Photo/Illutration An early image of the Takanawa Embankment in central Tokyo (Provided by the Railway Museum)

Ruins of an offshore embankment constructed about 150 years ago in central Tokyo for the nation’s first rail service are expected to shortly receive central government listing as a historic site. 

The Council for Cultural Affairs, an advisory panel to the education minister, issued a recommendation Aug. 23 that the Takanawa Embankment in Minato Ward be added to the current national historical site of the old Shinbashi Station in the same ward due to its historical significance.

The recommendation came only four months after the education minister consulted the council over the matter, highlighting calls to swiftly preserve remnants of Japan's early efforts at modernization following centuries of feudal rule.

It usually takes several years for a cultural property unearthed to be designated as a national historical site after a decision for preservation is made, according to the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

In an unusual move, a council subcommittee in March called for preservation, even before the education minister consulted the council over the issue.

“(The Takanawa Embankment) will be worthy as a central government designated historical site,” the subcommittee said in a statement.

Stone walls for the embankment were unearthed in an area that East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) marked for redevelopment.

The embankment originally ran for 2.7 kilometers above shallow waters in a coastal area.

Japan’s first railway service started in 1872, linking Tokyo’s Shinbashi district with the port city of Yokohama.

The embankment was built between present-day JR Tamachi and Shinagawa stations in the capital. 

Some parts of the stone walls were unearthed during work to upgrade JR Shinagawa Station's facilities in 2019.

Other sections were excavated later to total about 800 meters.

In April, JR East announced it will retain only part of the remains where they were initially discovered.

For other sections, the company said they will be either moved to other locations or meticulous records kept of the sites.

The section that will receive the central government designation concerns the area that JR East plans to preserve at the discovery site.

It stretches 120 meters and includes a portion of the embankment built with arches to allow for fishing boats to pass under.

Archaeologists are in agreement that the ruins remain in a good state and offer an insight into the modernization of transport and history of civil engineering technology.

The embankment was constructed under the direction of a British engineer, using traditional Japanese techniques.

Mixing Japanese and Western techniques, the structure represents a fine example of Japan’s modernization drive during the early years of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), according to experts.

Akio Tanigawa, a professor of Japanese archaeology at Waseda University, noted that a railway running above water was “extremely rare in the world” in those days.

Tanigawa chaired an expert panel set up by JR East to study the Takanawa Embankment ruins to map out a preservation policy.

"Early designation as a national historical site will enable experts to spur public interest in the heritage of Japan’s modernization since the Meiji Era and recognize the importance of preserving them," he said. 

(This story was written by Momoko Jingu and Takashi Ogawa.)