No. 56  Two Tales—of the Subway and a Station

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Tourism in Tokyo relies on its railways. This time we look at a subway museum and a station art gallery.

Ticket puncher for punching passengers’ tickets (Tokyo Metro Museum)

Striking grid floor design, Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi North Exit

Drive an Actual Subway Train!?

Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line drive simulator.

Tokyo Metro Museum is located beneath a railway viaduct at Kasai Station on the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line.
“Wow. That’s right!” In the museum’s PLAY LAND exhibit space, a male attendant flashes a big smile at a small boy answering the touch-panel “Subway Q&A.” PLAY LAND is the most popular of the museum’s seven exhibit spaces.
Here, visitors can experience driving a subway coach using the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line drive simulator. The coach features a separate master controller and break, a rare design used in only three trains now running.
No prior experience is needed to use the simulator confidently. “First, open the master controller full throttle with your left hand and loosen the brake with your right,” a former train driver politely informs us. Departing from Nezu Station, we squint going into the dark tunnel. Driving steadily under the speed limit, we soon arrive at Yushima Station, where we slowly halt the train at the stop line. “One more time!” some people exclaim, and it’s easy to see why.
Another must-see is the “Metro Panorama” diorama recreating the entire Tokyo Metro subway network.

People Who Built the Subways and People Who Keep Them Running

In 1927, Japan’s first subway began running between Ueno and Asakusa. Thirteen years earlier, Noritsugu Hayakawa saw the London subway, then returned and made a study of Tokyo’s geological features, spring water volume, and traffic volume, saying “Tokyo also urgently needs a subway.”
There was loud opposition: “That’s impossible, the ground below Tokyo is too soft.” But Hayakawa worked exhaustively to obtain supporters and funding.
In the history section, the crystallization of Hayakawa’s efforts—Japan’s first subway coach, “No. 1001—stands at a recreated Ueno Station platform. There is also an automatic turnstile from that time which passengers operated by inserting a nickel 10-sen coin. Today, visitors can try it using a 10-yen coin.
The same section has a “People who work on subways” corner. Six jobs including “Driver,” “Inspector,” and “Ticket Collector” are explained through videos and memories recalled by train crew: a Shinjuku Station ticket collector who kept rhythm on his ticket puncher while checking and punching tickets, an inspector who examined the coaches with a steel rod at the end of the day . . . Just watching the some 10-second videos and seeing the tools is a stirring experience.
On a final look around the museum, we encounter photographs of people digging tunnels and working at the control center. One senses the many engineers behind the operation of a safe, comfortable subway network.

Japan’s first subway coach “No. 1001” stopped at Ueno Station platform

Tokyo Station—Marunouchi’s Unchanging Monument

Around 1914, the Tokyo Station area was a broad, open field

Tokyo Station is Tokyo’s front door and the heart of its railways. After large-scale renovation, the station now appears in its original form when built in 1914. The Tokyo Station Gallery, located inside, transmits the station’s long history. Passing through the gallery, which holds some five special exhibitions each year, one arrives at the second-floor corridor. Here, there is a section explaining the history of Tokyo Station.
The corridor is located just above the Marunouchi North Exit ticket gates. Looking down on the waves of people coming and going, one gets a strong sense of the busy central station’s atmosphere. Take a moment to notice the floor they cross over, and you will see a striking pattern. The pattern in fact reflects the grid design given to the interior ceiling dome when it was reconstructed after the war.
The corridor displays an array of models showing Tokyo Station’s successive designs and scenes of Marunouchi. The German engineer Franz Baltzer initially created a blueprint for the building in a Japanese style. This was not in keeping with Japan’s desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with Western powers, however, so an English-style design by Tatsuno Kingo was adopted. The third floor was destroyed by air raids during World War II, and for a long time thereafter, the structure was used as a two-story building.
The land on which the station building stands was originally a broad, open field (“Mitsubishi-ga-hara”) sold off to Mitsubishi by the government. Thereafter, the entire land belt was designated a “scenic view area” with office building height limited to 31 meters. During Japan’s period of rapid economic growth, however, high-rise buildings sprang up. Then, in 2002, regulations were relaxed with a view to “urban revitalization,” and Tokyo Station raised funds for its renovation by selling off unused portions of its floor-area ratio (air rights).
Today, the Marunouchi district is transforming at high speed, and only Tokyo Station remains nearly unchanged.

Multilingual Audio Guide Also Started

Looking around the interior of the Tokyo Station Gallery, one discovers the sharp contrast between the red-brick walls on 2F and renovated white walls on 3F. Here and there among the bricks are blackened “wood bricks,” carbonized by heat during the wartime bombings, which evoke the building’s history.
This autumn, a Web-linked multilingual audio guide service has also been launched. Hold your smartphone over the QR codes in the exhibition rooms to listen to explanations in English, Chinese, and Korean. At Tokyo Station flush with foreign travelers, the Tokyo Station Gallery—an art museum where you can feel the aura of more than 100 years of history while quietly viewing artworks.

Border between the red-brick 2F and white-walled 3F. “Wood bricks” blackened in the bombings can be seen.

Updated: December 26, 2017