Past and present: Marunouchi

October 25th, 2011By Category: Uncategorized

A view of Marunouchi – Tokyo 1923 taken from the terrace of the Marunouchi Hotel. Admiral Heihachiro Togo, one of Japan’s greatest naval heroes, presided over the commencement ceremony at the hotel.

Although its borders are vague, the Marunouchi area of Tokyo covers about 278 acres between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace. According to developer Mitsubishi Estate, there are 98 buildings with a total floor space of 1,443 acres, and the 4,100 companies based in Marunouchi account for around 10% of those listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Approximately 20% of Japan’s GDP is derived from Marunouchi. More than 250,000 workers come here daily, and the area is served by nine railway and seven subway lines, while a complimentary electric bus shuttle operates throughout the whole area.

Marunouchi - Tokyo 2011

The Marunouchi area has a long and colorful history, having been the economic center of Edo since 1603. The streets of what is now Marunouchi were once the residential quarter of the feudal lords who protected Edo Castle and upheld the prosperity of the shogunate. With the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Edo Castle became the Imperial Palace, and the feudal lords’ residential quarters were turned into a military drill training ground.

In 1889, the Meiji government decided to urbanize Marunouchi and considered selling the training ground to the private sector. However, the price of the land, which had become a patch of fields, was five times that of the surrounding areas, and negotiations floundered. Mitsubishi Estate purchased all the land, realizing that modernization required an international business center. It was able to set up a Western-style square grid system, which is unique to Tokyo, to allow for easier navigation.

The first phase of development was unveiled with the completion of the Mitsubishi Building No. 1 in 1894. The red brick townscape that sprang up soon earned the nickname “the London block.” Tokyo Station opened in 1914, and as the development spread toward the station, the architecture changed to larger and more American-style buildings. In 1923, the Marunouchi Building was completed, and with its first-floor shopping arcade, it was a popular attraction for many years.

Around this time, regulations were established that restricted the height of buildings to 100 feet. The skyline thereafter became a uniform height, earning a new nickname: “the New York block.”

The postwar period of high economic growth led to a surge in demand for office space in Marunouchi in the 1950s. This spurred a second development phase. Small blocks were integrated into larger blocks, and wider roads were built. The third development phase, announced in 1995, began with the rebuilding of the Marunouchi Building, and the area’s revitalization continues.

Over the next five years, an entirely new townscape will be created in front of Tokyo Station. Several older buildings are scheduled for reconstruction, and most of the newer buildings, as well as Tokyo Station, will be connected to one another through underground passageways. They will also be linked with high-speed Internet access, and all utilities (including power and telephone lines) will be run underground.

See map of the Marunouchi area here.

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