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Popularity with youth outweighs Imperial patronage

by Setsuko Kamiya

Tokyo’s Harajuku district — encompassing Omotesando Boulevard, modeled on the Champs Elysees, and the countless side streets and alleys that surround it — hosts some of the nation’s most fashionable cafes and restaurants.

The aura of style even permeates the local train station, with the lush green of Meiji Shrine a fitting backdrop to the Western-style half-timbered facade of the facility.

But the station is not only special because of its appearance. It also features two rarely used platforms that have a rather unique function.

Coming from Shibuya to Harajuku on the Yamanote Line, a platform appears on the left side of the train. This platform, however, is only used from Dec. 31 to Jan. 3 to help manage the some 3 million people who visit Meiji Shrine to pray for health, happiness and prosperity in the new year, according to East Japan Railway Co.

About 300 meters to the north of the main platform is another, located on the inner side of the tracks and bordered by a beige fence.

This structure was built in 1925 for the “Imperial train” — used solely by the Emperor and Empress when traveling to different parts of the country.

The reason Harajuku was chosen for the Imperial platform is unclear. However, a JR East official speculated that it may have been because of Harajuku’s central location, which allows easy access to several different lines. Security may also have been a consideration.

According to the Imperial Household Agency, Harajuku’s “court platform,” as well as the Imperial train, were occasionally used by the late Emperor Showa and Empress Dowager.

However, the station and the train are used even less frequently these days — just three times since the current Emperor ascended the throne. The most recent occasion was in April 1999, when the Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg officially visited Japan, agency officials said.

At that time, the Imperial train pulled in to Harajuku Station from Otsuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, where the Emperor, Empress and their guests had visited, they said.

As the Emperor and Empress prefer using public transportation, they have no plans to use Harajuku Station or the Imperial train in the near future, agency officials said. However, the train and the station will be used when the occasion arises, they added.

The current facility dates back to 1921, the year after Meiji Shrine was completed, although actual operations at Harajuku Station commenced in 1906. In 1997, the station was chosen as one of the 100 most popular stations in the Kanto region, with an average 143,000 people using it daily.