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Imperial Palace - Tokyo Tourist Guide

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              A long time ago, like many towns along the coast, developing stated  from the humble beginnings of  a small fishing village, during the end of the Heian or beginning of the Kamakura Era.  Then the warlord Edo Shigetsugu built a castle that became Edo Castle (Edo-Jou ou 江戸城) or Chiyoda-Jou (千代田城). It was built in the part of the Imperial Palace that are now known as the Honmaru end Ninomaru.

 

              Edo-Jou, a flatland castle or "Hirajiro", became a real castle in 1457 only under the hands of the military tactician samurai turned Buddhist monk/poet Ota Dokan (1432 -1486), who served the daimyo of the Hojo clan. It was a small fortress in an ideal location, at the mouth of the Sumida river, on top of a hill surrounded on three sides by marshes and swamps. He diverted the Hirakawa, east of Kanda Bashi, and created in this way the Nihonbashi river. As a first line of defense, Dokan also built most of the moats, which were extensive for that age. They have been well preserved until this date. These moats figured prominently in the construction of Edo Castle in the centuries to come. After the moat at the side of the hilly Yamanote district had been dug, the castle was an actual island, in the middle of a swamp, virtually impossible to attack. 

           Dokan did however not build  the stone walls. There were grassy embankments instead. The Hon-maru in those days was modest and the other buildings were plain and simple and the surroundings were not more than that of a fishing village.

 

              In 1589, the pivitol battle of Odawara took place and Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated Hojo Ujimasa with the help of Tokugawa Ieyasu. All the properties of the Hojo clan, including Edo Castle, were confiscated by Hideyoshi. Naturally, Hideyoshi had to reward  Tokugawa Ieyasu , one of the most powerful daimyos, for his great services. Hideyoshi knew Ieyasu and was very aware that any big award would only strengthen the latter's power, making him a great rival. The dilemma was therefore between giving too little and too much, Too little would mean losing support from other daimyos when needed. He decided to give Ieyasu the Hojo lands, the affluent Kanto area. The Kanto area was one of the most fertile areas in Japan, but it was very sparsely populated and the area round the village of Edo was not more than a inhabitable swamp, a far cry the prime real estate that it became centuries later. Then there was however also a catch the intended reward: Ieyasu would have to give up his land in the western part of Japan  in exchange for this rich and much larger property. Hideyoshi would have the great advantage that Ieyasu would be far removed from Kyoto and could therefore not be an immediate threat. Hideyoshi probably had never heard of the saying "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer", because this decision resulted in an ending he had not wished for.

 

 

              Ieyasu was not really happy with his "reward", but a refusal would have been regarded as an insult with probably catastrophic results. Ieyasu decided to make due with what he was given and in  1590 he moved his family, his samurai and servants to Edo Castle. He did not lose any time turning this fishing village with only two rows of houses at the beach into his center of power. The Kanda hill and the other hills near the castle were leveled making Edo-jou the highest ground. The soil and stones from the hills were used to fill up the swamps. On this newly reclaimed land house for samurai and servants were built. When Ieyasu was convinced that Edo had become a strong base for his defense, he decided to follow his long ambition: grabbing the overall power in the country. Hideyoshi died because of sickness in 1598 and that split the daimyos of Japan in two groups. Their rivalry resulted in the Battle of Sekigahara where Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated his opponents, had them killed or removed from their land, and gave their properties to the ones who had stood by him.  In 1603 when Ieyasu became the fShogun of Japan,  Edo became the power base for laying the groundwork of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

 

              This new power base, like any other center of government, attracted many people and their businesses from all over the country, providing the Tokugawa Shogunate with the tools to develop Edo into the biggest city in the world. From the humble beginnings of a fishing village in 1593 Edo had grown to 150,000 in 1636. About  100 years after Edo had been  established Edo had over 1 million citizens, far exceeding the population of then modern London and Paris. Edo castle was extended and completed in 1637. However in 1657, the greater part of the Yoshiwara red-light district, Asakusa, as well as Edo Castle were destroyed in what went down in history as the Great Meiriki Fire. Between 100,000 and 200,000 people perished.

             

            For the first part that was constructed about 10,000 laborers were employed. This became the Nishi-no-maru area, which was directly at the shore. What is now known as Hibiya was then a beach. Like today, then construction cost money and surely a lot of money for this kind of project. Most of the costs were covered by the Daimyo who were forced to contribute to the Shogunate either in finances or in materials and labor. The granite stones that are still part of the Imperial Castle were transported from all over the country. The more affluent Daimyos provided the biggest stones, while the poorer Daimyos provided smaller ones or just laborers, depending on their wealth. Land was reclaimed from the sea, hills removed,  and the protective moats dug.  The labor force is said to have grown out to about 300.000 people.

