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Nagoya Station:
Entrance to an International City

JR Central Towers will become Nagoya's new landmark and one of the largest station buildings in the world.
Nagoya Station is the rail gateway to Aichi Prefecture. Around 300,000 people and 1,400 trains pass through the station each day. Its history spans more than a hundred years and parallels the development of Japan's railroads. With one of the world's largest station buildings now under construction, it should play an even bigger role as the entrance to a rapidly internationalizing prefecture on the threshold of the twenty-first century.

The opening of the Tokaido Line

The biggest station building in the East

Birth of the bullet train

A new landmark

The opening of the Tokaido Line

The novel Sanshiro, written by the great Japanese writer Soseki Natsume (1867-1916), portrays Nagoya as it was about a hundred years ago. In the opening scene of this book, the hero Sanshiro meets a woman on the Tokaido Line as he is traveling from Kyushu to Tokyo, and together they stop off at Nagoya.

"Since the train was 40 minutes late it must have been past 10 o'clock already, but being the hot season the city was as lively as if it were early evening. In front of them were two or three lodges. Sanshiro thought they were a little too ritzy. He feigned indifference as they walked around, passing a three-story house with an electric lamp."

Nagoya Station is not depicted in detail, but we learn that the area had electric lamps (unusual in those days) and that an entrainment district had already developed around the station.

Soseki's work was published in 1901, 12 years after the completion of the Tokyo (Shimbashi Station) to Kobe route of the Tokaido Line, the great artery of Japan's railroad transportation. Nagoya Station lies along this route, so it would not have been strange for Sanshiro to alight at Nagoya Station en route. But if history had unfolded differently, the plot of Sanshiro would not have developed, and Nagoya Station itself may not have existed.

The first railroad was established in Japan in September 1872. It ran for about 30 kilometers between Tokyo's Shimbashi Station and Yokohama. Railroad expansion continued throughout Japan, and plans were drawn up to build a trunk line connecting Tokyo with the Kansai area. The line first conceived by the Meiji government, however, was a route going inland. It would have bypassed the Pacific-coast city of Nagoya.

Hearing of these plans and fearful that Nagoya might be left behind the times, then-mayor of Nagoya Rokuzai Yoshida made a direct appeal to the Meiji government's railroad chief to change the plans. Yoshida's experience managing forestry led him to emphasize that traversing the mountainous areas in the planned route would be expensive and difficult to engineer. As a result, the plans were reexamined and then changed to the present route. To reiterate, if Japan's first trunk line had not run through Nagoya, the Sanshiro story may never have been written, and Nagoya Station and even the city itself may not have developed.

The first railroad constructed in Aichi was the Taketoyo Line connecting Taketoyo Harbor on the Chita Peninsula with Atsuta in Nagoya, a distance of 33.6 km. It was completed in March 1886. Nagoya Station opened two months later when the Taketoyo Line was extended to transport materials for the construction of the Tokaido Line. First named Sasashima Station, its name was changed to Nagoya with the opening of the Tokaido Line. One round-trip service was run each day between Tokyo and KobeÑa 20-hour journey at the time. Photographs from the era show reedy marshes stretching around the station as far as the eye can see. Rickshaw drivers washed their conveyances in the pond while waiting for customers. The area was incomparably more laid back than it is today.

The biggest station building in the East

After the Tokaido Line opened, a railroad network developed to connect Japan's major cities in rapid succession. Nagoya played a major role as a key station in East-West transport. Data from 1927 reveals that 114 trains stopped at Nagoya Station each day and 4 million passengers were carried each year. A new station building was constructed in February 1937 to accommodate the increasing traffic.

The station building took 19 years to complete after plans for it were first drawn up. With five stories above ground and one below, it was made of reinforced concrete and employed a total of 1.2 million workers in its construction. Inside were restaurants, tourist information counters, a post office, public bath, and even a barbershop. When built it was one of the biggest such facilities in the East. Private railroads also extended lines to the station around this time, including the Nagoya Railroad Co. that linked the major cities within the prefecture and the Kinki Nippon Railway Co. that had routes stretching to the Kansai area.

