of the war, it was usually called the 宮城 Kyūjō Imperial Castle. During the American Occupation, this title was eliminated because the first kanji 宮 has religious implications, especially to Shintō and the divine ancestors of the emperor. So it was decided that 皇居 the place where the emperor lives, was best.
[x] This train line wasn’t called the Tōhoku Line until the early 1900’s. Previous to that, these sections of track were part of a network built and operated by 日本鉄道 Nippon Tetsudō Nippon Railways.
[xi] The original proposed name was actually the 中央停車場 Chūō Teishajō Central Depot. The name 東京駅 Tōkyō Eki Tōkyō Station was chosen 2 weeks before the opening of the new station.
[xii] And superior to the capitals of Asia which were just a mess in their opinion – or they’d like you to think so.
2 thoughts on “Yamanote Line: Tōkyō”
In 1977 I used to travel all the way to Tokyo Eki from out in the boonies near Totsuka just to get an English language news magazine. It was so funky then, really charming in a 3rd world way. Totally upscale now but I miss the moldy smell.
My parents were out in the boonies in 70-71, when I look at their pictures and old subway maps it looks like a totally different world!