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Sunday, Aug. 27, 2000
Mejiro gets a long-overdue facelift
115 years, a major earthquake and air raids later, station to go modern
By YOKO HANI
For the first time in 70 years, Mejiro Station is finally getting a facelift.
While most of the other 28 stations on the JR Yamanote Line have undergone some type of renovation over the past 40 years or so, Mejiro has stubbornly remained in its wooden structure -- surviving both the Great Kanto Earthquake and the American bombing during World War II.
Despite being just a 15-minute walk from the shopping and entertainment hub of Ikebukuro, Mejiro Station -- at 115, one of the oldest stations on the line -- kept its modest single entrance and platform until the remodeling project began in 1996.
"Mejiro Station maintained its old structure that long because of its surroundings -- no major urban development projects were started here," said Stationmaster Kyoichi Kida, explaining that the station is located in a residential area studded with academic institutions.
The estimated 2 billion yen remodeling project began in accordance with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's plan to reconstruct the bridge spanning the JR tracks, on which Mejiro Dori lies and the station building stands.
The new building has a modernistic facade and features a well-lit concourse, a high ceiling and lots of windows. It will be completed by the end of March 2001, Kida said.
"Mejiro Station may lose its good, old flavor," he said. "But it will become more spacious and will be equipped with facilities like an elevator and escalators that will offer more comfort and convenience to commuters."
Of the approximately 40,000 passengers who use the station daily, students account for about one-third. A major landmark near the station that has contributed to creating the neighborhood's character is Gakushuin University, which moved to a site next to the station in 1908.
The school, which was founded in 1877, was initially an educational institution for members of the peerage. With the democratization of Japan following World War II, it became a common private university, although members of the Imperial family still enroll there.
Other landmarks in the area include Jiyu Gakuen Myonichi-kan, one of a few structures in Japan designed by the renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Designated an important cultural asset in 1998, the building, located some 500 meters to the north of the station, is now undergoing renovation.
It was built in 1921, when the school was launched with the aim of original education free from governmental regulations. Wright was in Japan at the time to supervise the construction of the Imperial Hotel he designed and accepted the school's request to design the building.
The school has since moved to the suburbs, and the building is now used for alumni activities.