Tokyo is world famous for its extensive network of trains, bullet trains, subways, street cars, trams and trolley buses. You can’t walk far in Tokyo without finding some sort of public transport on rails. Considering that Tokyo has been nearly destroyed several times over in the last couple of centuries it is not surprising to learn there are quite a few “ghost stations” in the city, stations that for one reason or other was abandoned, destroyed or even just forgotten.
The biggest and most famous of these ex-stations was the massive Manseibashi station very near today’s Akihabara station. Manseibashi station is named after the nearby bridge which was named by the then governer of Tokyo, Tadahiro Okubo, who wanted to call it Yorozuyobashi (Yorozuyo Bridge), however, the name was too complicated even for the locals, so an alternative reading of the kanji was used instead, and morphed into the present name, Manseibashi.
The station was built in impressive red brick, almost as grand as its little brother, Tokyo Station, and opened in 1912 as an extension into the city from Tachikawa – Shinjuku line. Both Manseibashi station and Tokyo station was designed with the grand Amsterdam station in mind by the same architect, Tatsuno Kingo. The original Manseibashi station building was almost completely destroyed in the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and only the station platform was left standing. The station was rebuilt to a much smaller scale, since both Kanda and Akihabara station had opened and the Manseibashi station was seeing fewer and fewer passengers. The subway system also expanded, and a subway station with the same name was built on the other side of the river but was closed in 1931. The train station was closed and torn down in 1943.
Today the entrance to the subway station is hidden and even if you are riding on the Ginza line between Suehirocho and Kanda stations the old Manseibashi subway station is extremely hard to spot.
The Chuo line trains continued using the old Manseibashi station tracks though, and if you were very alert you could spot the remains of the old station’s platform as you neared Tokyo station on the Chuo line.
The massive ghost platform stood abandoned in the middle of Tokyo for over 60 year until last year, when renovation started on the old platform, and the galleries and basements underneath. It opened a few weeks ago but before I blog about that, I wanted to show you the old derelict platform as it looked in April 2013. More photos of the newly renovated platform gallery to come!
The first photo is taken on the Manseibashi Bridge. The third photo is of one of the many old electronics store that used to be all over Akihabara. The fourth photo is from the spot where the old police box, koban, used to be. It moved in 1993 to an open air architecture museum and is open to the public. The fifth photo is of one of the first post-war high rises in the area, it was hugely popular with youngsters back in the good old days and many older Tokyoites get a bit sentimental if you take them to one of the old restaurants that are still open.
A couple of weeks ago when I visited Kamakura I took these photos of the Yuigahama beach at sunset, after a short rainstorm. The clouds were clearing up and the moon was there, one of my favorite times in one of my favorite places. There were still a few surfers out in the ocean, they must be a hardy bunch!
Yuigahama beach faces south, so it is tricky to photograph during the day. I have so far made many visits to beaches facing south, east and west but I have never spent any longer amount of time on a beach facing north! That is one of the things on my to do list in life. The north coast of Japan is still a big blank for me.
In the autumn or early winter the worst of the summer storms have passed, few people visit the beach and it is cleaner than during spring or summer. I still found one unopened package of Onikoroshi, a supermarket brand of Japanese sake. I am almost addicted to beach combing and whenever I visit this beach I bring a small garbage bag to collect garbage, plastic, pieces of glass and anything that does not belong to the beach. I wish everyone was as manic as me, the beach would be spotless in no time! One short stroll along the beach usually results in a well filled garbage bag that I put in the trash cans near the stairs leading down to the beach. The only thing I never collect is forgotten children’s toys. I always have a secret wish that the child who forgot it will come back and find it again. I wonder if that ever happens in real life?
One of my favorite plants in Japan is the susuki grass (Miscanthus sinensis) which you can find growing wild just about anywhere in Japan (and many other parts of Asia), and due to eager gardeners, here and there in Europe and North America as well. The grass is very decorative and yellows beautifully in autumn, with a soft almost brush like head. There are few feelings that can match striding through a field of this beautiful grass, almost as tall as yourself.
In the old days the susuki was cultivated everywhere. Humans grew it in neat little fields near their houses in every village and villagers would take turns to harvest it and use it to thatch the roofs of everything from temples to castles to simple barns. Anything left over could be used as a simple ingredient for straw figures and as feed for the livestock. The susuki was also the perfect home for the tiny harvest mouse which in turn was preyed upon by the owls that lived near the villages.
In Japanese poetry and folk tradition there is something special about the susuki, it is thoroughly common and very plain looking yet there is a sense that we can find beauty even in something as common as this grass. I have often noted how many people stop and smile while looking at it, in parks and in the wild. Not everyone though. It can be quite tricky to control in smaller house gardens and I have had a few sad moments cutting it back when I volunteer to help friends with their gardening. For me the susuki is as essential to an elevated Japanese garden as the rock, the moss or the momiji.
The best place to see the gorgeous fields of susuki in the Kanto area is in Hakone, up until roughly Nobember. There is a guide to the sadly under appreciated art of susuki-watching here.
I found this gorgeous thicket of susuki growing on a ridge near the summit of Mount Takao a couple of weeks ago.
Having been cancelled due to the 3/11 earthquake, the Omotesando Illuminations are back in force this year. All of the famous zelkova trees on Omotesando boulevard has been wrapped in lights. At night the whole place is lit up and to avoid dangerous crowds forming on the pedestrian overpasses these have been shut off for public use. I still managed to sneak a few photos at the street crossing despite the guards urging crowds not to stop for too long and hold up traffic. The illuminations are scheduled to last until January 5th, and is lit until 2100 every night (with an exception off the 21st to 25th when it stays on until 2200).
Omotesando is not only flagship stores but also the home for several very high end shopping “clusters”, like the Omotesando Hills, that flaunted building rules by digging down instead of building up. There are more sub-floors than top floors and it is a must for people interested in modern architecture. As you can see though, the building doesn’t look like much from the outside. I don’t blog about it because photography is not allowed inside (for some reason). For kids (with well off parents) or people who still like to see fun/cool/strange/high end toys, the famous Kiddyland store is a must. It celebrates 60 years in business this year! Very close to Kiddyland is one of the few stores that virtually everyone I know visit at least once, Oriental Bazaar. It has a huge range of fake-traditional to genuinely traditional craft, art and souvenirs, and the prices are about as fair as anywhere in Japan. It has everything from the tackiest plastic samurai swords for kids to real antique kimono. A lot of people I know go there once, to check out the souvenirs and get an idea of prices, and then again before they go home to fill up on any gifts and souvenirs they missed (and I missed getting a photo of the place). You can miss Kiddyland and Oriental Bazaar as they are pretty close, on the right hand side if you come from Harajuku station and walk towards Omotesando street crossing. Omotesando Hills is on the opposite side.
For touristy eating there is also the rather good (for a conveyor belt sushi restaurant) Heiroku Sushi (the photos on their site are old, it looks much better these days). They have proper English menu and a huge variety of sushi, fish and otherwise: a great place to challenge your conceptions about raw food. If you are more into burger chains Wendy’s also has a nice shop just off Omotesando street just near the Sushi place, it is a little tricky to find. Of course there are hundreds of other restaurants, but for the casual tourist with not too much time or money on hand these might be a good start.
Apart from Omotesando Hills there is also the newish Tokyu Plaza, or the Omahara Plaza as some cool cats say (Omotsando + Harajuku = Omahara) with some very peculiar architecture, especially at the entrance. This place is more like a proper department store, with lots of different shops and restaurants, including off course a more stylish mini-Tokyu Hands. Also good for souvenirs.