Edo (Japanese: , lit. '"bay-entrance" or "estuary"'), also romanized as Jedo, Yedo or Yeddo, is the former name of Tokyo.[2]


江戸 (えど)
Former city
Location of the former city of Edo
Location of the former city of Edo
Coordinates: 35°41′22″N 139°41′30″E / 35.68944°N 139.69167°E / 35.68944; 139.69167Coordinates: 35°41′22″N 139°41′30″E / 35.68944°N 139.69167°E / 35.68944; 139.69167
Country Japan
Edo Castle built1457
Capital of Japan (De facto)1603
Renamed Tokyo1868
 • Total1,000,000

Edo, formerly a jōkamachi (castle town) centered on Edo Castle located in Musashi Province, became the de facto capital of Japan from 1603 as the seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Edo grew to become one of the largest cities in the world under the Tokugawa. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868 the Meiji government renamed Edo as Tokyo (, "Eastern Capital") and relocated the Emperor from the historic de jure capital of Kyoto (, "Capital City") to the city.

The era of Tokugawa rule in Japan from 1603 to 1868 is known eponymously as the Edo period.


Before TokugawaEdit

Before the 10th century, there is no mention of Edo in historical records, but for a few settlements in the area. Edo first appears in the Azuma Kagami chronicles, that name for the area being probably used since the second half the Heian period. Its development started in late 11th century with a branch of the Kanmu-Taira clan(桓武平氏) called the Chichibu clan (秩父氏), coming from the banks of the Irima river, nowadays Arakawa. A descendant of the head of the Chichibu clan settled in the area and took the name Edo Shigetsugu (江戸重継), likely based on the name used for the place, and founded the Edo clan. Shigetsugu built its fortified residence, probably around the tip of the Musashino terrace, which would become the Edo castle. Shigetsugu's son, Edo Shigenaga (江戸重長), took the Taira's side against Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1180 but eventually surrendered to Minamoto and became a gokenin for the Kamakura shogunate. At the fall of the shogunate in the 14th century, the Edo clan took the side of the Southern court, and its influence declined during the Muromachi period.

In 1456, a vassal of the Ōgigayatsu branch of the Uesugi clan, rulers of the Kanto area, named Ōta Sukenaga started to build a castle on the former fortified residence of the Edo clan and took the name Ōta Dōkan. Dōkan lived in this castle until his assassination in 1486. Under Dōkan, with good water connexions to Kamakura, Odawara and other parts of Kanto and the country, Edo expanded in a jokamachi, with the castle bordering the Hibiya cove opening into Edo bay (current Hibiya park) and the town developping along the Hirakawa river that was flowing into the cove, as well as the stretch of land on the eastern side of the cove (roughly where current Tokyo station is) called Edomaeto (江戸前島). Some priests and scholars fleeing a Kyoto in ruins after the Ōnin war came to Edo during that period.

After the death of Dōkan, the castle became one of strongholds of the Uesugi clan, who fell to the late Hōjō clan at the battle of Takanawahara in 1524, during the expansion of their rule over the Kantō area. When the Hōjō clan was finally defeated by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1590, the Kanto area was given to rule to Toyotomi's senior officer Tokugawa Ieyasu, who took his residence in Edo.

Tokugawa era EdoEdit

Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as the paramount warlord of the Sengoku period in Japan following his victory at the Battle of Sekigahara in October 1600. He formally founded the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603 and established his headquarters at Edo Castle. Edo became the center of political power and de facto capital of Japan, although the historic capital of Kyoto remained the de jure capital as the seat of the Emperor. Edo transformed from a fishing village in Musashi Province in 1457 into the largest metropolis in the world with an estimated population of 1,000,000 by 1721.[1][3]

Scroll depicting the Great Fire of Meireki
Map of Edo in the 1840s

In 1868, the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown in the Meiji Restoration by supporters of Emperor Meiji and his Imperial Court in Kyoto, ending Edo's status as the de facto capital of Japan. However, the new Meiji government soon renamed Edo to Tōkyō (東京, "Eastern Capital") and became the formal capital of Japan when the Emperor moved his residence to the city.

