Capitals of Japan – 6 – Tōkyō – Part 3

August 23, 2011

In 1868, with the Meiji restoration, Edo was made the new imperial capital and changed its name to Tōkyō (東京), menaning “Capital of the East”.

On July 17, Emperor Meiji  issued the Edict Renaming Edo to Tōkyō (江戸ヲ稱シテ東京ト爲スノ詔書 Edo o shōshite Tōkyō to nasu no shōsho).

In 1869, the Emperor himself moved to Tōkyō and made Edo Castle the new Imperial Palace.

On May 1, 1889, Tōkyō City (東京市 Tōkyō-shi) was constituted as a separate municipality, and lasted until  July 1, 1943, when it was merged with its prefecture of  Tōkyō-fu (東京府), becoming part of the newly formed Tōkyō Metropolis (東京都 Tōkyō-to).

Even though Tōkyō is known by the whole world as the capital of Japan, and it is surely its capital de facto, being the seat both of the Emperor and of the Governmen, its status as a capital de iure is still controversial.

Some state that Tōkyō became the capital when the Tōkyō prefecture was established in 1868, others that it occurred when Edo Castle was made an Imperial seat. On the other hand, while there was an imperial edict transferring the capital to Heian, there have been no document declaring the move from Kyōto to Tōkyō, therefore some people claim that Kyōto is still the capital of Japan, or that Tōkyō and Kyōto are both capitals simultaneously.

However, since after WWII the sovreignty was transferred to the Emperor to the people by the new Constitution, the general consensus agrees that the Tōkyō is the capital since it is the seat of the Diet.

While no laws have designated Tōkyō as the Japanese capital, many laws have defined a “capital area” (首都圏 shutoken) that incorporates Tōkyō .

Article 2 of the Capital Area Consolidation Law (首都圏整備法) of 1956 states that “In this Act, the term ‘capital area’ shall denote a broad region comprising both the territory of Tōkyō Metropolis as well as outlying regions designated by cabinet order.” This clearly implies that the government has designated Tōkyō  as the capital of Japan (although it is not explicitly stated, and the definition of the “capital area” is restricted to the terms of that specific law).

In 1941, the Ministry of Education published a book called “History of the Restoration”, that referred to Tōkyō as capital” (東京奠都 Tōkyō-tento) without talking about “moving the capital to Tōkyō” (東京遷都 Tōkyō-sento). A contemporary history textbook states that the Meiji government “moved the capital (shuto) from Kyōto to Tōkyō” without using the sento term.


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