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Let’s go to the museum / Edo post station became bustling district

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

Visitors look at the diorama of the Naito Shinjuku post station.

By Noriya Nagashima / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTakaido was the first post station along the Koshu Kaido main road during the Edo period (1603-1867), but it was about 15 kilometers away from Nihonbashi, the starting point of the main road. For that reason, the Naito Shinjuku post station was created in 1698, in what is now the Shinjuku 1- to 3-chome areas, at the proposal of the headman of the Asakusa district and others. Naito Shinjuku is said to be the beginning of the current Shinjuku district.

Entering the Shinjuku Historical Museum in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, visitors are welcomed by a one-120th scale diorama of Naito Shinjuku. Horses and samurai warriors passing by, women talking to each other, a merchant watering the street and other figurines look so alive, visitors will feel like they can hear the Edo dialect spoken by the townspeople.

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  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Photos of literary figures attracted to Shinjuku, including Soseki Natsume, Koyo Ozaki and Kafu Nagai

  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A recreation of a Japanese confectionery store of the Edo period

  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A recreation of a Tokyo tram

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

Shinjuku has experienced many ups and downs over the years, even up to present times. In addition to a series of fires, the Naito Shinjuku post station was forced to close because prostitution at hatago inns in the district triggered opposition from the Yoshiwara red-light area authorized by the Tokugawa shogunate. It later resumed activities as a post station.

Today, high-rise buildings line areas near the west exit of the current Shinjuku Station, but these locations used to be home to rice paddies, crop fields and a water-purifying facility.

People moved to Shinjuku and its surrounding areas due to such factors as residential and commercial areas in Tokyo being severely damaged by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, and the development of railway networks. Many modern buildings such as department stores, movie theaters and hotels were constructed in Shinjuku one after another.

As a result, Shinjuku achieved rapid development as a bustling district comparable to the Asakusa and Ginza districts.

“I’ll see the scenery in Shinjuku in a different way when I go shopping there next time,” said Sora Takahashi, a second-year student of Shinjuku Ward’s Nishiwaseda Junior High School, 14, expressing surprise at the former state of the bustling district.

Literary figures also liked the area, and more than 100 writers lived in Shinjuku from the Meiji era (1868-1912) through the Showa era (1926-1989). An interesting corner at the back of the museum exhibits photographs of scenery and drawings and literary works from those days in chronological order.

“A number of horses ringing bells or wearing bibs passed one after another in front of his eyes.” This is a line in “Michikusa” by novelist Soseki Natsume (1867-1916).

I was surprised at how much of the atmosphere of the Edo period was contained in the line and corresponding picture.

“People have a strong impression that Shinjuku is a huge bustling district, but actually it has various faces. We hope visitors will look for an unexpected history of Shinjuku,” said museum staffer Yoshinobu Konno, 48.

When I was a child, I stayed at the Keio Plaza Hotel and ate a parfait at the Takano Fruit Parlor. I thought I was the luckiest boy in Japan.

What image do you have of Shinjuku?

Shinjuku Historical Museum

Opened in 1989. Exhibits about modern literature and Shinjuku make up about one-third of all the exhibits. In the library, there are about 28,000 volumes on the history and culture of Shinjuku. The museum is currently holding a special exhibition featuring two great literary figures, Soseki Natsume and poet Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902) until Nov. 19.  

Address: 22 Saneicho, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo

Open: 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Closed on the second and fourth Monday of every month (When Monday falls on a national holiday, the museum is open that day but closed the following day) and the year-end and New Year period.

Admission: ¥300 for adults and ¥100 for elementary and junior high school students for the permanent exhibition

Inquiries: (03) 3359-2131  

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