Tokyobling's Blog

Manseibashi and Akihabara at Night

Posted in Places by tokyobling on March 13, 2014

One of my favorite places in Tokyo was always the Manseibashi Station platform that spent a large chunk of both the last and this century in slumber – one of Tokyo’s few remaining ghost stations. Last year however it was finally revived with a great looking shopping arcade, balcony overlooking a canal and a fantastic cafe up on top between the tracks of the central Chuou Line train. I blogged about it last year after the renovation was complete and I still love going here every now and then, although I am not the only one – that cafe I mentioned earlier actually sells out of food most nights! Last time I went there they said the only thing we have left is black coffee, so if you go, go early!

A few days ago I passed the station just after the sun had set and the last light of the day was almost gone. The old platform looks even better at night. There is something special about red bricks that you just can’t translate into concrete. They feel alive, and their strength and longevity means that they can last for hundreds of years, accumulating raw history – the wrinkles and spotches of red bricks in old Tokyo buildings have everything from bomb shrapnel holes to modern signs. The special look and feel of red brick, or akarenga, as they are known in Japan, gets even further enhanced because there are so few of them. Red brick walls are incredibly difficult to earthquake proof and even the ancient romans solved the problem by adding copious amounts of reinforced concrete to the core of their brick structures (I am sure the Manseibashi platform also has a concrete heart but at least the cladding is the original red bricks). In fact the first architect to finally solve the problem of building with red brick walls in earthquake countries was Josiah Conder (1852-1920) by using reinforced metal bands embedded in the mortar between the bricks, effectively tying the walls together. You can see an example of this in the fantastic Mitsubishi Ichigokan building in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district. The Manseibashi station platform building is a perfect example of a building that is valuable, lovable and useful, so much that it survived Earthquakes, bombing raids, urban development and modernist architectural fads. It is not a mere space to which people adapt but an organically and historically evolved living building. I am sure it will be around for the future generations to come many centuries from now.

As a contrast, the last photo shows the totally utalitarian and disposable modern Akihabara on the other side of the canal, that represents a different form of beauty, where the brutalist architecture of concrete were unable to withstand the pure commercial and creative onslaught of unabashed humanity. You can see the signs of human activity literally crowding out every inch of ugly bare concrete helplessly drowned in a sea of humanity.

Sorry for this public love letter to a city – I just had to get it out!

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Manseibashi Station Cafe – N3331

Posted in Places, Shops by tokyobling on February 4, 2014

One of my favorite cafes in Tokyo right now is the Manseibashi Station cafe, called N3331, right on top of the old Manseibashi Station platform, between the present day Chuo Line tracks. The unwieldy name comes from the cafe being run in tandem with the closeby 3331 Art Chiyoda art center project in the converted building that used to house the Rensei Junior High. You can read my blogs about this project here and here.

Understandably, this cafe is popular both with older people revisiting their old station house, as well as young couples into a slightly more cultural cafe experience, as well as train maniacs and kids who get a thrill out of sitting next to the trains rushing past ever couple of minutes on both sides! The coveted table next to panorama window at the end is taken quickly and even though I rushed to be the first one through the doors at opening time I had to settle for a lesser table until the lucky couple who got it first left. Still, it doesn’t really matter because all the seats are good, as is the food, the soups, the coffee. Not the cheapest cafe in the city but not over expensive by any means.

Best part though is role reversal, usually I am in one of those orange trains zooming past looking out the window. At this cafe I can relax and enjoy seeing them from the other side! Just remember to turn of your flash if you take a photo – don’t want to accidentally blind one of the train drivers!

For more on the old Manseibashi Station, please see this blog entry about the history of the site, and one more here about the present renovation.

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Manseibashi Station Platform Revival

Posted in Places, Shops by tokyobling on December 9, 2013

The third part in this series, showing the cafe and the top of the old ghost station platform can be seen here.

Yesterday I posted about the old Masneibashi station, as it looked about 7 months ago. Today the station platform, the old surviving hulk of a brick building sitting in the middle of some very nice real estate in Tokyo, looks quite different. I visited a few weeks after opening to check it out and I must say that I like what they have done with it. While a lot of it has been gutted out and renovated with chic stores, cafes and galleries, they have also kept surprisingly much of the original grime and gore of the old station platform, including the red brick exterior, pockmarked from fire damage, bomb shrapnel and almost a century of pollution. The stairwells leading up the old platform are left almost as they were found, without any of the retro upgrade you often find in this kind of reconstruction, complete with mildew damage, leaking pipes and even some very old signage. Although it is winter now, I can imagine the outside boardwalk becoming very popular in the spring. Perhaps the influence of the masses of young shoppers will push the owners of the property on the other side of the river bank to do something to revitalize their buildings as well.

Although the new Manseibashi Station is suffering from the same “lack of place” that drove the old station to extinction, stuck as it is between Ochanomizu, Kanda and Akihabara stations, I have a feeling it will do well. Even if you are not into shopping, there is a great “mini-museum” with a model of the old station and the surrounding area, as well as art and books associated with trains, Tokyo during the first half of the last century and art of the period. Of course the real treat of the place is the platform top, but that will be the subject of another blog post this week. This one is already too long with 22 photos!

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Tokyo Ghost Stations – Manseibashi

Posted in Places by tokyobling on December 8, 2013

Part two of this post is here, showing the inside of the renovated station.

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 in the meantime 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 alert you could spot the weed overgrown 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.

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