Tokyo Station is a major commuter hub servicing some 380,000 people on average daily, and one that attracts many visitors just coming to admire the century-old red-brick and stone facade on the Marunouchi side, or stay in its nostalgic hotel. A living piece of Victorian gothic architecture, the 335 meter long Tokyo Station was opened on December 18, 1914 with just four platforms. At the time it was a showpiece boldly proclaiming Japan’s modernity and ever expanding rail system. Today it has 10 platforms serving 20 tracks and has been designated as an Important Cultural Property.
The land itself was once part of Edo Castle, as the Marunouchi address testifies. Until the end of the Edo period, the area was used by various daimyo as their residential mansions, however, at the end of Japan’s feudal era, the former houses were destroyed by fire or removed and the open area became the site of the nations’ new capital. In 1872 the first rail line running between Shinbashi and Yokohama was established. This was followed in 1889 by the Tokaido Line linking Shinbashi to Kobe. After the Japan Russian war of 1905, Japan made every effort to bring itself up to world standards, and in 1908 started construction on Tokyo station. Tatsuni Kingo, the architect of the Nara Hotel and Nihon Bank building, two buildings still in existence and both made in a similar style, was engaged to build the nations centerpiece.
The brick building survived the 7.9 magnitude Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 with little damage thanks to its solid brick and steel frame construction supported by 10,800 foundation pillars. Following the quake, some 8,000 displaced people sought refuge in the station building, platforms and freight cars as fires broke out across Tokyo. The newly renovated station now boasts 352 underground seismic
buffers and 158 oil dampers designed to help withstand earthquakes.
While it survived the great quake, the B-29 fire-bombings of World War Two destroyed much of the station in May and June of 1945, shattering the distinctive glass domes. The station was hastily rebuilt, however angular roofing replaced the once impressive domes, and the entire building was reduced to two instead of three levels. The building has been witness to many historical events.
Besides the Great Earthquake and the destruction of world War Two, in November 4, 1921, the serving Prime Minister Hara Takashi was assassinated at the South gates, stabbed by a right-wing railroad switchman. In 1930, a right-wing youth shot and seriously wounded Prime Minister Osachi Hamaguchi also near the south entrance. A memorial plaque now marks the spot. Between 2007 and 2012, the historic landmark building underwent five years of major renovation, restoring some of the station’s original glory, including the domed rotundas on the north and south ends. Original blueprints for the station were used to re-create the upper floors and a number of features, restoring the Station Building to it’s original look of 100 years ago.
The octagonal ceilings below the domes feature reliefs of eagles, flowers, a phoenix, a sword and animals of the Chinese zodiac.
A special central door and various rooms have been set aside within the Marunouchi side of the building facing the nearby Imperial Palace for the sole use of the Imperial Family, and others remain off limits to
the public and reserved for visiting dignitaries.
The historic Tokyo Station complex has now been restored to its pre-war condition, and is linked by underground passageways to various train and subway systems, surrounding shopping centers and commercial office buildings. It hosts over 3,000 trains per day, making it the busiest in Japan, but fifth busiest in passenger numbers. With all Bullet Train, Yamanote lines, Keihin, Chuo, Yokosuka,
Sobu and other major arteries coming into Tokyo Station, the aka renga (red brick) as it’s known, continues to be the throbbing heart of Tokyo itself.