Walking and the pedestrian environment
September 24, 2006
Streetcar Memories (Tokyo)

Looking for remnants of Tokyo's Eastcastle Line.

Recently while doing research for a future Mixed Signals article on Tokyo's old Sugnami streetcar line, I happened upon Sassy-san's great reference site, with all kinds of photos and route information about Tokyo's old streetcars. Of 41 lines operated by the city, only one remains, the Arakawa Line. Others were converted to subways or buses, their streetspace reused for car lanes and planting strips.

Sassy-san was taking names for a walking tour of the old #38 streetcar, Jyoutou-sen (城東線, Castle East Line). I threw my name in and had the great fortune to get a free tour with some real experts on Tokyo's streetcars.

Minami-suna Greenway ParkThe walk started at Touyou-chou Station (Tokyo Metro Touzai Line, 東京メトロ東西線東陽町駅), heading east along Eitai-doori (永代通り). The streetcar used to turn onto a dedicated right-of-way, which is now Minami Suna Greenway Park (南砂緑道公園).

Minami-suna Projects Building 2Boxed in by the park and Eitai-doori and Meiji-doori (明治通り) is the Minami Suna Projects. This was formerly the factory for a major train car manufacturer that supplied JR, but was already empty land in old photos we looked at. It's amazing how many huge low-income housing projects dot the streetscape in shitamachi.

Streetcar BathroomThe park's public bathroom has a picture of a streetcar painted on it. It's nice that they paid tribute, but the streetcar aficionados that I was with were quick to notice that the headlamp was in the wrong location, the pantograph was misshaped, the coloring was incorrect, and several other small mistakes. In the end, everyone was glad to just have a picture of a streetcar. (I've been informed this is actually an Osaka streetcar - who knows why it's painted here!)

Abandoned Freight UnderpassThe park dips down under a rail bridge for the now-abandoned Onagi River Freight Line (小名木川貨物線).

Memorial to Jyoutou LineOff to the side of the park is a nice memorial to the #38 Jyoutou Line. It explains that the Jyoutou Line was first opened in 1915, but wasn't laid along this section until 1927. It was removed in 1972. The wheel and track are both remnants of the line; the wheel dates from 1965, while the track was laid in 1953. Tokyo's streetcar build-up was a bit later than the major cities of Europe and America. Likewise, since Japanese automobile ownership didn't jump until the 1950s and 1960s, Tokyo didn't begin shutting down lines until 1963. That's several decades later than American cities.

Meiji Doori Guard RailIt's rare to spot anything along the street that even dates from the 70s when this line was removed. Along Meiji-doori this old guard rail caught the eye of one walker. By the way, if you're following along on your map, turn left on Meiji-doori and head north. The streetcar ran in the street for about two kilometers in this section.

Kameido Greenway ParkAt Oojima 4-chome (大島4丁目), the steetcar returned to a dedicated right of way, with small roads on either side for the straight run north of Shin-Oohashi-doori (新大橋通り). This has been turned into the Kameido Greenway Park (亀戸緑道公園).

Bend in Kameido Greenway ParkAs the park turns through a bend, the house in the middle could be seen in historic photographs. It's amazing that very few buildings from 1970 could be found on the streets today. The Great Kantou Earthquake in 1923 and firebombing by the US in 1945 both wiped a clean slate for Tokyo, so it's no big surprise that few structures date from before those events. But since WWII until now there has been a steady churning of construction in Tokyo, to the point where middle-aged men barely recognize the neighborhoods they frequented as a child.

Kameido Greenway ParkThe park continues north towards Kameido Station.

Relief Art of Streetcar at KameidoAt Tate River (竪川) a bridge was built for the streetcar. It's now a pedestrian bridge which has been renamed Remembrance Bridge (うるおいの橋) and is site of another streetcar memorial. Here, artwork in the bridge depicts a streetcar. You may notice that the river has been capped and playfields have been built on top. Overhead is the #7 Tollroad.

Rail Art at KameidoA piece of track from a different line has been combined with an "object art" piece. The discerning eye (and measuring tape) of the streetcar fans quickly discovered that the rail was not straight at all - not necessary to keep the object wheels from rolling away, because they're welded on. One walker noticed an appropriately stamped rail, but the paint job made it tough to read.

Streetcar Memorial at KameidoOver the bridge Koutou Ward has laid replica rail as part of the memorial. A quick measure showed it to be too wide, and it was pointed out that if a streetcar tried to take the switch it would quickly derail because the curve was too tight. It was all in good fun, though, and I think everyone actually had more fun with the inaccuracies because it gave them a chance to show off a bit of their knowledge and excersize their brain.

Rail Art at KameidoAt both ends of the bridge the memorial sports artistic renderings of pantographs, used as bollards.

Kameido Greenway ParkThe final stretch of the park heads past Sun Street Mall, where the line turned west on Keiyou Douro (京葉道路), joined with another streetcar line, and headed to its terminus at Kinshichou (錦糸町).

Kameido Bicycle ParkingIf you head east and take the first left you can keep your train-fan blood pumping a bit longer. First up is a massive bicycle parking structure.

Kameido Rail UnderpassTo the right of the parking is a pedestrian tunnel that goes under the JR Sobu Line (総武線). Be careful (especially on bicycle, which people were actually doing!) because the tunnel bottoms out abruptly at 177cm (about 5'10"). That tape measure came in handy again.

Tobu Kameido LineAfter the tunnel you'll pass over the Tobu Railways Kameido Line (東武亀戸線) tracks. In the background you can see another section of the abandoned Onagi River Freight Line, which brings us full circle from the beginning of the route. I wonder if there's been any thought about turning this into a raised walking path like Paris' Promenade Plantee? In between the tall weeds are the rails for JR Sobu Line. Hang a left here and you'll find yourself at Tobu and JR Kameido Stations (亀戸駅).

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at September 24, 2006 4:45 AM
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