Shojiro Endo, who edited and sold a former Nagoya Station information magazine, told us of a rumor that the Empress (now Empress Dowager) had once gotten lost in the station while on a visit to Nagoya. Endo, who belonged to the press club attached to Nagoya Station, investigated this rumor and wrote an article in which he found it a "complete fabrication." From this episode, though, we can get a sense of the sheer size of the station and the way that it drew people's attention.

Japan entered World War II in 1941, and the landscape began to take on an increasingly military aspect. Large numbers of youngsters were sent off to the front from Nagoya Station, and extra trains were run to evacuate children to the countryside. Although the city was reduced to ashes by air raids, Nagoya Station escaped damage. An old man who grew up in the station's vicinity recounts going to the station building to bathe right after returning from the front and taking heart at the sight of Nagoya Station still standing among the burnt fields.

The just-completed Nagoya Station building in 1937. It was one of the largest buildings of its type in the East.iChunichi Shimbun)
Birth of the bullet train

The Aichi rail network suffered extensive damage during the war but later revived and developed in tandem with the growth of the Japanese economy. One achievement that was to become a symbol of postwar recovery was the launching of a "dream super-express," now known as the Shinkansen, or bullet train.

The bullet train linking Tokyo and Osaka at speeds of 210 km per hour first pulled into Nagoya Station on July 21, 1964. A great welcoming ceremony formed to greet it. Planes carrying members of the media flew overhead, and a huge crowd gathered on the ground. Regular services began on October 1 of the same year to coincide with the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games. To begin with, the Shinkansen made 26 round trips each day.

Mochiharu Kanazuka, Nagoya's thirty-third station-master, recalls: "The early customers were generally well-to-do people. The new train was beyond the means of ordinary people."

Sales section chief Terukazu Hashiba puts it like this: "With the start of the bullet-train service, the number of passengers traveling between Tokyo and Osaka rose sharply. In other areas, however, passengers still traveled mainly on express or night trains. The Shinkansen would be packed like sardines, though, with people visiting their hometowns for the New Year holidays and the midsummer Bon festival. The platforms were so crowded that we had to ask passengers to line up in the station concourse. Even after midnight on New Year's Eve, the station would be filled to overflowing."

In 1970 the World Exposition in Osaka made the bullet train a popular vehicle of tourists and other vacationers. Now 223 bullet trains arrive and depart each day. It takes about 100 minutes to travel the 336 km between Nagoya and Tokyo, and about 50 minutes to travel the 186-km Nagoya-Osaka route. In 1987 the railroad was privatized, and Tokaido bullet-train transport continued under the management of the Central Japan Railway Company.

A new landmark

Now Nagoya Station is in the process of being transformed once again. The building that was the pride of the East was demolished in 1993, and construction of JR Central Towers, to open in December 1999, continues at a rapid pace.

Popularly referred to as "the Towers," the new building will consist of a 245-meter-high office tower with 51 stories and a 226-meter hotel with 53 stories above ground and 4 below. It will be the fourth highest structure in the country; with total floor space of 410,000 square meters, it will be the largest station building in Japan and one of the biggest in the world. In addition to the station, the building will house a department store, a hotel, offices, restaurants, and a multipurpose hall. It is certain to become a new city landmark.

The owner of a restaurant near the station's west exit that opened just after the end of World War II noted: "The creation of an underground shopping mall and the opening of a number of business hotels has really changed the neighborhood's look over the past 10 years. When the Towers open, more people will probably come to Nagoya Station, and Nagoya itself could be transformed."

A woman who claims she brings her grandchild at least once a week to see the bullet trains that pull into the station said: "I still remember how moving it was to ride the bullet train for the first time to go see the Osaka EXPO. I was fond of the old station building, but I'm proud that what was once the grandest station building in the East is being replaced by what will become the best in the world."

The hosting of the 2005 World Exposition and opening of the Chubu International Airport will bring many more people to Nagoya Station, not just from Japan but from overseas as well. Stationmaster Kanazuka says that the aim is to make the station more accessible to international visitors with more announcements and displays in English. Nagoya Station in the twenty-first century will surely take on new roles as a gateway to a more internationalized Aichi, as a place to meet, and as a point of departure.

(Photos by Yoshimitsu Koriyama, Text by Masuhiro Tsukada)