New global gateway: Takanawa Gateway Station
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is upon us, where the best athletes from all over the world will gather in Japan’s capital city and compete in the biggest sports event held every 4 years. In 2013, the city of Tokyo won the bid to host the event, and since then it has been making many preparations to welcome the prestigious occasion, from extensive venue and infrastructure development to massive public relations and marketing promotions. JR East also pitched in for this momentous event, with the opening of a railway station on one of its most recognised railway lines.
For this article, we shall be exploring JR Takanawa Gateway Station (JR高輪ゲートウェイ駅 Tanakawa Gētowei-eki), the latest addition to JR East’s extensive railway network in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. The railway station was opened to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics originally scheduled for last summer, and we shall explore how the station came about and its special features, in light of the event that is finally commencing in the upcoming weeks.
The railway station’s exterior. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
After Tokyo’s winning bid to host the Olympics 8 years ago, JR East announced the construction of a new railway station the following year, in June 2014. The station was scheduled to open in conjunction with the quadrennial event, and is located in Minato Ward (港区 Minato-ku), between JR Shinagawa Station (JR品川駅 Shinagawa-eki) and JR Tamachi Station (JR田町駅 Tamachi-eki). The station is also designated as a core facility for the "Global Gateway Shinagawa", a redevelopment project to transform Shinagawa into an attractive global hub.
Takanawa Gateway Station on the Yamanote Line. (Image credit: JR Times / Sue Lynn)
With the location and master plan confirmed, construction of the station began in February 2017, and it would be served by the JR Yamanote Line (JR山手線 Yamanote-sen) and JR Keihin-Tōhoku Line (JR京浜東北線 Keihin-Tōhoku-sen).
“What shall we name it?”
The railway station’s ticket gates. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
What sets Takanawa Gateway Station apart from other stations is the naming process. In June 2018, JR East conducted an open poll to the public to give their suggestions for the name of the new station, and ‘Takanawa Gateway’ was eventually adopted later in December. The name was chosen because the surrounding area has been a bustling trading hub since ancient times due to its connectivity with highways and business routes, and thus the area has been widely regarded as ‘Takanawa Ōkido’ (高輪大木戸), a gateway to Takanawa and Tokyo as a whole. The name was chosen to symbolise its historical significance and embody its conjunction with the ‘Global Gateway Shinagawa’ redevelopment project. With its unique name, the station is specially chosen to be the symbolic gateway to a new era, as the area used to be in the past.
Taking the grand tour
The station opened to the public on 14 March 2020, which was 10 days before the Tokyo Olympics was postponed to the following year. Since its opening, many passengers have transited at the station and marvelled at its aesthetics and architecture. Let’s explore the ins and outs of the station, and look at how much thought is put into every detail.
① Architectural ingenuity
The railway station’s interior architecture. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
It is not a stretch to call Takanawa Gateway Station an architectural and engineering marvel. The station building was designed based on the theme of ‘station-town as one’ (駅まち一体 eki-machi ittai), representing itself as a model for urban design for the 21st century. Two prominent individuals were engaged to design the station: Kuma Kengo (隈研吾), a Japanese architect who was the mastermind behind amazing architectures such as the Asakusa Culture Tourism Center and the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum; and Mende Kaoru (面出薰), an established architectural lighting designer who was involved in the lighting decors for impressive structures such as the Tokyo International Forum and the Singapore National Museum.
The most unique architectural aspect of the station is the wide atrium called Railway Terrace (鉄道テラスTetsudō-terasu) that extends from the platform levels, a feature that most other railway stations don’t have. It features a piano which the public may use for recreation during selected weeks, and an event space for exhibitors.
Railway Terrace Vision. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
Railway Terrace Vision at play. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
The most outstanding feature at the atrium is the Railway Terrace Vision, a giant screen where different images can be shown. The screen displays images that illustrate how the district of Takanawa has evolved over the years since the advent of railways in Japan, when the first railway service in Japan opened in 1872, between Shimbashi Station (新橋駅 Shinbashi-eki) and the then Yokohama Station (横浜駅 Yokohama-eki), which is present-day Sakuragicho Station (桜木町駅 Sakuragichō-eki).
The screen is connected to smaller screen strips above it, so both can make clever displays such as images of steam locomotives—relics of Japan’s railways in the past—where main screen shows the locomotive, and the screen strips display plumes of steam coming out of it. On special festive occasions, the screens would also display images of fireworks!
② Instilling the values of Japan
The railway station’s roofs. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
Takanawa Gateway Station was designed with ‘Japan Value’ in mind, and construction materials were carefully chosen to showcase this. For instance, the station features a large roof installed with a white ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) membrane that resembles a tent and spreads like an enormous origami artwork. This membrane allows sunlight into the station, making use of natural lighting to light up the station, while its high thermal reflectance keeps the heat out. On top of that, the membrane roof also has a self-cleaning mechanism with the help of the sun and rain.
