If you are coming to Japan, no doubt you’ll have to pass through Shinagawa at some point if coming from Haneda or Narita Airport.
Shinagawa (品川) is one of the busiest hubs in Tokyo with direct connections to Haneda Airport via the Keikyu Line, and Narita Airport via the Narita Express. If you are coming to Tokyo, you’ll no doubt be passing through this busy area.
If you pass through the Takanawa Exit of the station, you will find hotels, shopping malls, embassies, and aquariums. The Konan Exit on the east side of the station has been modernized in the last two decades with high-rise office buildings, restaurants, shops, and a park.
A Glimpse Into Shinagawa’s History
As always, let’s start with a little bit of history before we get to the meat of things.
Historical records as far back as the 8th century show Shinagawa being a transit point for goods. This role is reflected in its name “Goods River.”
The area became more prominent and important when the Tokaido road was completed during the Edo era. This road connected Edo (now Tokyo) with Kyoto. Travel became necessary for feudal lords to travel to Edo to visit the shogun. Shinagawa was the first of 53 shukuba (post stations) for travelers departing from Nihonbashi, Tokyo. A post station was like the old school equivalent of hotels. They provided food and accommodation to travelers.
Since the area is adjacent to it, Shinagawa’s importance doubled when Tokyo Bay reclamation projects were implemented.
The Shinagawa station is one of the oldest since it began operations in 1872, four months before the inauguration of the first railway in Japan. It will be one of the first stations to use a gravity-defying maglev train. The initial section of the maglev Chuo Shinkansen is from Shinagawa Station in Tokyo and Nagoya Station in Nagoya. Construction began in 2014 and might be operational by 2027.
What To Do In The Connected City
So what is there to exactly do in Shinagawa? It’s not particularly known as a tourist destination, however there is a lot of hidden gems you can visit if you are trying to kill some time before catching a flight, or if you booked your hotel here.
Kyu-Tokaido (Tokaido Avenue)
Pretend that you’ve gone back in time and wander through the road travelers used during the Edo era. There are still traces of this bygone era in the traditional guesthouses, shops, restaurants, cafés, and bars along this avenue.
The entrance to the avenue is via the Yatsuyama Bridge from Shinagawa Station. You’ll see a paved promenade with stone markers containing the names of the 53 shuku.
From the bridge, you can make a detour toward the Shinagawa-ura waters. This used to be a coastline before it became a dock for boats like yakatabune (roofed recreation boats). Moving on, you’ll see the Kagata-jinja Shrine, which has a monument dedicated to whales.
Continuing on through Kyu-Tokaido Avenue, you’ll see Seiseki Park. Inside this park is a monument to the original Shinagawa-shuku Honjin (main accommodations at Shinagawa-shuku), which can be considered the hotel of nobles and feudal lords during the Edo era.
Walking from Seiseki Park using the Daiichi Keihin Route, you’ll find the steps toward Shinagawa Shrine (more on this later).
After the shrine, you’ll see the Shinagawa-shuku Koryukan (community lounge) where you can get a Town Stroll Map in English. Beside the Koryukan is the Shinagawa Bridge, which was built across the Meguro River. Beyond this structure you’ll see another bridge, the Chinju Bridge. Here you’ll see the Ebara Shrine.
Hara Museum & Hisui Genseki Kan
The Hara Museum showcases an eclectic array of contemporary art from artists like Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, and Maruyama Okyo.
The compound was once the private mansion and garden of Hara Kunizo, who used to be a very successful businessman. The main structure was built in 1938 by Jin Watanabe, a famous Japanese architect. The 1930s architecture has been preserved to this day. It was used as an embassy of the Philippines and then Sri Lanka before it was converted into a museum in 1979.
The museum has become an important venue to introduce emerging artists from all over the world. Unfortunately, it is scheduled to permanently close by December 2020. So be sure to visit it before next year ends.
When you’re there pass by the museum’s gift shop and its restaurant, Café D’Art. The desserts at the restaurant are based on the works of art exhibited in the museum. The Hisui Genseki Kan (Jade Ore Museum) is right around the corner from the Hara Museum. It opened in 2002 as a place to exhibit the jade collection of its curator, Nobuyuki Tsurumi.
