Photo/IllutrationNestled in the shadows of skyscrapers, Shinjuku Central Park lies on the site where the Yodobashi Water Purification Plant once stood. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

“I’ll start with crab cakes, then the Daisen chicken and an order of duck fat fries and broccolini, please.”

For more than 20 years, this essentially same ol’ same ol’ menu has been my birthday ritual at the New York Grill in the Shinjuku Park Hyatt.

I like that the hotel hasn’t changed much since its opening. Many places around town fix what’s not broken. I’m looking at you and you--my editor will delete this so I’ll leave the names out.

Gazing out the 52nd-floor window, I thought about why Tokyo choose to cluster the city’s first skyscrapers in this area. Today there are tall buildings scattered about, but back in the 1970s, it was only here in Nishi-Shinjuku.

Across the street from the hotel entrance is Chuo Park, or Central Park. Within the ward’s largest park is an athletic zone, a children’s playground and pool, and a forest area. It opened in 1968.

Prior to the urban oasis the green space is today, the Yodobashi Water Purification Plant stood there from 1898 to 1965. It was built to modernize the city’s waterworks after the 1886 cholera epidemic took the lives of more than 100,000 people.

“Running in a circle is the green Yamanote Line; cutting through the middle is the orange Chuo Line; hurry out of Shinjuku’s West Exit; and there you’ll find ...” Yes, Yodobashi, sung along to the melody of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” an American Christian hymn, which has been a battle march and civil activist chant.

In the Edo Period (1603-1867), Yodobashi was the name of a bridge and a village along Ome Kaido that crossed the Kandagawa river. In the Meiji Era (1868-1912), three hamlets combined to form Yodobashi town, and in the early part of the Showa Era (1926-1989), four townships merged and officially became Yodobashi Ward and a part of Tokyo.

After the war, it got consolidated with Yotsuya and Ushigome, and the whole area was renamed Shinjuku Ward.

Today, few traces of the old name remain: the electronics store, an elementary school, a church and a market.

So, why did Yodobashi become a skyscraper district? The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 established that Nishi-Shinjuku lies on seismically stable bedrock that allowed it to escape great destruction.

Much of Central Park in New York City lies on Manhattan schist, a close-to-the-surface bedrock that is believed to make the land strong. I pondered this as I savored my chocolate fondant at the New York Grill in the old Yodobashi district.

Feeling snug on solid ground, I enjoyed my birthday dinner.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Aug. 19 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.