Tokyo: History

Archaeological evidence indicates that the site of Tokyo was inhabited by Stone Age tribes. The present city was founded in the 12th cent. as the village of Edo (also Yedo or Yeddo) [estuary]. A local warlord, Edo Taro Shigenada (whose family, according to tradition, probably took the name Edo from their place of residence) built a fort there. In 1456–57 Ota Dokan, ruler of the Kanto region under the Japanese shogunate, constructed a castle at Edo.

The castle passed in 1590 to Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa line of shoguns, who made Edo the capital of a province and, after formally assuming the title of shogun in 1603, the capital of the shogunate. The imperial capital, however, remained at Kyoto. In Tokugawa times, the shogun's palace, encircled by the residences of the daimyos [feudal barons], samurai, and merchants, dominated the city's life. The urban population was increased by the shogun's retainers and by the large retinues of the daimyos, who were obliged to divide their time between their regional power centers and the capital.

Although the city prospered as a commercial and cultural center, it later declined as the shogunate weakened. On Apr. 11, 1868, the last Tokugawa shogun surrendered Edo Castle to the imperial forces. The emperor, restored to power, made Edo his capital, renaming the city Tokyo [eastern capital] as distinguished from Kyoto, since then often called Saikyo [western capital]. The castle then became the royal palace.

The 1923 earthquake and fire destroyed nearly half the densely populated city and took more than 150,000 lives. The rebuilt city included wide streets, designed to serve as firebreaks. Heavy Allied bombing during World War II devastated half of Tokyo, destroyed or damaged many famous landmarks, and ruined nearly all of the city's industrial plant. The American firebombing of Mar. 10, 1945, alone killed 80,000 to 100,000 people. The Meiji shrine (still the most popular in Japan), which was dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his consort, was badly damaged but has been restored. Left entirely intact were the imperial palace grounds and the surrounding area where the embassies, the diet building, and the newest office buildings stand; this area is the administrative center of the city.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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