Government and administration during Edo periodEdit

Edo's municipal government was under the responsibility of the rōjū, the senior officials which oversaw the entire bakufu – the government of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The administrative definition of Edo was called Gofunai (御府内, litt. "where the government is").

The Machi-bugyō (町奉行) were samurai (at the very beginning of the shogunate daimyōs, later hatamoto) officials appointed to keep the order in the city, with the word designating both the heading magistrate, the magistrature and its organization. They were in charge of Edo's day-to-day administration, combining the role of police, judge and fire brigade. There were two offices, the South Machi-Bugyō and the North Machi-Bugyō, which had the same geographical jurisdiction in spite of their name but were rotating roles on a monthly basis. Despite their extensive responsibilities, the teams of the Machi-Bugyō were rather small, with 2 offices of 125 people each.The Machi-Bugyō did not have jurisdiction over the samurai residential areas, which remained under the shogunate direct rule.

The geographical jurisdiction of the Machi-Bugyō did not exactly coincide with the Gofunai, creating some complexity on the handling on the matters of the city.

The Kanjō-bugyō (finance commissioners) were responsible for the financial matters of the shogunate.,[4] whereas the Jisha-Bugyō handled matters related to shrines and temples.


Edo in the 17th century
Chōnin-room exhibit at the Fukagawa Edo Museum

The shogunate undertook major works that drastically changed the topography of the area. The Hibiya cove facing the castle was soon filled after the arrival of Ieyasu, the Hirakawa river was diverted, and several protective moats and logistical canals were dug, that furthermore limited the risks of flooding. Landfill works on the bay begun, with several areas reclaimed during the duration of the shogunate (notably the Tsukiji area). East of the city and of the Sumida river, a network of canals was dug, used mainly to acheminate goods.

Fresh water approvisionnement was a major issue, as direct wells would provide brackish water due to the situation of the city over an estuary. The few fresh water ponds of the city were put to use and a network of canals and underground wooden pipes bringing freshwater from the western side of the city and the Tama river was built. Some of this infrastrure was used until the 20th century.

General layout of the cityEdit

The city was laid out as a castle town around Edo Castle, itself positionned at the tip of the Musashino terrace. The area on the immediate proximity of the castle consisted of samurai and daimyō residences, whose families lived in Edo as part of the sankin kōtai system; the daimyō made journeys in alternating years to Edo, and used the residences for their entourages. The location of each residence was carefully attributed depending on their position as Tozama or Fudai. It was this extensive organization of the city for the samurai class which defined the character of Edo, particularly in contrast to the two major cities of Kyoto and Osaka neither of which were ruled by a daimyō or had a significant samurai population. Kyoto's character was defined by the Imperial Court, the court nobles, its Buddhist temples and its history; Osaka was the country's commercial center, dominated by the chōnin or the merchant class. On the contrary, the samurai and daimyō residences occupied up to 70% of the surface of Edo.

On the east and northeast side of the castle lived the Shomin (庶民, "regular people") including the chōnin (町人, "townsfolk") in a much more densily populated area than the samurai class area. This area, Shitamachi (下町, "lower town"), was the center of urban and merchant culture. As the city expanded after the Meiriki fire to the East across the Sumida river, shonin and samurai-class residential areas in the east of the city were more intertwined. Shomin would also live along the main roads leading in and out of the city.

Nihonbashi in Edo, ukiyo-e print by Hiroshige

The Nihonbashi bridge (日本橋, litt. "bridge of Japan") marked the center of the city's commercial center and the starting point of the gokaidō (thus making it the "center of the country"). Fishermen, craftsmen and other producers and retailers operated here. Shippers managed ships known as tarubune to and from Osaka and other cities, bringing goods into the city or transferring them from sea routes to river barges or land routes.

