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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tokyo Station face-lift adds old, new looks

Staff writer

JR Tokyo Station is in the midst of its first major reconstruction work since the end of the war as part of efforts to revitalize the heart of the capital.

News photo
Former glory: Images of Tokyo Station viewed from the Marunouchi side (above) and its new deck on the Yaesu side are shown in these illustrations. COURTESY OF EAST JAPAN RAILWAY CO.
News photo

During the process, East Japan Railway Co. will restore the red brick Marunouchi building to its original glory before its wartime damage.

The reconstruction work began in 2004 following an agreement between Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and then JR East President Masatake Matsuda in 1999, and is slated for completion in 2013.

Ishihara and Matsuda agreed revitalizing the center of the capital was an urgent issue for the development of the economy, according to the carrier. The end of the millennium saw Japan's economy in tatters after the burst of the bubble economy.

The building, originally built in 1914 with three floors above ground and one basement level, survived the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. But its domes and third floor were burned down in the 1945 air raids that destroyed a large part of Tokyo.

To hastily resume the station's operations, the government completed makeshift repairs in 1947, installing octagonal domes but not restoring the third floor. Although the repairs were intended only as an interim solution, they have remained until the present day.

Sixty years on, JR East is finally restoring the destroyed third floor and roof. The octagonal domes will be rebuilt into the original round shapes and their interiors decorated in their original form with reliefs of an eagle, a warrior's helmet, a sword and other patterns. In addition, the construction will be earthquake-proof, the company said.

The square in front of the Marunouchi side will be redesigned to give more space for pedestrians.

Tokyo Station initially served as a central hub for a railway connecting Shinbashi and Ueno stations. Its construction also symbolized Japan's growing presence in international politics after the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War.

"(Let's) build a station that can show the power of Japan, which defeated the giant Russia and which can surprise the rest of the world," Shinpei Goto, head of the government's railway bureau, reportedly said around 1914.

Kingo Tatsuno, a prominent architect who also designed the Bank of Japan's head office in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district, was picked to design the station.

Although the building is commonly thought to be modeled after Amsterdam Central Station in the Netherlands, as both are red brick, experts say the Marunouchi architecture has nothing to do with the station in Holland.

Tatsuno had studied in Britain, and he adopted both a British style and his own in designing Tokyo Station, according to JR East.

The redevelopment work on the Marunouchi side is scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal 2011.

"With this preservation and restoration work, (we) will pass on to the future a historical building that is a cultural heritage, and contribute to forming a distinctive part of the capital," JR East said.

The other side of the station, Yaesu, is also undergoing a drastic change.

A 240-meter-long pedestrian deck and 10,700-sq.-meter plaza will debut in 2013.

The deck, designed by globally renowned architect Helmut Jahn, whose previous works include New Bangkok International Airport, will be covered by a huge white roof that resembles a sail under light. Shops will be positioned along the deck overlooking the plaza's greenery.

The station's new look has already appeared.

The new Sapia office tower, boasting a conference hall and hotel as well as the campuses and offices of more than 10 universities, opened in the northeastern part of the station in March 2007. The GranTokyo twin towers, housing the Daimaru department store and eateries, opened last October.

The entire redevelopment project will cost about ¥200 billion, which will be shouldered by JR East, Mitsui Fudosan Co., Nippon Oil Corp. and other parties.

"Tokyo Station has so far merely served as a place where passengers get on and off" trains, said Takashi Shindo, an official of JR East. "We wish to make the station a city that can be the source of various information, culture and communication."

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