Shinagawa - - Tiny Roads, Lovely Sounds, Weird Buildings

Shinagawa--tiny roads, lovely sounds, weird buildingsThere’s a little-known shortcut to the Konan-guchi side of Shinagawa Station and in my unscientific tally, it seems that only one in three taxi drivers know it, or maybe only a third have the guts to take it.

You pass under train tracks that leave very little room overhead, and both driver and passenger unconsciously duck a bit as the cab makes its way through the narrow, tunnel-like passage! I always conjure up images of the car chase seen in the classic 1971 movie “The French Connection.” This road is way more thrilling than a roller coaster!

It’s hard to envision today, but at one time Shinagawa Station used to be right on the edge of Tokyo Bay. The train tracks pretty much followed the coastline, so the Konan-guchi side was all ocean, hence the name “south of the port.”

With Shinagawa being the first posting station of the famous 53 along the Old Tokaido road, it was a booming place with shops, restaurants, hotels and other entertainment facilities.

At the Shinagawa Historical Museum, you can see a detailed model of the Tokaido Shinagawa Shuku post inn. The property the museum stands on once belonged to Zensuke Yasuda of the Yasuda financial conglomerate.

It was sold to Hideo Yoshida, known as the “demon of advertising.” He was the fourth president of Dentsu Inc., and played a pivotal role in the advancement of Japan’s biggest advertising agency.

You will find an old tea house in the garden, but more than the tea house, it was the stones in the garden that I found absolutely marvelous--I suspect I’m a rare breed here.

Anyway, there is a lovely “suikinkutsu,” or “music of water drips,” in the garden that alone is worth the trip to the museum. If you have never heard sounds coming from a suikinkutsu, oh, you must!

For the uninitiated, a suikinkutsu is a musical contraption created by burying a clay jar upside down and positioning water to drip from a hole at just the right spot to create cute tinkling notes. The one here produces such a faint sound that they have a bamboo pipe next to it for you to hold up to your ear to help you hear the sounds.

There is a curious building in the Shinagawa-Mita vicinity known as the Arimaston Building. At first glance, it’s an eyesore: a chaotic construction site in an otherwise orderly neighborhood. The building has been likened to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona--an absurd stretch if you ask me--as it seems to be a perpetual work in progress.

It's the creation of one man, Keisuke Oka, who has worked on this one-of-a-kind organic structure for more than 10 years. He has no blueprint and improvises along the way.

People who “get” him are big fans of his project, and I’m told that he gets visitors from all over Japan.

Not far from the Arimaston Building is Takanawa Fire Station Nihon-Enoki Branch, a building that looks like a lighthouse. It was constructed in 1933 in the German Expressionism style.

When it was built, watchmen on top had a sweeping view of the whole area, including the ocean. It’s possible to tour the fire station if you call them ahead of time to let them know when you’ll be visiting.

Adrenalin-pumping car chases, soothing and meditative dripping water that creates magical notes, a Gaudi in Shinagawa-Mita, and a handsome historical fire station. How much more eclectic can you get?