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New stations in the Tokyo area merge past and present

The Japan News
Passengers at Makuharitoyosuna Station walk under a lightweight membrane roof that is less than 1 millimeter thick.

The JR Keiyo Line has been running along the northern shore of Tokyo Bay for more than 30 years. But it was less than a year ago, on March 18, 2023, that it started shutting down at Maku-haritoyosuna station in Chiba Prefecture.

This is one of three relatively new stations in the Tokyo area worth visiting for shopping or sightseeing, or to appreciate the architectural features of the stations themselves.

The Hibiya subway line also has a new station, and there is another on the JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku lines. Here’s an example of what you might encounter.

Membrane roof

Makuharitoyosuna station is within walking distance of the Makuhari Messe convention center and Zozo Marine Stadium, home of the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team.

But those places were already served by the even closer Kaihinmakuhari Station. A major reason for the existence of Makuharitoyosuna Station is to improve access to Aeon Mall Maku-hari New City, a complex of four interconnected shopping centers. In fact, the shopping center developer paid half of the 11.5 billion yen cost of building the new station.

When I got off the train, the station impressed me as airy and bright. Many light-colored materials are used, including benches made from wood recycled from Chiba Prefecture wood previously used at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The tracks leading into and out of Tokyo are located on two different levels, giving the building a high ceiling.

That ceiling has a tent-like appearance because it is a ‘membrane roof’ designed, made and installed by Kyoritsu Industries Co.

The company’s Eul-Seok Jeong told me in an email that the membrane roof material over the station’s platforms is only 0.8 millimeters thick and weighs 1.3 kilograms per square meter, while the membrane over the main building weighs only 0.6 millimeters thick and weighs only 1.0 kilograms. per square meter.

Jeong compared this to traditional roofing materials such as metal at 6 to 12 kilograms per square meter, or slate or asphalt shingles at about 12 to 20 kilograms, and said the remarkable lightness of the membranes allows a building to have “column-free spaces and unique shapes” can contain. ”, and makes it less prone to collapse in an earthquake.

In the adjacent shopping center complex, the first thing you might notice is a large window with a full-size mockup of the front of a JAL jumbo jet. This is part of Kandu, a facility where children pretend to have various adult jobs, including JAL pilots or flight attendants.

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The Japan News
The view from the top platform of Makuharitoyosuna Station on the JR Keiyo Line in Chiba City includes an aviation-themed exhibit in the window of a shopping mall.

Kandu is part of the Ekimae Mall, which I had to think of as ‘the kids mall’ because it also contains a Toys ‘R’ Us and a bustling food court overlooking an amusement facility called Tondemi, where kids bounced on trampolines and clambered through a aerial obstacle course made of nets, ropes, hanging tires and what looked like a skateboard on cables.

There is also a pig café, which is similar to a cat café, but with pigs. If you prefer a real cat cafe, there is a large and brightly lit cafe in the nearby (and huge) Grand Mall, reached via the small Pet Mall. The fourth shopping center in the complex is the Active Mall, where the Sports Authority’s Japanese flagship store is the main occupant on all three floors. The Active Mall also includes a drone flying school and sports facilities such as a futsal field on the roof.

Before architecture enthusiasts leave the area, they may want to stop by the nearby Sakura Hiroba, a garden designed by architect Tadao Ando. Much of the ground appears paved, with rows of round holes that give the impression of a giant colander. Cherry trees, reportedly more than 500, are planted in each hole.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Toranomon Hills Station on the Hibiya Metro Line opens onto this atrium of the Toranomon Hills Station Tower.

Dine in an underground forest

One of the more surprising places to enjoy greenery in Tokyo is underground, near Toranomon Hills Station on the Hibiya Subway Line in Minato Ward. This station opened in June 2020 and serves the Mori Building Co development. in Toranomon Hills.

The metro tracks run through the middle of this station, with a platform on either side. That may sound typical, but both platforms have windows that look out onto the underground atria of adjacent buildings. The platform on the west side faces the aptly named Tora-nomon Hills Station Tower, which opened in October 2023.

It is the newest tower in the complex and is also a notable addition to the Tokyo skyline, standing at 266 meters tall and with 49 floors. On the 45th floor and above is the Tokyo Node cultural facility, which includes a concert hall and art galleries.

