One of my favorite places in Tokyo for a casual walk is still around the Tokyo station area, especially on the Marunouchi side. The station just looks fantastic after the renewal and the new light up at night. Since I first visited Tokyo station the area has gotten better and better options for viewing the station from above as well. First it was the viewing balcony on the Marubiru (Marunouchi Building), then the Shinmarubiru balcony and last year we got the roof garden at the JP Tower (or the KITTE). Tokyo Station and the Marunouchi area just keeps getting better and better!
In the Edo period that lasted until the second half of the 19th century, the area today called Marunouchi was the area between the many defensive moats of the castle and palaces that is today the Imperial Palace. Today the area is bustling with people and activity but even in 1910 the area was famous for being pretty much deserted after seven in the evening. If we look at Marunouchi even before that, the area was the home of many feudal lords and nobles, and when the castle was being built, Marunouchi was famous for being a beautiful piece of land near the ocean. About a hundred and fifty years ago when the emperor had moved to Tokyo and the feudal lords had been ordered to return to their provinces, the many abandoned houses in Marunouchi had a negative impact on local law and order, and female office workers and factory staff were ordered to start work at 6:30 instead of the normal 5:30 to ensure their safety. It is hard to imagine Marunouchi as once having been considered dangerous! In 1890 when most of Marunouchi was sold to the Mitsubishi shipping company, it was said that the grass was so tall you could lose a rickshaw in it and people quickly jokingly changed the name from Mitsubishigahara (the fields of Mitsubishi) to Tobakugaha (the fields of gambling). When the shipping magnate was asked what on earth he was planning to do with such a huge field of abandoned wasteland he jokingly replied “Well, I might just plant some bamboo and even keep a pet tiger”! 「なあに、竹を植えて、虎でも飼うさ」
Who said Japanese business men didn’t have a sense of humour? Today Marunouchi land prices are some of the highest in the world.
One of the areas of Tokyo that has changed the most in the last decade is without a doubt the stately old Marunouchi, between Tokyo station and the Imperial palace. The area has seen several huge new builds and massive renovations that shows off the areas importance as the financial center of Tokyo. Celebrating 10 years in 2014 is the Ozao, a collection of four interlocked building of which the two largest have 29 floors above ground and four floors below ground. The name, in typical Japanese fashion is an abbreviation of the O in Otemachi (the neighboring area to the north of Marunouchi) enclosing, the slightly modified AZ of the Japanese word for play (“asobu”), it also stands a short for Office and Amenity Zone, as well as the obvious connection with the word oasis. A lot of Japanese concepts, buildings, services and organization make their names like this!
The public area of Oazo has quite a few shops, free wifi, cafes and one of the bigger book stores in Tokyo, the Maruzen, with a large and fairly good selection of foreign language books (mostly English and French). The book store itself has an in store gallery that often has nice exhibitions of luxury oriented arts and craft.
To get to Oazo simply exit Tokyo Station at any of the Marunouchi exits and turn right. Walk down to the end corner of the station and you will find the massice Oazo right in front of you. I am sure there will be plenty of events and celebrations come August and September when they celebrate Oazo’s birthday!
I have posted photos of the Tokyo Station building quite a few times, but here’s one from a new angle. The old Central Post Office was recently reopened under the name Kitte with a new roof terrace garden offering these views over Tokyo station. It was a rainy day with bad visibility when I took these so someday soon I hope to go back and get some better shots to show. You can read more about Kitte here.
Finally October has come, and with it, the official reopening of the Tokyo Station building! Many a years have been spent waiting for this and the result is quite exactly what we imagined when they put up the scaffolding in 2003: a gorgeous and exact replication of the original as it was in 1914 when architect Tatsuno Kingo finished the original building. Tatsuno was the first native Japanese architect to create this fully western style grand buildings and his first teacher was the legendary Briton Josiah Conder, and it really shows in this building, which is very similar to Conder’s masterpiece, the Mitsubishi Ichigokan.
The inside of the station has also been cleaned up, with a couple of beautiful new entrance halls with a fantastic new dome ceiling. The dome roofs are quite extraordinary as well. In 1914 Japan’s most famous slate tile manufacturer created 200 000, 30x18cm tiles for the original roof of Tokyo Station, so in 2003 they received an order to clean up the original tiles and also to manufacture replacements for the damaged ones using the original molds. The firm was based just next to Ishinomaki harbor, in Miyagi prefecture, and on the very same day as the new tiles had been individually wrapped and packaged, waiting to be sent out over the weekend, the tsunami struck and destroyed most of the city of Ishinomaki. The tiles were scattered far and wide over the rubble of the city. The surviving company employees immediately after the tsunami receded set out to search for the tiles and during the next couple of week, together with volunteer townspeople managed to find and clean about 45 000 before the remaining tiles were destroyed when heavy machinery started clearing the wreckage of the city. These tiles were sent to the Tokyo Station site and the reconstruction of the roofs could continue. You can see my blog posts from Ishinomaki here, with photos taken three weeks after the tsunami.
The outside of the station has received the new lights that are so popular in Tokyo right now. It works wonderfully well, of course, and large crowds gather in front of the station every dusk to take in Tokyo’s latest tourist attraction. If you pass through Tokyo you simply must take a walk around the Marunouchi side of the station.