It is in relative recent historical times that Tokyo became Tokyo and changed its name from Edo to Tokyo.

Before Edo

Already 3000 years b.c people lived where Tokyo stands today, there were farms and fishing villages. In an otherwise mountainous country, this area was flat; there was access to sea, rivers, and mountains. Much later, in 1457, Ota Dokan built the Edo castle (江 戸 城 Edo-jō), also known as the Chiyoda Castle (千代 田 城 Chiyoda-jō).

This castle is now part of the current Emperor Palace in Tokyo and sits in the area of Tokyo called Chiyoda. Around the castle,  temples and shrines began to emerge, traders made trade routes to the city, via boat and land. The town began to grow.

Tokugawa Ieyasu in Edo

In 1590 Tokugawa Ieyasu established himself in Edo. Ieyasu would become Shogun 1603 after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. It took three years for Ieyasu to become ruler of the country. But it was in this battle that his win was cemented, and it came to be the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate, or the Edo period (江 戸 時代 Edo -jidai).

Japan’s power center was then moved, in principle but not officially, from Kyoto to Edo. It was in Kyoto that the Emperor lived and the official capital lay, but the Emperor had no real power. The power was with the Shogun.

In Edo and with the Tokugawa Shogunate, power remained, until 1867, when Japan’s last Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu gave up and handed back the control of the nation to the emperor.

Tokugawa is a significant name in Japanese history. Ieyasu succeeded to unite a fragmented land that had previously been fraught with war for dominance over territory and domain. The Edo period lasted over 260 years. In connection with the expiry of the Tokugawa regime, it also meant the end of Edo and the beginning of Tokyo.

Meiji restoration

With the Meiji restoration, a modernization of Japan began. The country went from a Shogunate, a feudal society, to a politically centered regime where the power returned to the emperor. Now Japan was ruled from a central location.

The country began to restructure the territories. In the past, Daimyo’s had power over different parts of the country. During Tokugawa, there was around 200 daimyo’s, all with their slice of the country. Land and power used to be something that you inherited in feudal Japan, but no longer. All lands were returned to the Emperor , nd the country was divided into 72 prefectures, each of which had a governor who was centrally appointed by the new regime. Countries and roles were no longer inherited, everything was ruled centrally.

What does the name Tokyo mean?

In conjunction with the restoration, the name of the city was also changed. From Edo to Tokyo. Tokyo consists of two Kanji (Chinese characters), 東京. The sign 東 (tō) means “east”, and 京 (kyō) means “capital”. Which then sort of becomes “capital of the East”. East relative to Kyoto, which was the former capital.

Tokyo today

What does Tokyo consist of today, where is Tokyo? As with all the larger cities, it may be a bit difficult to define exactly where Tokyo is, it’s everywhere and nowhere.

Tokyo is one of Japan’s 47 prefectures and consists of 26 special districts, 23 cities, 3 villages and a number of islands. So, if you look at Tokyo as a prefecture, it’s a very big area.

In these districts there is a station called Tokyo, this is located in Chiyoda special district. If you ask a “Tokyoite” where the person is from, she or he probably does not say Tokyo. It’s more likely that the person would say one of the cities or special districts that Tokyo consists of. Or the big station close to where they live. Everyone lives in Tokyo, but at the same time not.

Tokyo prefecture borders to Chiba in the east, Saitama in the north, Yamanashi to the west, and Kanagawa in the south. Chiba, Saitama, and Yokohama (Kanagawa) constitute one of the world’s densest population areas. This area can be defined in slightly different ways. One way of seeing it is called “the Tokyo Major Metropolitan Area” (東京 大都市 圏 Tōkyō Dai-toshi-ken).
This is defined by all households within a distance of 70 km from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. In this area, it is estimated that 36 million people live. If you count the population in the most central parts of Tokyo, ie, the 26 special districts, the population amounts to approximately 9.2 million people. The entire Tokyo Prefecture amounts to 13.5 million inhabitants.


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