The station's ceiling beams, made from steel and wood. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
The tent-life shape of the roof is made possible with the use of steel and wood for the ceiling beams. Interestingly, the wood used is Japanese cedar (杉 sugi) sourced from Minami-Sanriku (南三陸), an area in Tohoku (東北) that was severely affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake (東北地方太平洋沖地震 Tōhoku-chihō Taiheiyō Oki Jishin) in 2011. With the clever use of wood and ETFE membrane, passengers at the station can enjoy the sunlight shining through the wooden lattices and white tent-like film without the warmth.
Solar panels on the roofs of the station. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
The station's small-scale wind generators. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
Glass is also extensively used throughout the station, such as the walls and railings, to render the building bright and refreshing with the use of natural lighting as well. Solar panels and small-scale wind power generators are also installed on the roofs and near the station respectively to make use of renewable energy.
The station’s wood-themed structure and flooring. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
Another interesting thing to note is that even the station’s flooring looks and feels like wood. For this however, the tiles used for the floors have a woody grain for that hospitable warmth to the overall wood-themed architecture of the station.
With the meticulous and clever use of glass, Japanese cedar, and steel as its main construction materials, the station becomes a perfect example of ‘old meeting the new’, with the combination of traditional Japanese architecture with state-of-the-art technical engineering to illustrate Japanese values and support for energy-saving initiatives.
③ Passenger-centric designs
Wheelchair-friendly train doors. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
Platform fillers for easier boarding and alighting. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
As demographics of train users change over time, railway stations also evolve to ensure that their needs and concerns are met. Takanawa Gateway Station understands how important it is to ensure that all passengers can have a smooth and hassle-free travel experience, so many measures are in place just for that. For instance, to ensure that wheelchair-bound passengers can use the trains more easily, the station uses rubber platform gap fillers at designated train doors to fill in the gaps between the platform and the train. This prevents wheelchair-bound passengers from getting their wheels stuck between the gaps when boarding the train. On top of that, large, bright-pink floor signs are used to indicate wheelchair-friendly zones for easy viewing.
Takanaway Gateway Station's informative signboards. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
Other designs that are incorporated for their passengers’ welfare include the use of large signages for easier viewing, and informative signboards to show passengers their current location in the station and directions to important buildings and landmarks from the station.
Multi-language mirror signage at the restrooms. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
Do you know what’s the niftiest about Takanawa Gateway Station? At the restrooms, there are full-length mirror signages that visitors can look at. The display image changes from time to time, from graphics related to the four seasons to greetings in multiple languages: Japanese, German, Spanish, Indonesian, Arabic, and many more. The coolest thing about this mirror signage? It also displays train information, such as train arrival times, so that passengers won’t miss their train!
May (A)I help you?
The robots of Takanawa Gateway Stations. (Image credit: EAST JAPAN RAILWAY TRADING CO., LTD.)
One outstanding feature of Takanawa Gateway Station is its extensive use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robots. Yes, robots! AI and robots are becoming more prevalent in Japan, and with ‘Global Gateway Shinagawa’ as its epicentre, JR East plans to incorporate the themes of ‘touch-free’ and ‘non-face to face’ by leveraging on the two technologies so that visitors and passengers can have a smoother and hassle-free experience at the station.
The station serves as a place for robot deployment for social experiments—in other words, to see how robots can aid in improving passengers with their travel experience—but unfortunately, most of the robots are currently not in use due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and we hope that they will be eventually deployed in due time. In the meantime, let us take a peek at what these robots do, and how they, together with AI, are playing important roles at Takanawa Gateway Station:
① Touch-free AI display guide
The station’s new touch-free AI display. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
Visitors to the station will find a sleek display represented by a cute digital female staff named Koishikawa Aya (小石川彩) near the manned ticket gate, and they can interact with it to ask questions and get assistance. Unlike conventional touch panels, this display doesn’t require physical touch on the screen to operate because the camera and sensors can detect a visitor when they’re in front of it, and a cursor will appear just by moving their finger.
The AI display at the manned ticket gate. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
The display can help in addressing commonly asked questions that visitors have at the ticket gates, such as directions and ticketing queries. However, if the display can’t help them with their questions, or if more assistance is needed, a station staff from the ticket office would be more than happy to come and help. The AI display has voice activation capabilities, and English language is also available. This AI display guide will be in service from 16 July onwards.
② Robot avatars
A robot avatar at your service. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
Need help but station staff are nowhere in sight? At Takanawa Gateway Station, you can get help from these cute robot avatars that wander the grounds of the station. These robots enable visitors to interact with station staff remotely via a display screen, so they don’t need to travel all the way to the ticket office or look for the ticket gate staff for assistance. Rather than going to find help, help is now coming to you. How convenient is that!