 

 

          In this way the castle was gradually extended in all directions and the Honmaru, Ninomaro, and the Sannomaru became the main parts of Edo Castle. Extension went on with other parts like Nishinomare, Nishinomare-shita, Fukiage and Kitanomare. The castle was finally enclosed by twelve meter high walls with ramparts of over nineteen meters. Its moats reached as far as what are now Ichigaya and Yotsuya in Shinjuku.  The sea at the other side as well as the Kanda River provided extra protection and access for the ever-growing trade of the capital that arose equally fast around the castle that had a total outer wall of 16 kilometers and an inner wall of 8 kilometers.  The grounds of the castle, that are inside the inner moat cover an area of about one-and-a-half kilometers from east to west and about 2 kilometers from north to south.

 

          At present the area is a lot smaller, but names still remain that indicate the perimeter of the castle as it used to be.  Marunouchi means Within the enclosure (Maru), while Inner Moat Street and Outer Moat Street - Uchibori Dori and Sotobori Dori - speak for themselves, like Otemachi (Town in front of the Big Gate), Toranamon (Gate of the Tiger), Akamon (Red Gate), and Takebashi (Bamboo Bridge) that related immediately to Edo Castle.

 

        Edo-jou was the most elaborate and one of the grandest castles in the country. In its middle stood an all overpowering donjon that could be seen from kilometers away. It was nearly twice as high as the one in Himeiji Castle and one-and-a-half times as large as Osaka Castle. When the Meireki Fire raged through the city the donjon was destroyed and never rebuilt. The reason for this is the legend regarding the Shogun at the time of the fire, Tokugawa Iemitsu, the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. It is told that he had a dream shortly after the disaster took place. In his dream Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and other important leaders from the past, fell from their respective castle towers to the ground. Iemitsu realized that each of these leaders built their grand castle and soon after they had lefthed construction, all of them stopped being successful and lost their power. Like many people in his day, Iemitsu was very superstitious, and this influenced a lot of their way of thinking and the actions that followed. Edo-jou had burnt down just a few years after it was built. Iemitsu concluded that he, like the other leaders, had tried to look too important for their own good by building magnificent castle towers to express how important they felt. He believed that losing power was a punishment from the gods and the burnt down tower a very direct warning. He decreed that Edo Castle should be rebuilt without the donjon. Whether this story is true, is open to debate, it is however true that based on the believe that "bad spirits" and "bad influences" supposedly came from the northeast the early Shoguns did not spare any money to have a very grand and elaborate temple complex, called Kan'ei-ji. built in the area which is now Ueno Park. Kan'ei-ji is northeast of Edo Castle. What ever the reasons may have been, fact is that Edo Castle is about the only castle in Japan that has a lot of one- and two-story ramparts, but no tower. Instead the Shogun's residence was in the center of the complex. Inside the inner moat were residences for the most leading daimyos and relatives of the Shogun. Naturally the thousand of people employed in the castle lived in the inner moat area as well. Culture also took in an important position in the inner complex: there were beautifully manicured gardens and ponds.

 

          In spite of all the preparations against attacks and the construction of the high protective walls, Edo has never been under siege and Japan went through a period of piece for more than 260 years under the 15 Tokugawa Shoguns. The real danger came more from within caused by immense growth that made Edo often a fire hazard and the earthquakes that have been hitting Japan as a whole and Edo/Tokyo in particular through the ages.

 

           Change cannot be held back. Edo and its Tokugawa rulers were no exception to this rule. When the Tokugawa Bakufu came to an end in 1868 the last Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, was forced to leave Edo-jou and the castle became Tokyo Castle. In 1870 the Meiji Emperor moved to Tokyo and the castle was renamed again to Kojo (皇城) or Imperial Castle. New buildings were constructed for the new government and several Tokugawa structures were demolished.  These new buildings were traditional on the outside, but inside was distinctly western. Although the private living areas still contained tatami mats the public areas had carpets and parquet flooring.

 

         During the following Taisho and Showa eras concrete buildings like the headquarters of the Imperial Household and the Privy Council were constructed. However by the end of the Second World War, on 25 May 1945,  most of the buildings were destroyed. What remained are the moats and several ramparts that are still unscathed today.

 

 

 

         The area of the castle during the Edo Period included the present Kitanomaru, -which now contains Nippon Budokan and public park - Marunouchi, and Tokyo station. After the Second World War the Imperial Castle was scaled back to its present size and the name was changed to Kokyo (皇居), Imperial Residence in 1848.  In the 1960s the Kyuuden (宮殿) or the palace hall  and the Imperial Residence were constructed on the western grounds. The residence building of the Emperor and Empress is located in the Fukiage Garden, while the Kyuuden (宮殿) the palace for for various court functions was built in the Nishinomaru. The eastern part was called Higashi-Gyoen (東御苑) and turned into a public garden in 1968. The total area of the Imperial Palace is now 3.41 square meters and encompasses the former Honmaru, Ninomaru, Nishinomaru, Sannomaru, and the Fukiage Gardens.

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