Tokyo is undergoing renovation everywhere you look, particularly Shinagawa, a town with a long history, recently changing and redeveloping rapidly.
In autumn 2003 Shinagawa was inaugurated as a new station on the Tokaido Bullet Train Line, literally becoming Tokyo’s “front door”, providing easier access from the world’s busiest station, Shinjuku. Access to Haneda Airport on the Keikyu Line from Shinagawa takes less than 20 minutes. In March 2004, Shinagawa proved even more important with all Narita Express trains running to and from Narita Airport and the Yokohama area coming to include Shinagawa Station in their routes.
The station front is populated with large hotels. Originally a major traffic hub, Shinagawa continues to develop into a business and tourist stronghold.
March 2004 saw the grand opening of the Atre Shinagawa building, a mall within the station. Now, while waiting to catch your bullet train, check out the new New York themed building. The station’s easy access to different areas of Tokyo also makes it a great place to meet friends.
Shinagawa has always been a major hub. Its development as a town started way back in the Edo era, alongside the development of the fabled Tokaido Road (the famous road that ran between Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto. It was the first rest stop and watering hole of the Tokaido Road’s total 53 towns to stay in. Located in the present-day vicinity of Aomono Yokocho Lane, in Kita-Shinagawa (accessible via the Keikyu Line).
At the end of the Edo era, some 7,000 people were making their livings running or working at inns. Izakayas (Japanese drinking bars) and nightlife the likes of that in Yoshiwara (the red-light district of old Edo) stirred the town. Travelers to old Edo from afar, as well as many from within Edo itself visited Shinagawa.
As the locomotive found its place in the Meiji Era, Shinagawa lost its role as a town for resting travelers (travelers before then traveled by foot or horse), and began to develop as a beachside industrial town.
Remnants of Shinagawa-ura’s fishing town past can still be seen. Active fishing ships and yakata boats (traditional party barges) still come and go actively. You can still find shops in town run by relatives of fishing families in the past. Several have become tempura restaurants, and refuse to serve anything but the best local fish.
With high class hotels like the Shinagawa Princel, Takanawa Prince, New Takanawa Prince, Le Meridien Pacific Tokyo, Takanawa Keikyu, and the Takanawa Tobu just outside, this exit at Shinagawa Station is the home-base for travelers to Tokyo. Leisure facilities, movie theaters and plenty of restaurants are also accessible.
In the past, numerous Edo-era lords and ministers held land on this Takanawa mountainside, where they could overlook the lovely mountainside scenery of Takanawa, and Tokyo Bay. A local temple was used as a foreign consular in the mid-1800s. There’s a residential area developed to include mansions that belonged the Crown Prince, the imperial family and Zaibatsu tycoons (tycoons of wealthy family enterprises). This and other historic sites can still be seen today.
Gotenyama Hills (palace mountain hills) was so named after Ieyasu Tokugawa’s bettei (country estate). It’s also a well-known cherry blossom viewing spot. In the mid-Meiji Era, Rokuro Hara took up residence here (he was the president of Daihyaku Bank.) His spacious estate with it’s mansion and grounds now houses the well renowned Hara Art Museum and Gotenyama Garden. In the spacious Gotenyama Garden, beautiful seasonal blooms punctuate the passage of time, decorating patches of cherry and maple trees.
The Hara Art Museum, originally built in 1938 as the Hara family mansion, now functions as a contemporary art gallery and event space. It also has its own museum shop and cafe. The gallery is closed Mondays. Information about current events and exhibitions can be found on their website.
Sengakuji is just one station away from Shinagawa on the Keikyu Line. The Ako warriors (the heroes of the famous story of the 47 ronin, or masterless samurai) rest in peace at this temple. Artifacts related to the famous story of the 47 ronin known as Akogishi, are on display.
Sengakuji is a temple that was originally founded by Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1612, near Sakuradamon. The original building was destroyed around 1641 in the fires of Kanei, one of the “flowers of Edo”, or huge infernoes that quite regularly ravaged the wooden structures of old Edo and reduced it to ashes. After the fire of Kanei, Sengakuji Temple was reconstructed in its present-day location. The Asano family, leaders of Ako Prefecture, played a big role in the temple’s reconstruction. It later became the family’s temple. On the premises are such historic things as the well where they washed the decapitated neck of Kozukenosuke Kira.
The 47 Ronin
On March 14, 1701, over 300 years ago, after being insulted by Kozukenosuke Kira, Takuminokami Asano attempted to slay Kira in Matsunoroka Hallway at Edojo Castle. The incident was investigated, and Kira was found entirely innocent of slander. As a consequence of his rash action, Asano was ordered to death by seppuku (ceremonial suicide by driving a dagger into the bowels, also known as harakiri). Following his sentence to death, Ako Prefecture fell out of the Asano family’s rule and their home fell into danger of being destroyed. His samurai were ousted from the castle and lost their master to become ronin (masterless, wandering warriors with no purpose).
The masterless warriors, 47 in all, decided to take revenge, and on December 14, 1702, carried out their mission to strike Kira on his own turf in Honjo Matsusaka, after a year and nine months’ planning. After killing Asano, the force set out for Sengakuji on foot to visit the tomb of their dead lord and announce the success of their mission. The following year they too were sentenced to death by seppuku. This is the story of the 47 ronin or “Chushingura”.
Gishi Matsuri (festival) is held every year on December 14th at Sengakuji Temple. The Gishi parade costumes that pay tribute to the gallant warriors that raided Kira’s mansion are like a historic picture scroll masterpiece.
Konan Exit, on the other hand, offers different scenery. The area has changed drastically over time. After burying and damming the ocean coast, the area grew into an industrial zone. After the war, private offices took shape, and after the bubble popped, factories were scrapped and mostly replaced with high-rise apartment complexes.
Recently, this area has begun to develop into a fashionable modern business and residential area. The Shinagawa Intercity Building was the first large complex to emerge, followed by the Strings Hotel Tokyo and many others. Shinagawa Intercity has offices, shops, restaurants, auditoriums, galleries, and versatile rooms to rent for business meetings, equipped with state of the art in business network infrastructure.
Atre Shinagawa, opened March 2004, has you feeling right at home, New York style. Be there in the early evening, as dusk creates just the right mood.
On the very top floor of the 24-story Bureau Shinagawa bulding (a complex of furnished luxury seviced apartments for rent) residents can gaze down at the night city lights of Tokyo from the sophisticated comfort of their piano bar. The building also boasts its own private fitness club and rooftop spa.
A short journey from Shinagawa is Tennozu Isle. To get there, take the monorail from Hamamatsucho Station, take a taxi or walk 15 minutes from Shinagawa Station. Now a man made island, Tennozu Isle was once a shallow underwater sandbar off the coast formed from the accumulation of undersea earth and sand from Shinagawaura shallows.Tennozu (king of the heavens isle) got its name from the Tennosai Festival that was once held here. In the festival a kamimen (effigy or mask of a god) was fastened to the roof of a mikoshi (a kind of miniature shrine paraded around on the shoulders of festival participants). On either side of Tennozu Isle Station are concentrations of restaurants, shops, and cultural establishments in high-rise buildings such as Dai-ichi Hotel Tokyo Seafort, Sphere Tower and Seafort Square.
There is also a wooden boardwalk along the canal , so you can enjoy the scenery of the bay on your nighttime stroll.