Underground, the atrium serves as a gateway to T-Market, a dining room where many of the eateries have visually inviting open kitchens. On my first visit, I sampled hummus, falafel, and chicken schnitzel at a new location of Ta-im, an Israeli cuisine restaurant whose name is Hebrew for “delicious.” (And it is.) On a later visit, I quickly demolished a simple but tasty thin-crust pizza prepared in front of me at Crazy Pizza.

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The Japan News
Dishes served at Ta-im Israel restaurant in Toranomon Hills Station Tower include falafel hummus and chicken schnitzel.

The atmosphere is as wonderful as the food. The unusual abundance of large potted plants makes you feel like you are dining in an underground forest. And the side corridors, too narrow for plants, are decorated with earth tones reminiscent of the Lascaux cave paintings, which enhance the cozy underground atmosphere.

At street level, a few blocks away, you can visit the Minato Science Museum for free. It is a small but interactive facility with exhibits on things you might see as you walk around the department. For example, you can place window-washing scaffolding against the side of a model skyscraper by shining light on a photovoltaic panel. But first you have to turn a crank for a minute to generate electricity to power the light.

In the same building, and also free, is the Japan Meteorological Agency museum, with a diorama in a water tank simulating a tsunami.

According to a historical marker on a nearby street, part of this neighborhood was said to have been home to many roofers during the Edo period (1603-1867). Some of those window cleaners may come from families who have worked in high places for generations.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Takanawa Gateway Station’s membrane roof requires little support, creating a large amount of open space inside.

Echoes of a tragic time that has passed

The new station with the deepest history may be the Takanawa Gateway Station, which opened in March 2020 on the JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku lines.

When Japan’s first railway line opened between Tokyo and Yokohama in 1872, it passed through the Takanawa area on a stone embankment in Tokyo Bay, providing a then-astonishing spectacle of steam trains moving above the water. But as more of the bay became reclaimed land over the years, the dike disappeared underground. Parts of it were rediscovered during the construction of the new station and nearby facilities. Part of it remains preserved as a historical monument.

The history is more evident at the nearby Sengakuji Temple, forever linked to the 47 samurai who waged a famous vendetta in the mid-Edo period.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The main gate of Sengakuji Temple, with the tombs of samurai who waged a legendary vendetta more than 300 years ago.

The incident, which inspired the kabuki play “Chushingura,” began when a daimyo named Asano was insulted by an official named Kira, inciting an incident that resulted in Asano’s death. Asano’s servants later broke into Kira’s house, cut off his head and presented it at Asano’s grave on the temple grounds. Most of the 47 were sentenced to death by seppuku, and they too have their graves in the temple.

Extensive bilingual signage marks spots like a well where the samurai washed Kira’s severed head to make it presentable.

To access the tombs, you will be asked to purchase incense worth 300 yen. Even though the bright sun made wisps of fragrant smoke glow as they wound around the monuments, I found it a gloomy place. Most of the dead samurai were in their twenties or thirties, but a few were only teenagers. Just looking at the kanji of their names is sad. What hope did these characters convey when they were chosen?

On the quiet afternoon of my visit, the only sounds among the hilltop graves were the hum of machinery and the hammering of the half-built towers of Takanawa Gateway City, another of Tokyo’s new skyscraper complexes.

The towers rise higher and higher next to the Takanawa Gateway Station, dominating what might once have been the temple’s view of Tokyo Bay. The office and shopping complex is expected to open in March 2025, but the station already offers a taste of living in the future.

Like Makuharitoyosuna Station, Takanawa Gateway Station has a membrane roof, but it is made by a different company.

The station building was designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates, the architectural firm that also gave Tokyo the National Stadium and the Shibuya Scramble Square building.

With four sets of tracks, Takanawa Gateway Station dramatically demonstrates how much open space can be created by a column-free roof. Trains come and go on one level, the ticket gates are on a higher level and a Starbucks coffee shop with balcony looks down even higher, all under the shelter of one enormous roof.

If you decide to stop for a coffee, the Starbucks balcony is a nice place to sit while you plan where your next train trip will take you.



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