Capitals of Japan – 6 – Tōkyō – Part 2

August 6, 2011

In 1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu, having seized the power, established his capital in Edo.

He had already occupied the castle city in 1590, during his war against the Hōjō, when, during the Siege of Odawara, Hideyoshi  offered Ieyasu the eight Kantō provinces which they were about to take from the Hōjō in return for the five provinces that Ieyasu currently controlled (including Ieyasu’s home province of Mikawa). Ieyasu accepted this proposal. He gave up control of his five provinces (Mikawa, Tōtōmi, Suruga, Shinano, and Kai) and moved to the Kantō region with all his troops and vassals. He himself occupied the castle town of Edo.

So after the battle of Sekigahara on October 21, 1600, and then when Ieyasu was officially appointed as a new shogun on March 24, 1603, Edo became the real centre of power, even though the official capital was still the seat of the emperor in Kyōto until the Meiji restoration.

The city was arranged arount the castle; the area immediately surrounding it was known as the “Yamanote” and consisted largely of daimyō mansions;  their families lived in Edo year-round. According to the sankin kōtai system (参勤交代 lit. “alternate attendance”), daimyō families had to stay in Edo as hostages, while the daimyō himself had to move periodically between Edo and his domains ( (藩 han), typically spending an alternate year in each place.

Hiroshige's famous ukiyo-e series. 'The Fifty-Three Stations on the Tokaido Highway', showing daimyo processions known as sankin kotai.

This is a way for the shogunate to control the vassals, similar to the way Louis XIV of France forced his aristocracy to move to Versailles; also the expenditures to move from one place to the other and to maintain two luxury residences places financial  strains on the daimyō, so that they were not able to afford wars.

While Kyōto was dominated by the court aristocracy, that character of Edo was made by the noble warrior class.

Other areas further from the center were the domains chōnin (町人, literally “townsfolk” ).

1844-1848 – Perry-Castañeda Map Collection – UT Library Online”]Edo [Tokyo] 1844-1848 - Perry-Castañeda Map Collection - UT Library Online lib.utexas.eduThe area known as Shitamachi, to the northeast of the castle, was a key centerof urban culture, with the ancient Buddhist temple of Sensō-ji, that still stands in Asakusa, marking the center of the “downtown” (literal translation of  “Shitamachi”). Some of the shops in the streets before the temple have been carried on continuously in the same location since the Edo period.

The northeastern corner of the city, regarded as a dangerous direction in traditional onmyōdō (cosmology/geomancy), was guarded from evil spirits by a series of temples, including Sensō-ji and Kan’ei-ji.

Just beyond these laid the districts of the eta or outcastes, who engaged in activities that were considered impure, and were thus separated from the main sections of commoner residences.

The  the Great River (大川), now called Sumida-Gawa, ran along the eastern edge of the city.

The Edo Bridge (江戸橋, Edo-bashi), also known as Nihonbashi, marked the center of the city’s commercial center, an area also known as Kuramae (蔵前, “in front of the storehouses”). Its development is largely credited to the Mitsui family, one of the most powerful families of merchants and industrialists in Japan, still active nowadays.

The Nihonbashi was the eastern terminus of the  Nakasendō and the Tōkaidō, roads that ran between Edo and Kyōto.

Near the Nihobashi, there were also the famous Yoshiwara district, Edo’s red-light district – but we might call it “red line”, since this is the translation of the  “Akasen” (赤線), the Japanse term to indicate it. It was created in 1617, after Tokugawa Hidetada ordered to restrict prostitution, that was widespread in the main cities od Japan, to designated city districts.

In 1656, due to the need for space as the city grew, the government decided to relocate Yoshiwara, and plans were made to move the district to its present location north of Asakusa. After it burned down in the Meireki fire of 1657, it was rebuilt in the new location. The new district was called Shin-Yoshiwara (“new Yoshiwara”), while the old one was known as Moto-Yoshiwara (“previous/original Yoshiwara”).



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