Kyōto (or Heian-kyō – as we has seen, both the names are fine) was the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868, with an interruption in 1180, when it was temporarily moved to Fukuhara-kyō, for roughly six months during the Genpei war.

Tōkyō, unlike the other cities we have seen, wasn’t built on purpose to serve as a capital, but had its own history and had been the seat of power much before the formal move.

The ancient name of Tōkyō was Edo (江戸), which means “bay entrance” or “estuary”; in ancient times it was simply a small fishing village on the bay; in the XII century Edo Shigenaga, a member of the Edo clan, a minor offshot of the Taira clan, first had fortifications built. The clan had moved there from Chichibu in present-day Saitama Prefecture led by their patriarch, Edo Shigetsugu, Shigenaga’s father.

Edo-clan tombstones at Keigen-ji

In 1180, Shigenaga was asked by Minamoto Yoritomo to cooperate in his uprising against the Taira; hesitant at first, he eventually accepted and, as a reward, he was granted seven new estates in Musashi Province, including Kitami in what is now Tokyo’s western Setagaya Ward.

In 1457, Edo Shigeyasu surrendered his main base at Edo to Ōta Dōkan, a vassal of Uesugi Sadamasa, Governor of the Kanto Plain, and moved to Kitami.

Ōta Dōkan, who is considered Tōkyō’s founder, constructed fortifications overlooking the entrance of the Kantō plain and diverted the Hira river east at Kandabashi to form the Nihonbashi river, so to improve navigation.

Edo Castle with surrounding residential palaces and moats, from a 17th century screen painting.

On the ancient seat of Edo Shigetsugu’s residence, he built Edo Castle – also known as Chiyoda Castle (千代田城 Chiyoda-jō) –  in 1457.

Edo Castle became the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

 Edo itself became the seat of the actual power under the Shogunate, even though formally the capital was still in Heian – but this will be the topic of another post.

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