The northeastern corner of the city was considered a dangerous direction in the traditional onmyōdō cosmology and was protected from evil by a number of temples including Sensō-ji and Kan'ei-ji, one of the two tutelary Bodaiji temples of the Tokugawa. Beyond this were districts of the eta or outcasts, who performed "unclean" work and were separated from the main parts of the city. A path and a canal, a short distance north of the eta districts, extended west from the riverbank leading along the northern edge of the city to the Yoshiwara pleasure districts. Previously located near Ningyōchō, the districts were rebuilt in this more remote location after the Great Fire of Meireki.

Temples and shrines occupied roughly 15% of the surface of the city, equivalent to the living areas of the townspeople, with however an average of 1/10th of its population. Temples and shrines were spread out over the city. Besides the large concentration in the northeast side to protect the city, the second Bodaiji of the Tokugawa, Zōjō-ji occupied a large area south of the castle.

The Sumida River, then called the Great River (大川, Ōkawa), ran on the eastern side of the city. The shogunate's official rice-storage warehouses,[5] other official buildings were located here.

Impact of disastersEdit

Edo was repeatedly and regularly devastated by fires, the Great fire of Meireki in 1657 being the most disastrous, with an estimated 100,000 victims and a vast portion of the city completely burnt. At the time, the population of Edo was only around 300,000, and the impact of the fire was tremendous. The fire destroyed the dungeon of the Edo Castle, which was never rebuilt, and it influenced the urban planning afterwards to make the city more resilient with many empty areas to break spreading fires. Reconstruction efforts expanded the city East of the Sumida river and some daimyō residences were relocated to give more space to the city, especially in the direct vicinity of the shogun's residence, giving birth to a large green space beside the castle, present-day Fukiage gardens. During the Edo period, there were about 100 major fires mostly begun by accident and often quickly escalating and spreading through neighborhoods of wooden machiya which were heated with charcoal fires.

Housing in EdoEdit

Military casteEdit

The samurai and daimyōs residences varied dramatically in size depending on their status. Some daimyōs could have several residences in Edo. The upper residence (上屋敷, Kami-yashiki), was the main residence while the lord was in Edo and was used for official duties. It was not necessarily the largest of his residences, but the most convenient to commute to the castle. The middle residence (中屋敷, naka-yashiki), a bit further from the castle, could house the heir of the lord, his servants from his fief when he was in Edo for the sankin-kotai, or be a hiding residence if needed. The Lower residence (下屋敷, shimo-yashiki) was on the outskirts of town, more of a pleasure retreat with gardens. The lower residence could also be used as a retreat for the lord if a fire had devastated the city. Some of the powerful daimyōs residences occupied vast grounds of several dozens of hectares.


In a strict sense of the word, chōnin were only the townspeople who owned their residence, which was actually a minority. The shonin mainly lived in semi-collective housings called nagaya (長屋, litt. "Long house"), sort of multi-rooms wooden dwellings, organized in gated communities called Machi (, "town" or "village"), with communal facilities (such as wells connected to the city's fresh water distribution system, garbage collection area and communal bathrooms), owners and main shops facing the main street and renters and local shops living in the back, inside the community itself. Multi-floor buildings, often facing the main street, were reserved to the higher ranking members of society. The machi had curfew for the night and closing and guarded doors. Edo was nicknamed the City of 808 machi (江戸八百八町, Edo happyaku haccho), depicting the large number and diversity of those communities, but the actual number was closer to 1600 by the 19th century.


Edo, 1865 or 1866. Photochrom print. Five albumen prints joined to form a panorama. Photographer: Felice Beato

See Tokyo for photographs of the modern city.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Sansom, George. A History of Japan: 1615–1867, p. 114.
  2. ^ US Department of State. (1906). A digest of international law as embodied in diplomatic discussions, treaties and other international agreements (John Bassett Moore, ed.), Vol. 5, p. 759; excerpt, "The Mikado, on assuming the exercise of power at Yedo, changed the name of the city to Tokio".
  3. ^ Gordon, Andrew. (2003). A Modern History of Japan from Tokugawa Times to the Present, p. 23.
  4. ^ Deal, William E. (2007). Handbook to life in medieval and early modern Japan. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195331265.
  5. ^ Taxes, and samurai stipends, were paid not in coin, but in rice. See koku.


External linksEdit