Historic Tokyo

On a lark, we decided to visit the Tokyo Edo Museum. We were glad we did!


It cost 620 yen a person to get in, but the museum was huge and had tons of information about Tokyo during the Edo period, which ran from the 16th century to 1868. In the words of the museum, “In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu entered the Kanto area and made Edo his power base. In 1603, he was rising to the rank of seii tai shogun (literally meaning “barbarian-subduing generalissimo,” commonly known as shogun) and established his shogunate in Edo. Ieyasu worked to develop Edo into a capital suitable as the home of the shogunate.”

The shogun and emperor are two separate people. If you want a crash course on the history of Japan (which explains who the offices are for and how they got mixed up), click here.

Anyway. Edo was a little fishing village in 1457 and became a booming metropolis of over 1 million people by 1721. In comparison, London was about 650,000 people at this time. New York City had about 8,000 people. Once the shogun made it his home, commerce took off. Buddhist temples and brothels and theaters were built side by side, samurai built their city manors near the shogun’s residence, and common people lived in tiny, barracks-like homes strung together.


In the 1850s the United States pretty much forced Japan to end their isolationist policy (which was good for trade but bad for public health–many died of cholera and smallpox). Nationalism was stirring at this point (think The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise), and amidst the nationalist vs. American/modernist views, there was also political upheaval between the emperor and the shogunate/military factions. In 1868 the Meiji Restoration. The emperor abolished the office of Shogun and the Tokugawa family that hadh eld the office for around 300 years. The emperor welcomed westernization with open arms. As you can imagine, it was a very difficult time in Japan. This was when he moved the capital to Edo and renamed the city to “Tokyo.”

The museum depicted this in practically living technicolor, with moving models and beautiful panoramas. We were particularly impressed with how much information the graphs and charts gave. I’ve never seen such detailed info at a museum. It gave specific demographic statistics about many men, women, and children lived in a neighborhood at a certain decade and how many craftsmen were employed along specific streets. I was amazed.

After Edo Museum we strolled to Ueno Park, which is a must-see. Multiple museums, libraries, and gardens converge on this part of the city. We wandered through trees and walked by fountains, admiring signs that proudly displayed “TOKYO 2020!!” At the National Museum (which is primarily artwork–don’t go unless you love art) we snapped a few photos of old teahouses.


Nearby are also old, famous shrines.


We ended the day by walking through Yanaka Cemetery. Many famous people are buried here, from poets and novelists to the last shogun. Over 7,000 people are laid to rest here, and from the gravestone we could see some were Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian.


It’s a great way to get a feel for old Japan, something more traditional and cherished in their culture. It’s also a lovely, quiet place for a walk.

We had walked about nine miles at that point, so we were tired and went back to our hostel to collapse in bed. Good thing, too, because it began to rain. We weathered the beginning of our very first typhoon that night!


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