Two Shimbashi Stations, One Old, One New
JR Shimbashi station's SL Square is well known to viewers of Japanese television as a popular place for vox-pop interviews on all manner of news-worthy events. Not so well known is its history. The Shimbashi of the steam locomotive and salaryman was originally called Karasumori station. The original Shimbashi station is located amongst the skyscrapers and concourses of nearby Shiodome. In 2003 the rebuilt Old Shimbashi Station was opened as a museum detailing the origins of rail transport in Japan and the archeology of the original station site.
The first railway line in Japan, from Tokyo to Yokohama, opened on 15 October 1872 with old Shimbashi station as the Tokyo terminus. The passenger service was changed to freight when Tokyo Station opened in 1914. The name was transferred to nearby Karasumori station and old Shimbashi station was renamed Shiodome and operated as a freight terminal until it was destroyed by fire in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
When the Shiodome freight terminal closed in 1986 and redevelopment of the site got under way, the foundations of the original station were discovered, and it is on this same site that the museum was built to the same plans. The building now houses a small museum and restaurant.
The station was designed by the American architect R.P Bridgens, and has been recreated as far as possible in the same materials. The window grills feature a corn motif. I couldn't find any explanation of this on the sign boards, all of which are in both Japanese and English. The front desk staff weren't sure either, looking to the famous Hiroshige woodcut of the station, which hangs in the foyer, for reference. English language brochures are available, and there are various publications and sets of postcards for sale.
The archeological excavations of the station revealed the old steps, platform and various railway and catering items which are housed in the permanent collection on the lower ground floor. Part of the excavation is visible through a glass floor. The original zero mile marker from which all the rail distances in Japan were measured, before it was moved to Tokyo station, has been recreated behind the building along with a stretch of track.
On the second floor of the museum there is a gallery for temporary displays. The current one documents the history of railway companies and their baseball teams. There is also a video presentation on the history of Japanese railways.
There is no train on display at this museum, but the famous steam locomotive C11 is a short walk away at SL Square on the west side of JR Shimbashi station. Kept perennially glossy and clean it contrasts rather sharply with the vinyl tape, detour signs and cladding of the JR station refurbishment and the now dingy Showa-era bars and buildings which crowd around the square. I have always liked the facade of the New Shimbashi Building which houses an odd collection of shops completely unlike the mall-style chain stores in the stylish walkways of Sio-site Shiodome. It is within the statement architecture of this development that the recreated Old Station sits, while the newer station is now looking much the worse for its constant wear and tear.
Closed Mondays, the small but charming Old Shimbashi Station museum is free to enter, and barrier-free access by elevator can be arranged. It is easy to get to from any of the new Shimbashi stations (JR, Metro or Yurikamome) or indeed Shiodome station on the Toei Oedo line. Other attractions nearby include the Hamarikyu Gardens, Nippon Television broadcasting studios, Tsukiji fish market and the Tokyo World Trade Centre Observation Desk.
Old Shimbashi Station
5-1 Higashi-shimbashi 1-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: 5 mins on foot from JR Shimbashi Station
Open: 10am to 5pm. Closed Mondays