The Shibuya River is an area of Shibuya. It stretches for 2.6 kilometers or 1.6 miles between the Miyamasu and Tengenji bridges. Shibuya River was used as a source of water supply to the fields when Shibuya-ward was a rural village and being a shallow river without a real source, it has been converted to a sewer. Have you ever thought about what goes on underneath Tokyo Shibuya Statiion?
I decided to explore the pitch-black depths of Tokyo’s underbelly from the tunnels of the Shibuya River, revealing the ecosystems of the city’s sewer network that often go unseen. The Shibuya River tunnels, diverted beneath Tokyo like a sewer yet are shrouded in darkness and mystery.
The History of Shibuya River Tunnels
The first sewerage system in Japan can be seen in the large communities in the Yayoi Period (approximately 2,200 years ago). In the Nara Period (about 1,300 years ago), a drainage system network ran throughout the city in the Heijo-kyo capital area. In the Azuchi-momoyama Period (approximately 430 years ago), a stone culvert called the Taiko Sewerage was built around Osaka Castle. It is still in use today.
The first modern sewerage system in Japan was the Kanda Sewerage, which was built in 1884 in the Kanda area of Tokyo.
With the growth in population resulting from economic development, the area of Shibuya became a town in 1909. In April 1908, The Tokyo City Sewerage Plan was announced. But due to the lack of sewer drainage systems in Tokyo, the collection of waste was experiencing difficulties. Farmers from outside Tokyo would regularly collect night soil to serve as fertilizer, but road congestion (especially in Shinjuku) of waste-collecting cars was a common sight, and Shibuya was no exception.
In 1922, the first wastewater treatment plant, the Mikawashima Treatment Plant, was built. The construction of sewerage systems did not start in earnest until the end of World War II. Only during the period between 1959 and 1964 would Shibuya see some improvement. This was the period when Tokyo was preparing for the Olympic Games.
In 1968 Tokyo Metropolitan Government starts construction on the Tama Regional Sewerage system, with service determined by the Tokyo Bureau of Sewerage and Metropolitan Government and in 1970 Sewerage Law was amended.
Based on historical rainfall records, the city planning authorities designed Tokyo’s defenses to withstand up to 50 millimeters of rain per hour, particularly in areas where people and property were concentrated. But it is also a legacy of the 1964 Games, which saw a rapid revision of the city’s transport infrastructure at the cost of the waterways.
During the 1980s economic boom, in 1986 Sewerage Mapping and Information System (SEMIS) started to operate and Tokyo Rainfall Radar System for Tokyo Area (Tokyo Amesh 500) opened in 1988.
In 1992 The Master Plan for the Second-Generation Sewerage was enacted and as Tokyo prepared for the 2020 Olympics the Tokyo metropolitan government has completed a huge underground facility, tasked with safeguarding the major transit hub against flooding in times of torrential rain. It took 10 years to build that sewer facility in Shibuya.
The facility, located about 25 meters beneath the station’s East Exit plaza, is usually empty. But when a downpour hits the area, it is designed to collect rainwater through storm drains. Once the weather gets better, the water will be discharged into the city’s sewers via pumps.
Photos of Shibuya Sewer System
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