support this research
160301-0026 Shinagawa Station Tokyo 1880s

Tokyo 1880s
Shinagawa Station

Artist Kuichi Uchida
Publisher Kuichi Uchida
Medium Albumen Print
Period Meiji
Location Tokyo
Image No. 160301-0026
Purchase Digital FilePrint

This is one of those photos that makes you look at the title in utter disbelief. But Shinagawa Station in the late nineteenth century did actually look this rural, with the waves of Tokyo Bay reaching to the very edge of the station.

In those days, certainly nobody foresaw that the tiny country station would grow into today’s massive complex. It now services over three quarters of a million passengers daily, making it one of the busiest stations in Japan.1

In spite of its humble location and looks, Shinagawa Station played a title role in the development of Japan’s railway system. The country’s very first daily train services, which started on June 12, 1872 (Meiji 5), ran between this station and Yokohama. Yokohama’s foreign settlement had turned into a crucial trading port and was located some twenty kilometers southwest of Shinagawa.

80115-0049 - Shinagawa Map
1879 (Meiji 12) Map of Tokyo Bay: 1. Shinbashi Station; 2. Tsukishima Island; 3. Hamarikyu; 4. Shinagawa Station; 5. Odaiba Forts; 6. Shinagawa Shuku. During the twentieth century much of Tokyo Bay visible on this map was reclaimed.

That trains went no further than Shinagawa was rather inconvenient for travelers because, as this photo makes clear, it was far on the edge of Tokyo. In those days, Shinagawa was not even part of Tokyo. Nobody would have considered it either. This was countryside. So much so, that on many old maps of Tokyo, Shinagawa lies outside the confines of the map.

The railway was really supposed to go on to Shinbashi (also: Shimbashi) Station, near Ginza. But Japan’s military balked. They would not allow tracks on their land. It took months before the line was finally extended to the brand new Shinbashi Station.

On October 14, 1872 the line was officially opened by Emperor Meiji and for many years passengers came to see Shinagawa Station as merely an irrelevant stop on their way to other destinations. So irrelevant actually, that in tourist guidebooks to Japan of the late 19th and early 20th century usually just a few sentences are expended on Shinagawa.

The famous Keeling’s Guide to Japan2, published in 1890, writes a grand total of 103 words about Shinagawa:

Numerous fishermen reside at this place, who carry large quantities of fish to Tokyo every day. A view of the bay is obtained here, with the forts in the distance. They were built by Japanese, under the direction of French engineers, and were intended for the defense of Tokyo, but are now dismantled. Excursionists sometimes go there to gather oysters and other shell-fish, which are found in great abundance. Ships belonging to the Imperial Navy are seen at anchor beyond. At the end of November this town ought to be visited as at that time the maple trees are at their prettiest.

120411-0011 - Boat for collecting seaweed at Shinagawa, ca 1895 (Meiji 28)
Boat for collecting seaweed at Shinagawa, ca 1895 (Meiji 28).

Although guidebooks paid Shinagawa scant attention, it is not surprising that the planners of Japan’s early railways decided to place a station on this spot. For centuries, Shinagawa had been the most important entry and exit point of Tokyo, then still known as Edo.

The post station (shuku) here was the first one for travellers starting upon the famed Tokaido highway after they left the zero point at Nihonbashi, in the center of Edo. For those traveling the Tokaido towards Edo, it was the last station they encountered before entering the city.

There were four other highways connecting Edo with the rest of the country, but the Tokaido was the busiest. Shinagawa bustled with activity day and night.

During the Edo Period (1603-1868), Shinagawa Shuku provided around a hundred men and a hundred horses to traveling officials every single day. If more were needed, they were conscripted from nearby government-assigned villages.2

In addition to these officials, there were countless regular travelers, as well as the Japanese feudal lords, or daimyo, who regularly passed through with their large retinues.

Some years after the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1600, the so called Sankin-kotai (参勤交代, alternate attendance) policy was established. It required that daimyo move periodically between Edo and their fief, usually accompanied by a hundred and fifty to three hundred retainers. These processions were an almost daily occurrence in Edo.

Sankin-Kotai Procession along Edo Bay
Procession of soldiers along Edo Bay (頼朝公行烈之図).

