National | AT A GLANCE

Shinagawa, a gateway to old and new Tokyo

by Yoshiaki Miura

Staff Photographer

In the Edo Period, Shinagawa was the first “shukuba machi,” or “post station town” to be built on the Tokaido, the coastal road linking the bustling Nihonbashi district in Edo, then the de facto capital under the Tokugawa shogunate, to Kyoto, which remained the nominal capital in the west.

Men dressed as an Edo wanderer (left) and a
Men dressed as an Edo wanderer (left) and a ‘kawaraban’ (handbill) peddler pose at the Edo Fuzoku Gyoretsu (Edo Culture Parade) near the former Tokaido Road between the Yatsuyama and Aomonoyokocho districts in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward on Sept. 28. | YOSHIAKI MIURA

Shinagawa prospered as the gateway to Edo, as Tokyo was then known, with both visitors and westbound travelers stopping there to rest and buy supplies. At the time, the area was said to have 7,000 residents and 1,600 homes.

Even today, traces of Shinagawa’s early prosperity can be seen in its cityscape.

To help preserve and pass on its traditions, a special 2-km parade was launched between the Minami-Shinagawa and Aomonoyokocho neighborhoods in late September. Women immaculately dressed as “oiran” (high-class prostitutes and courtesans), caught spectators’ eyes while others decked out as merchants, policemen and townsfolk from the period depicted its rich history.

Today, Shinagawa is a place where old meets new. Visitors can deviate from the old Tokaido road near Keikyu Railway’s Kita-Shinagawa Station by walking along a street south of it that will show how close Shinagawa once stood to the coastline before additional land was reclaimed from Tokyo Bay.

Historical evidence of this can be seen in old houses facing a canal where several “yakatabune” party boats are docked. The houses contrast heavily with several modern buildings nearby.

Another historic spot is the Kujirazuka (whale mound) where the remains of a 16.5-meter whale were buried after it created a stir by beaching itself one stormy day in 1798, documents say.

Shinagawa evolved into a major train station during the modernization drive of the Meiji Era that began in 1868.

Shinagawa, now a crucial link to both Haneda and Narita airports, will likely see its role as international gateway grow ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

People in period costumes take part in the Edo Fuzoku Gyoretsu (Edo Culture Parade) near part of the former Tokaido Road between the Yatsuyama and Aomonoyokocho districts of Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 28.
People in period costumes take part in the Edo Fuzoku Gyoretsu (Edo Culture Parade) near part of the former Tokaido Road between the Yatsuyama and Aomonoyokocho districts of Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 28. | YOSHIAKI MIURA
A traditional
A traditional ‘yakatabune’ (party boat) contrasts with modern buildings in the background near Keikyu Kita-Shinagawa Station in Tokyo on Nov. 15. | YOSHIAKI MIURA
Girls offer silent prayers to the Kujirazuka (whale mound), where the remains of a 16.5-meter whale that beached itself on the coast of Shinagawa on a stormy day in 1798 are buried.
Girls offer silent prayers to the Kujirazuka (whale mound), where the remains of a 16.5-meter whale that beached itself on the coast of Shinagawa on a stormy day in 1798 are buried. | YOSHIAKI MIURA

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