National | AT A GLANCE

Tokyo Station's iconic brick building, witness to war, stands test of time

by Satoko Kawasaki

Staff Photographer

Approaching its 100th anniversary in December, the red brick building of JR Tokyo Station in the Marunouchi business district is a symbol of the capital that continues to defy the high-rises around it with its classical architecture and stately appearance.

The huge terminal, where trains arrive and depart 4,100 times a day, witnessed the war and Tokyo’s modernization and remains one of its main landmarks.

Stretching 335 meters north to south, the station building is one of the biggest in the world. It has a symmetrical design, with identically shaped wings flanking its entrance, which was constructed for the Imperial family.

Each wing has passenger entrance halls crowned with domes, and their walls are adorned with red bricks punctuated by white bands. The majestic appearance of the building is said to stem from late 19th century designs that were popular in Britain.

Japan’s first railway started in 1872 as a line connecting the Shinbashi district with Yokohama. Forty years later, the Meiji government initiated a project to build an intermediary station in the capital. Construction took 6½ years, and the red brick building itself was completed in 1914.

The structure is a masterpiece by Kingo Tatsuno, who is called the father of modern Japanese architecture and designed prominent buildings during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras, including the Bank of Japan’s headquarters, completed in 1896.

The sturdy structure, built with the leading-edge technology of the day, survived the magnitude-7.9 Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 with little damage.

But even such a strong building couldn’t escape the ravages of World War II unscathed. In 1945, just a few months before the war’s end, a firebombing campaign by the United States destroyed much of the top, third floor and the domes.

The building was renovated after the war, but a shortage of resources forced it to be rebuilt as a two-floor structure with the domes replaced by eight-cornered roofs, an appearance that would be retained for some 60 years.

Currently, much of the brick building is composed of offices for railway operations, but about half is occupied by the Tokyo Station Hotel, which opened a year after the station opened for business and has been used to accommodate many state guests and well-known authors.

Among the most notable guests were late novelist Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), a Nobel laureate in literature, and Hyakken Uchida (1889-1971), another renowned author and academic. Both were known to have written some of their works while staying at the hotel.

Acclaimed writer Seicho Matsumoto (1909-1992), whose works include the 1958 detective novel “Ten to Sen” (“Points and Lines”), is another celebrity who is said to have loved the hotel, particularly for the view it provided of the railway tracks.

In 1987, the historic building faced a crisis when a plan was hatched to replace it with a modern high-rise. But citizens stood up for its preservation, causing the plan to be altered to include the restoration of its original design and reinforcement against earthquakes.

The building was thus restored in a five-year project that included reconstruction of the third floor lost 67 years before.

Thanks to the completion of a new in-station facility that includes restaurants and shops, the building has become a popular tourist spot.

To mark the building’s centenary, East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) plans to hold several commemorative events that include decorating train cars with a red brick motif and a special exhibition in the station’s gallery explaining the building’s history.

In December, the red brick building will be illuminated in “fancy colors” to spark the celebratory spirit.

The interiors of the domes that adorn JR Tokyo Station were recently refurbished.
The interiors of the domes that adorn JR Tokyo Station were recently refurbished. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

Tourists walk past the front of the JR Tokyo Station building in the Marunouchi business district.
Tourists walk past the front of the JR Tokyo Station building in the Marunouchi business district. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

Parts of the landmark building can be viewed from windows in The Tokyo Station Hotel.
Parts of the landmark building can be viewed from windows in The Tokyo Station Hotel. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
A child looks at a large, glass-covered silver bell that has become a popular meeting spot in JR Tokyo Station.
A child looks at a large, glass-covered silver bell that has become a popular meeting spot in JR Tokyo Station. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

An old brick wall saved from the renovation of the Tokyo Station building is shown on public display. Some bricks were made of wood and burned during the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo during the war.
An old brick wall saved from the renovation of the Tokyo Station building is shown on public display. Some bricks were made of wood and burned during the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo during the war. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

 

This section, appearing on the first Monday of each month, offers a snapshot view of areas that may interest tourists.

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