Photo/IllutrationYuji Fukasawa, president of East Japan Railway Co., holds a panel showing the name of the new station in Tokyo on Dec. 4. (Ayateru Hosozawa)

Murayama Chosuichi (Murayama Reservoir), also named Tama-ko (Lake Tama), was a popular tourist spot before World War II.

Adding to the dam's appeal was its easy access by train from central Tokyo. Three private railway companies competed for ridership, each with its own station in the dam's immediate vicinity.

The names of the three stations were Murayama Chosuichi, Murayama Chosuichi-mae, and Murayama Chosuichi-giwa. The suffixes "mae" and "giwa" mean, respectively, "in front of" and "by the side."

None of these station names remain today, according to a book by Keisuke Imao, an expert on maps.

The names were certainly so similar as to be confusing. But they also conveyed the railway companies' eagerness to outdo one another in ridership by asserting their individuality.

And that sort of enterprising spirit, so to speak, is patent in the name just chosen by East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) for its new station on the Yamanote Line.

The name is Takanawa Gateway, selected from among suggestions submitted by the public.

The station's neighborhood, which boasts convenient access to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, is currently under massive redevelopment by JR. The latter obviously wants to brand and market the new station as a gateway to the world.

Even though Takanawa was the top choice of the public, followed by Shibaura and Shibahama, none of these made the cut. In fact, Takanawa Gateway was way down in 130th place.

A real upset, to be sure. I personally would have gone for Shibahama for its association with a classic "rakugo" comic storytelling piece.

New, odd place names have been springing up throughout Japan. Cities such as Minami Arupusu (South Alps) and Tsukuba Mirai (Tsukuba Future) initially made me roll my eyes. But I have become used to them over time.

Perhaps Takanawa Gateway, too, will eventually come to sound "normal," even though people's current reactions are rather negative--such as that it's too long for a station name, and that Gateway, written in katakana phonetic letters, isn't appropriate for the old, established Yamanote Line.

But who knows, the station may someday come to be known by an abbreviated name such as "Taka-ge."

Speaking of train station names, Kofuku (Happiness) in Hokkaido is one that comes immediately to mind.

Until the discontinuation of the service line itself, train tickets bearing this name were a popular gift item.

And there still are other stations around Japan with beautiful names, such as Kasose in Aomori Prefecture and Minagi in Okayama Prefecture. They have a classy ring to them, making me wish to stop by someday.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 6

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.