By Yasunori Kuroha / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterShinjuku Station is a huge terminal accommodating the lines of Japan Railway, Odakyu Electric Railway Co., Keio Corp., Tokyo Metro Co. and Toei subway. The number of incoming and outgoing passengers each day is over 3 million.
However, Seibu Railway Co.’s Shinjuku Station stands alone, located about 400 meters away from the main station occupied by the other railway companies.
Why is Seibu Railway’s station building separated by such a distance?
If you go through a ticket gate at Seibu Shinjuku Station, which is close to the busy Kabukicho district, and walk south at ground level, it takes about seven minutes to reach the nearest gate of the Shinjuku Station building after wading through the crowds — no easy task when temperatures are high or when it is raining heavily.
Fumio Taguchi, 56, a section chief of Seibu Railway’s public relations section, said: “Extending our line to Shinjuku Station had been our company’s ardent wish. There were plans to connect the line above ground or underground, but they never materialized.”
Seibu Railway had reached Takadanobaba. The company extended the line to Shinjuku and opened Seibu Shinjuku Station in March 1952.
The Seibu station was supposed to be temporary on the assumption that the Seibu line would eventually be connected to Shinjuku Station, where the then Japanese National Railways, Keio, Toden and other lines converged.
Yasuhiko Ashizaki, 52, a staff member of the Shinjuku Historical Museum, which is run by the Shinjuku Ward government, said, “I think one of the reasons why the temporary station was located here is that local residents and store owners wanted it to be.”
In the Kabukicho district at that time, a skating rink, movie theaters and other facilities appeared, so local residents had a reason to want a train station built in that location.
A Seibu Railway internal newsletter from 1961 reported on the company’s bright future ahead. It included descriptions such as “it has been decided that our line is to be located on the second floor of the Shinjuku Station building” and that “work is set to begin in August this year and will be completed by around autumn of 1963.”
Under the plan, Seibu Railway’s tracks were to be connected to the second floor of the Shinjuku Station building by elevated platforms.
However, according to the Shinjuku Historical Museum, the platforms would have protruded from the building and only been able to fit two six-car trains.
Due to the building’s structure, it was impossible to make the platforms longer or widen the facility to accommodate more train cars.
The population along the train line increased during Japan’s postwar period of high economic growth. Because it was essential for the company to introduce eight-car trains, Seibu Railway gave up on the plan for an elevated line extension in February 1965.
Later, the company largely rebuilt its Seibu Shinjuku Station, constructing a 25-story station building which also accommodated a hotel. The refurbished station, which opened in 1977, was able to fit three 10-car trains on its platforms.
Underground plan frozen
Seibu Railway once considered extending the rail tracks underground.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the company planned to build an about 13-kilometer tunnel connecting Kami-Shakujii Station to Seibu Shinjuku Station. The dual-track tunnel would have been up to 65 meters deep.
Under the proposal, underground platforms at Seibu Shinjuku Station were to be moved 300 meters south, thus shortening the distance between Seibu Shinjuku Station and Shinjuku Station.
The company proceeded with an environmental impact assessment for the work after the then Transport Ministry had approved revision of its basic plan for railway services and the Tokyo metropolitan government had settled the urban planning necessary for the tunnel proposal.
From May 1988, Seibu Railway raised train fees to cover part of the construction costs. The tunnel construction work was scheduled to begin around 1993 and be completed four years later.
But boring explorations found that groundwater levels were high. To prevent the groundwater from seeping into the tunnel, the estimated construction cost rose to nearly double the initial value.
Also, because the number of passengers using the company’s train line began to decrease from fiscal 1992 after the bubble economy burst, Seibu Railway announced in January 1995 that the underground plan was to be postponed.
An official of the metropolitan government’s Bureau of Transportation said, “The plan has been frozen. There are no signs that it will be resumed.”
Change of fortune
As it turned out, the location of Seibu Shinjuku Station, which was meant to be temporary, became permanent. However, in recent years, its location has become an asset.
There has been an increase in the number of foreign tourists staying at Shinjuku Prince Hotel, which is housed in the same building as Seibu Shinjuku Station. In fiscal 2017, about 80 percent of the guests in the hotel were foreign visitors.
Bryan Ang, 33, who came to Japan from the Philippines in late April, chose the hotel based on a friend’s recommendation. He said that he wanted to walk around the Kabukicho district and looked forward to eating sushi and ramen.
After leaving the north gate of Seibu Shinjuku Station it takes about eight minutes to reach JR Shin-Okubo Station on foot.
The area around Shin-Okubo Station is known as “Korea Town,” where you can find many places serving the popular Korean dish cheese dak-galbi, a stir-fry that includes meat and vegetables cooked in a sweet and spicy sauce.
People in the area said that many visitors to Korea Town travel via the north gate of Seibu Shinjuku Station.
Seibu Shinjuku Station was unable to surmount the remaining 400 meters to Shinjuku’s main station. The next time you visit the area, look around and see if you can imagine how different Shinjuku would look if the past plans to build elevated or underground platforms connecting the two stations had come to fruition.Speech