Times have changed: Akasaka Mitsuke (1949, 1963, 2013) 赤坂見附 交差点

Akasaka Mitsuke 1949 intersection

As a movie buff and walker of Tokyo’s streets I take great interest in identifying the locations of Tokyo-based films. The photo above is stitched from five stills from the 1949 film Ojôsan kanpai お嬢さん乾杯 (aka Here’s to the Girls, or A Toast to the Young Miss). It’s a large intersection, joining several roads, and home to a streetcar. As the camera pans from left to right, it follows a motorcycle carrying the main character (played by Shûji Sano 佐野周二) and his friend. They pass Benkei-bashi bridge 弁慶橋 on their left and continue up a hill (today near exit 5 of Nagatachō Station 永田町駅).

Akasaka hill Nagatacho Benkeibashi

When I first saw this I had no idea where it was filmed. Because of the slope and trees I thought the scene might have been filmed in the outskirts of Tokyo (perhaps Setagaya-ku 世田谷区, birthplace of Toho Pictures). But the outskirts are too broad, so I focused on the streetcar; if I could just find a streetcar map from 1949, I could look for a similarly large intersection. I managed to find such a map, but it was dishearteningly large.

Tokyo Streetcar map Post WW2

Surprisingly my (terrible) Japanese skills came in handy; I recognized “Aoyama 青山” on the road sign in the foreground, narrowing the location to a small radius. Finally, I noticed water in the background of the first photo (and left side of the second). This limited the possibilities considerably, as there are only so many ponds near Aoyama. Before too long (actually, after too long) I determined this was Akasaka Mitsuke intersection 赤坂見附 交差点 (map). Perhaps only I am interested in this discovery, but I thought best to share my results.

Evidence

Using google maps, I matched the water and shape of the intersection with that of the film. I confirmed this with other photos from the same era. The first photo, circa 1961, looks east/southeast from Benkei-bashi bridge, with the official residence of the Japanese House of Representatives on the hill on the right (also below, right). The slope and location of several stone posts, which end at a telephone pole, are consistent with the post from seen in the film.

Discouragingly, in the film there is a structure obscuring the Benkei-bashi, so I wasn’t 100% sure of my conclusion. However, the following photos provide valuable clues. In the first photo (circa 1961, below left), the background shows a road rising from left to right, with some sort of bridge on the left half, and backed by a high white wall, which is consistent with the frame from the film (below, right). The 1961 photo is described as being taken from Benkei-bashi, and is consistent with 2013 (below, center). Today, even though the scenery is overshadowed by a highway, the sloping road in the background still exists, as do the boaters. Incidentally, if you follow this road to Sophia University 上智大学, there is a beauituful and quiet wooded path overlooking Yotsuya station, which is one of my favorite spots in Tokyo (except during hanami 花見 when it’s overrun by drunk students).

Wait, there’s more

At the conclusion of Seijun Suzuki’s 鈴木 清順 Detective Bureau 23: Go to Hell Bastards 探偵事務所23くたばれ悪党ども (1963), the main character (Joe Shoshido 宍戸 錠) gets into a sportscar and drives away with his woman. As the jazz music crescendos and the camera pans out, the car enters a busy intersection, enveloped by traffic and backed by the chaos of new construction. How about that, it’s Akasaka Mitsuke 赤坂見附 交差点, circa 1963! In the early 1960s this intersection underwent tremendous change. In the still from the film (below, left) you can see the newly erected pillars of a highway overpass, seen also in another photo from 1963 (below, right, source).

Timeline

Seeing this intersection from three eras was a happy accident. Time certainly has wrought great change to this area, as seen below in 1949, 1963, followed by 1966 (in a still from Tokyo Drifter 東京流れ者) then 2013. The streetcars have disappeared underground, and overpasses and buildings have grown inexorably. It’s hard to imagine this intersection becoming any more developed. Yet the grass traffic dividers remain virtually unchanged. In another 40 years will this still be true when we have flying cars?

Resources:

Here’s a ukiyo-e from roughly the same location (source):

And the scene from the opposite direction, circa 1963 (source):

See also:

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