Railway 150th Anniversary: From Shimbashi to Yokohama, Japan's first railway
In Japan, 14 October is known as Railway Day (鉄道の日 Tetsudо̄ no hi), a day that commemorates the opening of Japan’s first ever railway, which ran between Shimbashi Station (新橋駅 Shinbashi-eki) and Yokohama Station (横浜駅 Yokohama-eki). 14 October 1872 was the historic day, and this year, 2022, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of railways in Japan!
Taking place in the Meiji Era (1868–1912), the adoption of railways as a means of transportation represented modernization in Japan. The 29km journey between Shimbashi and Yokohama took 53 minutes, and the trains running on the line were steam locomotives (SL) imported from the British.
Shinkansen running in Eastern Japan. (Image credit: photoAC)
Since then, Japan’s railway technology has continued to advance, bringing riders unparalleled levels of punctuality and safety, as well as introducing to the world the iconic and unforgettable shinkansen (新幹線 bullet trains).
In this article, we will explore the areas around the former Shimbashi and Yokohama Stations. Rich in railway history, they are easily accessible, must-visit places for any railway enthusiasts interested in learning more about the beginnings of Japan’s railways. Are you ready? Let’s go!
Around Shimbashi Station
Old Shimbashi Station (旧新橋停車場)
Exterior of the Old Shimbashi Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Located in the heart of Tokyo, Shimbashi Station was one of the first railway stations in Japan when it opened in 1872. It was the Tokyo terminus of Japan’s first ever railway line, which stopped at four other stations before reaching the Yokohama terminus. The Old Shimbashi Station (旧新橋停車場Kyū-Shinbashi Teishajо̄) faithfully reproduces the exterior of the original station, and is located on the site of the original building.
Current Tokyo Station (top) and current Shimbashi Station (bottom). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
In 1914, when the iconic Tokyo Station (東京駅 Tо̄kyо̄-eki) opened, Shimbashi Station’s passenger functions were transferred to Tokyo Station. The then Shimbashi Station was renamed Shiodome Station, and became a freight terminal, transporting precious cargo and goods. The name Shimbashi Station was transferred to the nearby Karasumori Station, which remains the Shimbashi Station we know today.
Platform replica and glass panels to view the original stone foundations. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Unfortunately, most of the Shiodome freight terminal building was destroyed following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, so the original building no longer exists. However, an archaeological excavation unearthed some of the original platforms and foundations of the former station, which can now be seen through glass panels at Old Shimbashi Station.
The current building houses the Railway History Exhibition Hall, which showcases items related to railway history, such as excavated relics and railway tools. Photography is prohibited inside the exhibition hall, but it’s worth a visit if you enjoy browsing through old photographs and learning about the history.
Reproduced Mile Marker Zero and railway tracks. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
At the back of the building, visitors can find a replica of the station platform. Nearby the platform is Mile Marker Zero (0哩標識 Zero Mairu Hyо̄shiki), the spot where the first stake was driven into the ground, marking the starting point of Japan’s first railway line. Together with a bit of the original railway track, Mile Marker Zero was reproduced to mark the birthplace of Japanese railways. It is now a national historic site known as the “Original Starting Point of the Former Shimbashi–Yokohama Railway”.
Old Shimbashi Station Railway History Exhibition Hall (旧新橋停車場鉄道歴史展示室)
Address: 1-5-3 Higashi Shimbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0021
Access: 5-minute walk from JR Shimbashi Station (新橋駅)
Opening hours: 10:00–17:00 (Closed on Mondays. Closed on Tuesdays if Monday is a Public Holiday. Closed from 29 December–3 January.)
Admission fee: Free
SL Hiroba (SL 広場)
The C11 292 SL train outside JR Shimbashi Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
As a nod to its history, right outside the current Shimbashi Station is an open area known as SL Hiroba (SL 広場), where an actual steam locomotive train is on display. In 1972, to commemorate 100 years of railway history, the C11 292 steam locomotive train was placed in front of Shimbashi Station. It’s very rare to see an SL train in a dense metropolitan city like Tokyo, but now you know where to find one!
Trick art photo corner at Shimbashi Station. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)
While at Shimbashi Station, keep an eye out for the special trick art photo corner. To celebrate Railway 150th Annversary, this photo corner lets visitors snap a shot with an image of one of the SL trains that used to ply the route between Shimbashi and Yokohama. Doesn’t the train look like it’s popping out?
Around Sakuragicho Station
From the old Shimbashi Station, let’s travel to the other end of Japan’s first railway line, the old Yokohama Station. What used to be a 53-minute journey in 1872 has now almost been halved to a 28-minute journey in 2022, and the former Yokohama Station has now been renamed Sakuragicho Station (桜木町駅 Sakuragichо̄-eki). Within and around Sakuragicho Station, you will find many displays and monuments attesting to its historical significance, so let’s take a look at some of them.