On display are jade, both cut and uncut, in various sizes, shapes, and designs. You can see small pieces of jade jewelry and a bathroom mosaic made from jade. Many of the exhibits can be bought. Just look for the ones with price tags. If you’re planning to buy some, remember that jade is expensive.
Although the exhibit is mainly in the Japanese language, the staff will gladly print an English brochure for you.
During his reign, Emperor Meiji appointed ten shrines as symbols of a modern era and sites to pray for a peaceful society. The Shinagawa Shrine is one of these ten. This Shinto shrine itself was built in 1187. Stories say that Ieyasu Tokugawa prayed here before winning the Battle of Sekigahara.
To reach the shrine, you’ll need to take a long flight of steep steps up a small hill. This hill is considered a fujizuka (a small hill that resembles Mt. Fuji). There’s even lava along the path from Mt. Fuji itself. Although there are other fujizuka in Tokyo, this is the tallest at 15 meters high.
Fujizuka were built long ago for people who could not afford to travel to Mt. Fuji and climb it. People believe that you will receive the same type of blessing you will receive from climbing Mt. Fuji when you “conquer” a fujizuka.
At the top of the hill, a special torii (shrine gates) will greet you. Torii are usually plain pillars. Shinagawa Shrine’s torii has elaborately carved dragons twining through the pillars.
Besides the shrine itself, you’ll find additional attractions to enjoy.
First is Ana Inari-jinja. This shrine within a shrine has red torii that look like the striking torii of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. And like the Kyoto shrine, this one is dedicated to Inari, the goddess of foxes. Here you can wash coins in the fountain and see if the value will increase 10,000 times afterward.
Shinagawa Shukuba Matsuri Festival
This is held during one weekend in late September. Mikoshi (portable shrines) are carried from the Shinagawa Shrine down to the town and paraded through the Tokaido before being carried up to the shrine again at dusk.
The Kitashinagawa Shopping Street hosts the festival. There are plenty of food stalls and souvenir shops.
The Saturday of the festival is called Oiran Dochu. Women dressed up as oiran (high-class courtesans, the ancestor of modern geisha) hold a special parade. The next day, people wear traditional costumes that make you feel like you’ve gone back to the Edo period. Besides the oiran, people dress up as ninjas, samurai, magicians, and traditional musicians.
Besides the parades, people can also join lessons in firewalking, traditional toy making, rakugo storytelling (a Japanese form of entertainment, usually comic monologues), or taiko drumming.
Shinagawa Kumin Park & Rinshi no Mori Park
The Shinagawa Kumin Park is a large park with natural landscaping and facilities catering to the needs of its visitors. You can have a picnic, play tennis or baseball, swim, dine, cycle, or admire nature’s wonders.
The park has a lot of species of flowers and trees. So, this is a beautiful place to go during plum blossom viewing in mid-February and hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in spring.
The park also has an artificial saltwater lake called Katsushima-no Umi. The 2-km embankments are full of flowers all-year-round. If you want a more exciting water structure, the park’s Fountain Plaza has a big Whale Fountain whose water jet looks like water blowing from a whale’s spout.
Meanwhile, the Rinshi no Mori Park was used as an experimental nursery in 1900. The seedlings planted then have grown into beautiful trees. Some of the trees are rare varieties from abroad. It has become a protected forest today.
If you love bird watching, insect hunting, and nature walks, this is a perfect place for you. There are walking paths, a small pond where koi (carp fish) and turtles swim, and playgrounds for children.
Shinagawa Aquarium & Maxell Aqua Park
The two-floor Shinagawa Aquarium is inside the Shinagawa Kumin Park. Besides the dolphin shows, one great area is the kurage no sekai (jellyfish world). Spend a few relaxing minutes watching different types of jellyfish swim in their tanks. The aquarium also has a 22-meter glass tunnel where you can see all sorts of marine creatures swimming around you.
