A New Old Tokyo Station

Tokyo Station soon after completion

On Monday, I attended a press tour of portions of the newly renovated and restored Tokyo Station. Although I was a little disappointed to discover that the bulk of the tour had to do with the soon-to-reopen Tokyo Station Hotel, rather than the changes to the station itself, it was nonetheless interesting.

The original Tokyo Station was designed by architect Kingo Tatsuno and opened in 1914, serving as a centralized connection between Shimbashi and Ueno. The 3-story building survived the Great Kanto Earthquake, only to be seriously damaged in WWII air raids and the fires that followed. It was restored in 1947, but reduced to two stories due to safety concerns, and although the striking red brick facade was famous among Japanese, the station never really moved beyond a transportation hub to the kind of tourism and culture symbol of a Grand Central Station or a St. Pancras.

Tokyo Station before the most recent restoration

Some years ago, however, city officials began thinking about revitalizing the Marunouchi District surrounding the station. Previously a business district that became a ghost town on the weekends, they reimagined that area as a nexus for all aspects of city life. The neighborhood now sports major shopping centers, art galleries, some of the city’s hottest restaurants and bars, and events galore.

In 2002, a committee was formed to consider the preservation and restoration of Tokyo Station itself. In the following year, the building was designated an important national cultural property, lending support and weight to the restoration movement as it required a strict set of rules about what could be done to the building.

The decision to opt for preservation rather than just knocking the building down and rebuilding from scratch is in itself fairly unusual for Japan. Due to safety concerns around earthquakes, older buildings are generally scrapped because it would cost far more to retrofit them with the latest seismic resistance technology than to build something from the ground up. In this case, however, the historical importance of the building justified the ¥50 billion cost of the project.

Leaving the existing building standing and without interrupting train services, Japan Rail was able to build new underground levels spanning almost the entire length of the building that incorporated the latest vibration control rubber buffers and oil dampers. In addition, the restored third floor is built largely out of steel-reinforced concrete, with a facade of red brick to blend seamlessly with the structural brick of the lower floors and add strength to the structure.

The newly restored station

Perhaps the biggest change to the building is the restoration of the two rotunda domes at the the north and south ends of the building. The artwork on the inside has been restored to their originals forms, lending an Asian feel to an otherwise very European-looking building. Motifs include the Chinese zodiac, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s helmet, katana, clematis or Traveler’s Joy flowers, and phoenixes. The rotunda are placed over the two station concourses, with hotel rooms ringing the second floor, so that both hotel guests and just those passing through will be able to enjoy them. Hotel guests also get the voyeuristic pleasure of watching travelers from the comfort of their rooms.

Now, this is something else I found a bit strange, considering this was a press tour, but we were asked not to use any of the pictures we took on personal blogs until after the official opening on Oct 3, so I’m afraid I can only show pictures of things that are publicly visible. However, there are some photos available on the station’s Facebook page, for those that are interested.

To make a long story short, the technology necessary for this project was impressive and hopefully marks the beginning of a trend towards architectural preservation in Japan. The full-service Tokyo Station Hotel should be able to capitalize on that historic atmosphere and easily take its place as some of the fanciest and most sought-after accommodations in Tokyo. If you are going to be in town after Oct 3, you should definitely come check them out.

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3 responses to “A New Old Tokyo Station

  1. Good post. I thought they’d just torn it down, but then I don’t get out much. I sure would like to watch travellers from my room.

  2. Truly magnificent. Love old architecture, especially those with intricate etchings. You can find them in downtowns all across the U.S.

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