Inside Sakuragicho Station (桜木町駅)
Station signboard and ticket gates at Sakuragicho Station. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)
This year in particular, there are special decorations marking the Railway 150th anniversary. If you take a look at the station signboard on the platform, there are two illustrations depicting the exterior of the old Yokohama Station and the SL train that used to run on the first railway line. How cute are they? The ticket gates at the New South Exit also have illustrations celebrating Railway 150th Anniversary.
Large photo of the former Yokohama Station above the New South Exit. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Within the station, you can find many old photos depicting scenes of the former Yokohama Station from years ago. Right above the walkway to the New South Exit, there is a large black-and-white photo of the station from 1872.
On the walls at Sakuragicho Station, you can find nostalgic photos from the past. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
On the walls leading up to the station platforms, as well as the walls near the South Gate ticket gantries, photos of the station’s exterior, as well as railway scenes from the past can be found. Most of the photos are sepia-toned or monochrome, and it’s really interesting to get a look at how the crowds, train station architecture, and ticketing systems differ between the past and the present.
Artwork of old Yokohama Station. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)
Near the gantries of the South Gate, there is an image of a steam locomotive train pulling up at the old Yokohama Station, with a view of the bridge and the port. Yokohama has roots as a port city, and even today it is well-known for its beautiful bayside views. As you can see from the artwork, the station is very near the bay, so don’t forget to explore the station surroundings for fantastic views.
Displays in Sakuragicho Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
After exiting the South Gate ticket gantries, on the walls of the pillars you can find displays and information relating to railway history around the former Yokohama Station and Japan’s first railway system.
As a history fan, I found it very interesting to see images of the past and how the technology and atmosphere have changed over time! Some displays also showcased relics and personal items from decades ago, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse of the belongings of people from the past.
Trick art image at Sakuragicho Station. (JR East / Carissa Loh)
Like Shimbashi Station, right by the South Gate gantries of Sakuragicho Station is another trick art image corner. This time, the secret lies in the flash. When you take a photo with flash on, confetti and streamers will appear! This photo was taken in September 2022, and features an image of a steam locomotive train. After 14 October 2022, the image will change to one of JR East’s iconic green E5 series bullet train.
Kyu-Yoko Gallery (旧横ギャラリー)
Kyu-Yoko Gallery. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
A short walk from Sakuragicho Station is the CIAL building, which houses the Old Yokohama Railway History Exhibit (旧横濱鉄道歴史展示Kyū Yokohama Tetsudо̄ Rekishi Tenji), also known as the Kyu-Yoko Gallery (旧横ギャラリー Kyū Yoko Gyararī).
Diorama of the former Yokohama Station. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)
In this building you will find many more special exhibits about Japan’s first railway, such as information about the train models used, train tickets from the past, the people who contributed to the development of railways in Japan, and more. There is also a diorama on display, depicting how the former Yokohama Station looked like when it first opened.
Type 110 steam locomotive at the Kyu-Yoko Gallery. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)
But perhaps the most eki-citing thing item on display here is the Type 110 steam locomotive on display on the ground floor of the building. Imported from Britain, the Type 110 steam locomotive used to run on Japan’s first railway line, and at the Kyu-Yoko Gallery you can see the original engine, together with a replica of the second-class passenger car.
Second-class passenger car replica. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)
Note: Visitors are not allowed to enter the steam locomotive or passenger car replica.
Kishamichi Promenade (汽車道)
Beautiful day at Kishamichi Promenade. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
A short walk from Sakuragicho Station will lead you to Kishamichi Promenade (汽車道 Kishamichi). What’s special about this 500m boardwalk is that it uses a former railway bridge, and you can even see old railway tracks as you walk across it. In the past, this railway bridge was used by freight trains to transport goods from the warehouses at Yokohama’s ports to the then Yokohama Station. Today, it has become a beautiful boardwalk that visitors can enjoy.
Kishamichi Promenade crosses the Minato Mirai Bay, and provides gorgeous views of Yokohama’s seaside skyline, so I highly recommend taking a leisurely stroll to enjoy the view.
Railway 150th Anniversary
Special items commemorating Railway 150th Anniversary. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
14 October 2022 is a special day that commemorates the 150th anniversary of the opening of Japan’s first railway line. If you are heading to Japan any time soon, keep an eye out for limited edition commemorative products. During our visit in September, I snagged a special stamp set from the post office, and at convenience stores and vending machines I saw various confectionery, drinks, and souvenirs that were specially made for Railway 150th Anniversary (鉄道150周年).
If you are interested in finding out more about the former Shimbashi and Yokohama Stations, join us for the following events, which will be shown live on Facebook. On 22 October, we will be connecting live from Sakuragicho Station, so we hope to see you then!
(Image credit: JAPAN RAIL CAFE)
14 October 2022 (18:30 Singapore Time): Happy Railway Day! Enjoy railway history and eki-citing train trips from Tokyo
(Image credit: JNTO Singapore)
22 October 2022 (13:00 Singapore Time): Relax on the Rails: ONLINE
If you want to know more about the development of Japan's railways over the part 150 years, check out the special site here (Japanese only).
Header image credit: JR East / Julia Yee