If you want to experience more aquatic life, visit the Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa. The dolphin show with lighting and sound effects is the highlight of this aquarium. It has a cylindrical water curtain that will let you have a 360-degree view of the show. You can also play with other sea creatures like penguins, seals, and sea lions.
Suzugamori Execution Ground Memorial
For a touch of gruesome Japanese history, visit the Suzugamori Execution Ground Memorial. This area was one of several places where criminals, Christians, and traitors were executed during the Tokugawa and early Meiji era (around 1651-1871). It’s said that about 10,000 were executed there. Some were crucified, others boiled or burned, while others were hung upside-down and drowned as the Tokyo Bay tide rose.
The executions were brutal and were done on the outskirts of the city to avoid polluting the city. The bodies were displayed along Tokaido as a warning to other possible criminals.
Some parts of the grounds have been preserved including a burning post, a well, and a stone base where crucifixion pillars were erected.
The bridge of tears can also be seen. This was where families and loved ones of criminals would say goodbye and watch the execution of the condemned.
Eat Ramen or Donburi
Shinagawa is famous for ramen-ya (ramen restaurants). Shinatatsu Ramen Street is where a cluster of ramen-ya can be located. Here are some recommendations.
Nantsuttei has branches in Japan, Thailand, and Singapore. It’s a very popular shop so expect a line during peak hours. Try the famous tonkotsu ramen. The soup is creamy and rich with a hint of ma-yu (roasted garlic oil). This shop has been the Ramen of the Year champion for three years for its tonkotsu.
Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto is famous for its spicy ramen. This shop has a great back story. The shop used to be a Chinese restaurant, which had a loyal customer named Makoto Shirane. The owner of the original restaurant became ill. Shirane visited the owner to ask for the secret of the spicy noodle dish served there. After a year of pestering the old owner, Shirane got his wish. So, in honor of the owner, Shirane opened Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto in the same spot. The ramen-ya has become so popular that it has branches across Tokyo. The shop offers several spicy dishes but the main draw is the spicy miso ramen that comes in spicy, extra spicy, and very spicy.
Hirugao/Setaga-ya Ramen is a pioneer of the nimosaku (two crops model) of business. For lunch, it serves shio ramen as the restaurant Hirugao. At night, it becomes Setaga-ya and serves shoyu ramen. In my article on ramen, I noted that ramen owes its history to the shina soba (Chinese noodles). Kibi tries to preserve this mother of all ramen flavor with its shoyu ramen. The dish is very light, perfect for someone who wants just a light snack in between shopping and touring.
Menya Sho also follows nimosaku. It offers shoyu ramen for lunch and miso ramen for dinner. The shoyu ramen is light while the miso ramen is creamy Hokkaido-style soup.
Tetsu is famous for its tsukemen. There’s a handy guide on how to enjoy tsukemen the local way, by dipping the noodles into your soup. If you eat slowly and your soup grows cold, you can request the restaurant staff to give you a special hot stone that will make your soup hot again. Keisuke is a unique ramen-ya. It offers black miso with bamboo charcoal. This is a very modern ramen-ya.
If you want to know more about ramen, read this article.
If you’re more into rice than ramen, go to Shinatatsu Donburi Goninshu. It’s next to Shinatatsu Ramen but instead of ramen, it’s a cluster of restaurants selling donburi, a rice dish topped with a variety of vegetables, meat, and eggs. Tendon is topped with pork; gyudon is topped with beef; chirashidon (assorted seafood); and oyakodon is topped with chicken. Here are some recommendations. Sutadon (shortened form of stamina don) serves a big bowl of rice, pork, and a secret sauce of garlic and soy sauce.
Hageten is famous for its tempura (fried vegetables and seafood coated in batter). So, get their unique tempuradon. Shun offers dishes based on their famous charcoal roasted chicken. Try their shamo-oyakodon, which has a very distinct aroma of grilled chicken.
An onsen is usually associated with the rural areas of Japan. But right in the middle of Tokyo, you can enjoy the different hot springs of Shimizuyu. You’ll have several choices, but try the Golden Hot Spring and the Tokyo Black Hot Spring. These have deliciously hot water that is supposed to soften skin and relax the muscles. For the complete experience, eat an onsen tamago (egg boiled in the hot spring).
