Haneda : From Tiny Fishing Village To International Gateway

Haneda : From tiny fishing village to international gatewayThe Japanese concept of “kotodama,” mystical powers residing in words and names, resonates with me. “Koto” is speech and “dama” (“tama”) means spirit. So if you believe in kotodama, what we say has magical powers that can influence everything.

The place name Haneda, literally meaning “wing field,” has been used for eons before airplanes were created, and its etymology is unclear. Is it a coincidence?

Haneda was just another insignificant fishing village, often severely damaged by waves during storms. Villagers built levees with what materials they could find, and while these structures helped somewhat, divine intervention was called for, and in the early 1800s, Anamori Inari Jinja shrine was erected.

“Ana” is hole and “mori” means protection. It was hoped that the shrine would keep water from tearing holes in the levees, hence the name Anamori.

The predecessor of railway operator Keikyu Corp. created the Anamori Line in 1902 to usher people to and from the ever-popular shrine. So in its day, this area was a happening place! These days, Konchan, a stone fox mascot, welcomes people just outside Anamori Inari Station.

If you have ever driven to Haneda Airport, you might have noticed a big red “torii” gate standing in the middle of nowhere. After the war, Gen. Douglas MacArthur gave the residents in the area 48 hours to leave, and the occupation forces made a large airfield and named it Haneda Army Air Base.

Anamori Inari Jinja was relocated to its present location, and legend has it that every attempt to move the torii led to bad things happening, so it took decades to finally move the torii, and only to its current location, which is still not on the premises of the new shrine.

A red brick wall was constructed in 1929 along the Tamagawa river to help further alleviate water damage. Ironically during the war, people escaping fire bombings climbed over the wall and were saved. Life works in unimaginable ways sometimes!

Today, a modern flood protection system is in place, but much of the wall is still intact. Walking along the wall, you can see a remnant of the old Daishi-Bashi bridge, and a plaque that marks an old ferry route that Utagawa Hiroshige depicted in one of his Hundred Famous Views of Edo woodblock prints.

Did you know that there's a real “hinoki” cypress Nihonbashi Bridge in Haneda?

Inside the International Terminal at Haneda Airport is a half-sized replica of the famous bridge originally built in 1603. It weighs an incredible 30 to 35 tons and is a marvel to look at and touch. What a great way to show off Japan’s outstanding carpentry skills.

Even if you’re not flying anywhere, Haneda Airport could be a travel destination unto itself. If you or a family member is into aviation, check out the TIAT Sky Road Flight Simulator. It’s pretty cool.

At Edo Market Place there are many retro-looking shops and restaurants, and at Tokyo Pop Town you can get your fill of Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and more.

I personally like spending time at Planetarium Starry Cafe. For an extra 520-yen ($5) entrance fee, you can sit back and travel to a different dimension. Shows are on average 5-15 minutes long, so if you’d like to see what you’re eating or drinking, you can do so between shows when it’s not too dark.

Haneda has spread its wings and has seen a lot: From an unremarkable fishing community to a bustling temple town, being bombarded with water then firebombs, and now a bridge to the outside world.

Perhaps Haneda was destined to fly high.