Thanks to the huge numbers of people passing through, Shinagawa boasted large numbers of tea houses, inns and brothels. By 1843 (Tenpo 14), there were no less than 93 accommodations with female prostitutes.4 Shinagawa offered essentially the same services and pleasures as the larger entertainment area in Tokyo’s legendary Yoshiwara red-light district.

Although exposed to travellers daily, the inhabitants of Shinagawa were a conservative bunch. They had little to no interest in all the changes that were rapidly washing over Japan in the late 19th century. There actually was strong opposition to the railroad passing by so close. As it turned out, the railway took a turn inland close to the station and avoided the coastal town completely.

Because of this, it took a little effort to reach the post station from the station. Increasingly fewer people bothered. The area near the station prospered, the old post station became isolated. Although it managed to survive as a pleasure quarter for a while, old Shinagawa had become essentially irrelevant within years after the opening of the railroad, as the guidebooks attest.

It would take many decades before Shinagawa once again started to play a major role. By that time, the brothels in the old post station had mostly vanished…

During the twentieth century much of Tokyo Bay was reclaimed. Few people these days even know that Shinagawa Station used to be right on the shore of the bay, with one of the most beautiful views in the Tokyo area.

see current map

Final Note

This image has been attributed to Japanese photographer Kuichi Uchida (内田 九一, 1844–1875), which would mean it must have been taken between 1872 (Meiji 5) and 1875 (Meiji 8).

However, the covered footbridge visible in this photo was possibly built sometime around 1882 (Meiji 15), dating this photo to after that date.5

This photograph, one of the clearest photos of Shinagawa Station in its early days, is exceptionally rare. I am extremely lucky to have it in my private collection.

Shinagawa Hinode on the Tokaido by Utagawa Hiroshige
Shinagawa Hinode (品川日の出, Sunrise, Shinagawa) from the Tokaido Gojusan no Tsugi (東海道五十三次, The fifty-three stations of the Tokaido Road) series by Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川 広重, 1797–1858).


1 East Japan Railway Company. Transportation // Tokyo Metropolitan Area Network, Intercity Network, and Shinkansen (pdf), Annual Report 2017, 50. Retrieved on 2018-9-24.

2 Farsari, A. (1890). Keeling’s Guide to Japan. Yokohama, Tokio, Hakone, Fujiyama, Kamakura, Yokoska, Kanozan, Narita, Nikko, Kioto, Osaka, Kobe, &c. &c. Kelly & Walsh, Limited: 53.

3 Shinagawa Historical Museum (品川区立品川歴史館). Shinagawa-shuku (pdf), Shinagawa Historical Museum Commentary Sheet. Retrieved on 2018-9-24.

4 ibid.

5 Ayako Miura, Shigeru Onoda (June 2009). Historical Study on Railway Foot Bridge in the Meiji Era (pdf), AIJ J. Technol. Des. Vol. 15, No.30, 577-580. Retrieved on 2018-9-24.


Leave a Comment

Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). Tokyo 1880s: Shinagawa Station, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on October 1, 2022 (GMT) from

I have a small favor to ask

Old Photos of Japan aims to be your personal museum for Japan's visual heritage to increase our understanding of Japanese culture and society.

Finding, acquiring, scanning, restoring, researching and conserving these vintage images, and making the imagery and research freely available online, takes serious time, money and effort.

I do this without charging for access, selling user data, or running ads.

Your support helps to make this possible, and ensures that this important visual heritage of Japan will not be lost and forgotten.

If you can, please consider supporting Old Photos of Japan with a regular amount each month. Or become a volunteer.

Thank you,
Kjeld Duits

support this research

Explore More


Kobe 1900s
View from Aioibashi

A steam locomotive pushes wagons on the Tokaido railway line. The photographer was standing on Aioibashi bridge, a railway overpass, looking east with his back towards Kobe Station.


Osaka 1910s
Prefectural Office

A boat passes in front of the Osaka Prefectural Office on Enokojima Island. Through 1926, this small island was the center of Osaka’s prefectural government.


Kobe 1920s

A view from Kobe’s Tamondori onto Sankaku Koen (literally Triangle Park) in Hyogo-ku. The road on the right is Daikaidori (大開道), the one on the left Yanagiharasen (柳原線). It lead to Hyogo Station, and still does so, today.


There are currently no comments on this article.