Go on a Cruise
The Cruise Club Tokyo, which is based in Shinagawa, offers different types of cruises: lunch cruise, afternoon cruise, dinner cruise, and night cruise.
The night cruise, specifically, will let you have great views of Tokyo Bay. If you have money, the dinner cruise could be something to splurge on. You’ll get to enjoy French cuisine while viewing Tokyo’s nightlife.
As stated above, the Shinagawa-ura waters have different yakatabune docked in it. One such boat is called Funasei. It’s a floating restaurant that offers a different dining/cruise experience. It offers traditional Japanese cuisine and hospitality. Dinner is the best because you’ll see the city lights of Tokyo Bay. You can make a reservation here.
Shop at the Musashikoyama Palm Shopping Street
There are many shopping streets all over Japan that you’ll encounter, however Musashikoyama is something unique. As you walk down this long 800 meter tunnel of stores, you’ll see huge robot-like dragons suspended from the ceiling, and colorful hot air balloons.
This is a shopping arcade that is about 800 meters long. Go here to experience local Japan stores and restaurants before the Western concept of large malls invaded Japan. These types of malls are becoming rare as more and more stores close up.
Visit the Racetrack
Many Japanese love horse racing. Shinagawa has one of the major racetracks in the country, the Ohi Racecourse. This racetrack is open from March until December. You don’t have to make a bet. Just feel the excitement of the crowd as they root for their favorites.
Nikon Museum and the Canon Plaza
If you’re a camera enthusiast, Shinagawa contains museums of two of the most famous camera brands: Nikon and Canon. The Nikon Museum can be found in Shinagawa Intercity Tower C. there is an interactive exhibit here where you can see the history of and play with Nikon’s products.
The Canon S Tower showcases not just old but the company’s latest products as well. Remember to get a free photo as a souvenir before you leave.
Relax at the Gotenyama
The Gotenyama used to be Ieyasu Tokugawa’s retreat palace. Since then it has become an exclusive residential area of wealthy people including Hirofumi Ito, Japan’s first Prime Minister. Although the high-class neighborhood has limited access, the Gotenyama Garden is open to all. This small, quiet spot in the middle of the city contains waterfalls and ponds.
Visit the Tennozu Isle
As stated above, Shinagawa became popular because of the Tokyo Bay reclamation. One of the man-made islands that were created is the Tennozu Isle, which is just a 15-minute walk from Shinagawa Station.
The Isle’s main tourist attraction is Bond Street which is lined with industrial warehouses that have been converted into restaurants, bars, and art galleries. T-Art Hall is an art exhibition hall that provides opportunities for new artists to showcase their work. Archi-Depot is a museum specializing in small-scale architectural models.
Pigment is an art shop, workshop studio, and museum. The store was designed by the famous architect Kengo Kuma who also designed Mount Takao’s station. This place sells a great array of art supplies including equipment used for Japanese calligraphy.
Although there are plenty of restaurants and cafés here, one of the most popular spots is T.Y. Harbor. This canal-side restaurant serves a wide selection of craft beers. It can get crowded so you might want to go there early if you’re going there with a group.
If you still have time, visit the Sengaku-ji. This Soto Zen Buddhist temple is near the Shinagawa Station in the nearby Takanawa district. This temple is where the famous 47 ronin are buried.
The story of these samurai dates back to 1701. Lord Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori of Ako attacked Lord Kira Hozukenosuke in Edo Castle. At that time, drawing a sword inside the Edo Castle was forbidden. He was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). His body was buried at Sengaku-ji. But his opponent was not punished contrary to the custom of punishing both parties in such incidents. Also, Asano’s family was stripped of power.
Now that their lord was dead, Asano’s 47 retainers became ronin (wandering samurai or samurai without masters). They avenged his death and presented his opponent’s head in front of his tomb. For their crimes, the ronin were ordered by the shogun to also commit seppuku. Their bodies were buried beside their master’s tomb.
Now, the temple holds a festival every December 14th to commemorate the 47 ronin.