Odaiba, then & now: a visual history

I. Cruel story of obsessive-compulsiveness

Often, when I watch old Japanese movies, I come across familiar-looking filming locations that drive me to the point of distraction. Where was that filmed? I am compelled to find the answer, spending dozens of hours to find the answer. I’ve blogged about this a before, whether it’s an intersection in Akasaka, a church in Yotsuya, or Sensō-ji in Asakusa.

In a prior-post, I described a puzzling scene from Cruel Story of Youth (1960) 青春残酷物語, which shows a boat passing by wooden pilings and into a large pool filled with floating logs. Here, in consecutive photos, is a full sweep of the scene:

The following provides the best clues regarding the camera location. (Exhibit A).

Cruel story of Youth boat Odaiba 1960Where was this filmed? Once you know the answer, it seems a bit obvious. It is right next to Odaiba お台場, an artificial island in Tokyo. The exact location is here. Here is the area as seen from above:

2014 location answer - paintThe following is a screen-shot from Google earth showing the same scene as Exhibit A, 54 years later (at a slightly higher elevation).

Odaiba view google EarthThe changes between 1960 to 2014 are notable for a few reasons:

1. Rainbow Bridge (completed in 1993)

2. Development of dozens of large buildings, including:

3. Absence of the floating logs.

  • in the right foreground of Exhibit A, thousands of logs are floating in cramped captivity.
  • now, the water is clear of logs, and used by pleasure boats, with a clear view of the large buildings in Odaiba; here is a before-and-after from roughly the same location. (2014 map)

II. A brief history of daiba and Odaiba

The dual use of daiba and odaiba has often caused me confusion. Here’s what I know:

Daiba 台場 – This word refers to man-made islands that were built, starting in 1853, as a defense against Commodore Perry and foreign invaders. I believe the word daiba originally meant the batteries of cannons located on the islands, but this term can be generalized to mean these islands themselves. As a result, daiba can reasonably be translated to ‘island fort’ or ‘battery island’. This is a picture of a daiba:

Of the seven daiba that were built (not all were finished), only two remain. The others were either covered by man-made land or removed to improve shipping lanes. Below left (Exhibit C), is a map of the daiba, numbered in red, with yellow circles indicating the ones that no longer exist. Only #3 and #6 remain. #3 is open to the public, known as Daiba Park 台場公園 (map).

As recently as 1946, most of the Daiba still existed. Below, right, is detail of a US Army map from 1946, showing that all of the daiba but #7 were visible (although #4 had been incorporated into the tip of Tennōzu Isle 天王洲アイル, now the location of Sea Fort Square シーフォートスクエアmap).

The daiba are clearly visible in the following aerial photograph from 1936, with a comparison to the 1946 map.

And things were a lot different a century ago. In the following map from 1909, all of the daiba are depicted, and, more interestingly, almost none of Tokyo’s vast reclaimed land exists. This is a stark contrast to 2014:

Odaiba お台場 – from my research, the word daiba morphed into the word odaiba when, out of respect for the shogun, officials added the kanji 御 to daiba, for 御台場, meaning “your 御 daiba 台場”. Pronounced odaiba, today the kanji is replaced with the phonetic お, followed by 台場. (footnote 2). Today, the word Odaiba generally means the man-made island containing, among other things, the Aqua City Odaiba, a miniature Statue of Liberty, and the Fuji Television building. More on this below.

If it’s not already confusing…

Daiba Station 台場駅 – is a station of the Yurikamome Line 新交通ゆりかもめ, located in Odaiba.

Daiba is also the name of an official geographical district within Tokyo’s Minato-ku (ward). Within Minato-ku there are five districts 地区: Azabu, Shiba, Akasaka, Takanawa, and Shibaura Konan. Within the district of Shibaura Konan 芝浦港南 there are four regions 地域, of which Daiba is one. Within Daiba there are two chome 丁目, Daiba 1-chome and Daiba 2-chome / 台場(だいば)一・二丁目). The “official” definition of Daiba is shown in the map below, circled in yellow.

Colloquially, when people speak of “going to Odaiba”, the geographic place they refer to is essentially identical to the officially-defined Daiba. Personally, I would say that “Odaiba” also includes all of the Yurikamome stations between Odaibakaihinkoen お台場海浜公園 and Aomi 青海 (some of these are technically in Aomi, Koto-ku 青海、江東区. Wikipedia calls Odaiba “a large artificial island”, but the southern border of this island is somewhat arbitrary, as seen below, right, which is Google’s definition of Odaiba (the Tokyo Port takes up all of the area south of the purple border).

III. Why accuracy in blogs is important

Wherein I explain how I wasted several hours investigating a bad lead

When I started my search, I found a blog claiming that the log scene from Cruel Story of Youth was filmed in Kiba 木場, which makes sense, as kiba means ‘timber basin’ 貯木場, a variation of ‘lumberyard’ 貯木. I spent several hours on this dead-end precisely because it was so promising: for many years, logs were transported by river and stored in Kiba. I found some excellent pictures of this, particularly:

The lumberyards in Kiba were relocated in 1969 and replaced with Kiba park; the location of these lumberyards can be seen in the 1946 US Army map, which includes the label “Lumber Storage Ponds”. This is matches the current location of Kiba park, can be verified by comparison to existing canals and landmasses.

It only took 4 hours to realize I was lost.

IV. How I know I’m right

I wanted absolute proof that I’d found the correct location, particularly in light of the Kiba fiasco. I’m indebted to the author of Exhibit C, and also to a blog that posted a series of pictures depicting changes to Odaiba between 1947 and 2007. Here are two of the pictures, in which similarities to the movie stills are evident: the daiba, the large number of logs, and the narrow channel running between the two thin islands.

The clues that allowed me to claim victory are the four rows of wooden pilings that jut into the water in the gap between the two thin islands. For the movie, the camera likely was placed on top of the pilings due to the flat surface. Today, the pilings no longer exist, but they were quite visible in the photos from 1963 and 1966; the ladder-like gaps running down the middle of each series is the final, decisive detail.

The filming location is now a bird sanctuary, as seen in the following map, labeled 「鳥の島 (立入禁止」, or “Bird Island – Off-limits” (source).

There are probably plenty of people who, when watching Cruel Story of Youth, would recognize the location instantly. That would have saved me a lot of time, but it would have prevented me from discovering the excellent mapping tools that I used extensively, and plan to use in the future.

Cheers to searching, getting lost, and getting found.

Selected Sources:

Yurikamome map ゆりかもめマップ東京お台場 / お台場 地図 英語 / English Odaiba Map:

Daiba & Odaiba – overview

Daiba & Odaiba – historical maps and aerial photography

Kiba

Other

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17 comments

  1. I really appreciate your methodical approach. Actually, this was the first time I’ve seen those Post War maps of the bay. I’m fascinated by them.

    As for the daiba/o-daiba thing, that is definitely an attribute of the late local dialect of Edoites. Possessions of the shōgunate were almost always given honorifics.

  2. Great post! I really enjoyed reading your step-by-step “discovery”. You’re right that, for some, the location might seem obvious from the movie shots, but the process of unwrapping and connecting all these disparate elements is far more fun.

    An interesting tidbit: I’ve lived in Kachidoki since 2008 and, when I first moved here, the whole north side of Harumi Futo had a long, narrow strip of concrete full of hundreds of very large dry timber logs. I always wondered if they were forgotten stock. There is also the remnant of the old cargo rail line (東京都港湾局専用線) just before Toyosu that used to run from Harumi. I think that cargo line was not used for timber, but definitely a remnant of the industry running through the whole area from Harumi through Etchujima and beyond.

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