Tokyo Through the Ages: Edo-Tokyo Museum – The Lone Wonderer

What is the capital of Japan? Tokyo, yes you knew it. Everyone knows it. But it hasn’t always been the case. What was the former name of Tokyo? What was the former capital of Japan? When did the Japanese political power has been relocated to Tokyo? Why? This is what we are gonna see in this post.

This is the first museum dedicated to the history of Tokyo. Opened in 1993, it preserves the rich heritage from the Edo era and it features models of the city of Edo/Tokyo between 1590 and 1964.

Life size replica of the Nihonbashi, the bridge which was leading to Edo in 1603.

In 1590, Tokugawa Ieaysu choose Edo to be his military headquarter. He established his Shogunate and became appointed Shogun by the Emperor in 1603, which is also the beggining of the Edo Era. Officialy, Japan still had an Emperor, whose seat was in the former capital of the country: Kyoto. But he was weak and powerless. The Imperial family remained because it was still prestigious for the warlords and in the Japanese ideology. So even if Kyoto was the official capital of Japan, Edo was the center of power in the country.

Edo Castle replica (1603)

The Edo era (1603-1868) brought an economic growth, an isolationist foreign policy, a stable population and a global interest for arts and culture. Edo even became the most populated city in the world with 1.1 million people living in the walls of the city in the mid 18th century.

The 3rd of February 1867, the young Prince Mutsuhito (14 years old) was crowned and became Emperor Meiji. At this time, the current Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, was struggling to maintain its powers. Many of his officers wanted to bring the Imperial ruling back. With the pressure of foreign forces and a rebellion against the current power, Tokugawa Yoshinobu had no other choices but resigning.

The period of the end of the Shogunate is reffered to as Bakumatsu. Resulting in the end of the isolationist foreign policy (sakoku) and the restoration of the Empire under the Emperor Meiji. The Meiji Era (1868-1912) is the opening to the world of Japan. Ending the feudal society and getting access instead to western technologies to become an industrial nation and an emerging and rising power. Meiji can be translated as “enlightenment”.

In 1869, the 17 years old Emperor Meiji went to Edo for the First time. Taking advantage of the strategic position of the city and wishing to gain the loyalty of the whole population of the city, he relocated the capital of the Empire to Edo, which he will rename Tokyo (meaning Western Capital). The Edo castle became the new Imperial Palace.

In 1923, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake (The Great Kanto Earthquake) hit Tokyo really hard. 142.000 people died or went missing. Over 570.000 homes have been destroyed, leaving over 1.9 million people homeless.

When we talk about Japan and WW2, the first things that come in most of people mind are Hiroshima and Nagazaki’s nuclear bombs and Pearl Harbor. However, Tokyo has been directly involved in this war, and at a high price. American AirForce bombed Tokyo between 1944 and 1945, causing between 75.000 and 200.000 casualities. Half of the city was destroyed. The population of the city dwindled from 6.7 Millions to 2.8 Millions from 1940 to 1945. Many people had to leave as they didn’t have a home anymore.

To conclude, Tokyo has a very rich and fascinating history. What you have been reading on this post is only a sample and a veeeery short version of Tokyo history. If you would like to know more, you can make your own researches, leaving a comment under this post or if you have the chance, to go to the Edo-Tokyo Museum! I absolutely loved this museum, probably one of my favorite I’ve ever been!

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