③ Luggage transporters
A luggage transporter. (Image credit: EAST JAPAN RAILWAY TRADING CO., LTD.)
Passengers with heavy luggage can rejoice at the station, where there will be robots that can help them carry their luggage around. They can load their luggage onto the back of the robot, and the robot will autonomously follow them around. Plus, they have anti-collision sensors that prevent them from colliding with oncoming passer-bys. Imagine having your own luggage assistant to help carry your luggage in the station!
④ Cleaning robots
A cleaning robot. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, regular disinfection and sanitisation have become imperative. To ensure the health and safety of all their passengers, cleaning robots are deployed here to help in keeping the station clean at all times. The robots will help in disinfecting floors and places frequently used by passengers such as handrails and seats, while anti-collision sensors ensure that they won’t collide with passengers as they do their work. The station hopes that, with the help of these robots, all passengers can travel with a peace of mind.
⑤ Light meals / beverage delivery
Light meal and beverage delivery service robots. (Image credit: EAST JAPAN RAILWAY TRADING CO., LTD.)
There will also be robots to help with delivering light meals and beverages to their patrons. The station aims to create an environment where people can enjoy eating and drinking in outdoor spaces at the station in the future, and robots are there to help realise their goals. Having a robot serving you refreshments is a step up in sheer convenience and hospitality!
⑥ Automated window vacuum cleaners
Automated window vacuum cleaners. (Image credit: EAST JAPAN RAILWAY TRADING CO., LTD.)
If you spot contraptions on the glass windows when you visit Takanawa Gateway Station, don’t be alarmed. These are automated window vacuum cleaners that use a special suction technology that allows them to stick to the windows and not fall off. They are able to clean windows continuously for 50 minutes, and they are also cordless. By using these cleaners, the station can reduce human resources and improve safety for their staff too.
⑦ Convenience store made more convenient
TOUCH TO GO convenience store inside the station. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
Convenience stores are synonymous with Japan, and it wouldn’t surprise most people that Takanawa Gateway Station features one too. But do you know that there are no staff manning this store? TOUCH TO GO is a convenience store that, unlike most other convenience stores, replaces human staff with AI and technology.
TOUCH TO GO's automated cash register. (Image credit: Japan Rail Cafe Tokyo / Nakamura)
Cameras on the ceiling and sensors of the shelves register the items you grab, and when you come up to the automated cash register, your items and prices are displayed on a monitor screen. In case the information displayed is incorrect, you can manually adjust it before confirming payment. Plus, since the items you take are registered by the store’s system and not just at the cash register, the store will recognise if you have a change of heart and decide to return the items. Thanks to AI, you can get your items and make payment smoothly and without any hassle!
Takanawa Gateway Station’s surrounding areas in the future, as part of ‘Global Gateway Shinagawa’. (Image credit: JR East)
Takanawa Gateway Station is just the start to what we can expect from the surrounding areas. By 2024, the ‘Global Gateway Shinagawa’ will enable us to see the areas around the station transform into an integrated town-station featuring a 360-degree plaza, lush greenery, and a four-block ‘Archipelago layout’ where the buildings symbolise islands of the Japanese archipelago. It's an ambitious and momentous redevelopment project that showcases modern urban design in Tokyo, and we can all look forward to it in the next few years!
Takanawa Gateway Station. (Video credit: TokyoYard PROJECT / JR East)
As Japan continually transforms itself to become more globalised, railway stations will evolve to meet passengers’ changing needs. Takanawa Gateway Station is built not only to be a railway station, but as a gateway to welcome more visitors—local and foreign—into Shinagawa and Tokyo as a whole.
When overseas travel restarts, this will be one of my must-visits in Tokyo, and I hope that this is just the beginning to seeing more amazing railway stations emerge in Japan!
(Insider tip: if you’re planning to travel to Tokyo and other parts of eastern Japan, do check out JR East’s rail passes!)
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The new JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited train rides on JR East lines, including bullet trains, within the valid area for 5 consecutive days. It's only ¥20,000, making it a great option for visitors to Tohoku and parts of Tokyo. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here. It can also be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.
JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)
The new JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) is an affordable pass that offers unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days. At only ¥18,000, making it a great option for visitors to Nagano, Niigata and parts of Tokyo. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here. It can also be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.
JR TOKYO Wide Pass
The JR TOKYO Wide Pass, and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
If you’re thinking of visiting Tokyo and nearby areas within the region, then the JR TOKYO Wide Pass is the one for you. It is an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days. At ¥10,180, you can use it to travel around Tokyo and many other places within the designated areas. You can also make seat reservations online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here. It can also be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.
Header image credit: JR East / Kobori