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    Guide to Tokyo History including former name and major disasters. Compared to many other Japanese cities, Tokyo is relatively young, only dating back some 500 years. During that short history, Tokyo has had more than its fair share of setbacks and triumphs. So how did it all begin?

    In the sixteenth century Tokyo was just a small fishing village named “Edo”. At this time the capital of Japan was the historic city Kyoto, located further to the south west.

    In 1603, the famous feudal lord – Tokugawa Ieyasu – managed to take control of Edo. His mission was to make it the most powerful city in the country. And sure enough by the seventeenth century he had succeeded. In fact he had more than succeeded – not only had he created the largest city in Japan but it would go on to be the most populous city in the world!

    Turret from Edo Castle, now Tokyo Imperial Palace

    Turret from Edo Castle, now Tokyo Imperial Palace

    Tokyo History

    In 1868, the name of Edo was changed to Tokyo, meaning “Eastern capital”, when it became the capital of Japan. The capital of Japan was defined by the location of the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. In 1868 primary residence of the Emperor of Japan moved from Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) to the Tokyo Imperial Palace (Kokyo) in the grounds of the former Edo Castle.

    In 1872, a devastating fire ravaged the city and inflicted heavy damage on the Ginza and Maronouchi districts, which were subsequently rebuilt with Western-style brick structures. The rebuilding program reflected a larger trend in the Japan, an effort to catch up with other great powers in the world

    Throughout Tokyo’s history it has prone to large scale fires like most of the world’s cities at the time. Tokyo has also had to deal with one other major threat, earthquakes. The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which destroyed most of the Tokyo and was the worst natural disaster in modern Japanese history. It is estimated that over 142,ooo people died in this earthquake. The rebuild took seven years and included more than 200,000 new buildings, seven reinforced concrete bridges on the Sumida River, and a number of parks, in one of which the Hall of the Nameless Dead was constructed as a memorial to the estimated 30,000 casualties in Tokyo alone.

    Wako Department Store Ginza survived World War II

    Wako Department Store Ginza survived World War II

    Tokyo also incurred heavy damage from Allied bombings in World War II, when U.S. Air Force raids reduced large sections of the city to rubble. After Japan’s surrender, U.S. troops occupied Tokyo until April 1952. The decade following 1954 was a time of rapid expansion and renovation, culminating in Tokyo’s hosting of the summer Olympics in 1964. Tokyo observed its 500th anniversary in 1957.

    A City Still Growing

    Since then Tokyo’s growth has continued and is keeping pace with its increasing stature as one of the most important cities in the world. Tokyo of the new millennium is sometimes surprising. Visitors come expecting a city of the future and are often surprised to encounter aspects caught in the past. Indeed it’s true, everyday people swing gadgets and gimmicks from every available dangling point. Tokyo is still home to more people than any other metropolitan area. Today, the larger metropolitan Tokyo area is home to more than 35 million people, with more than 13 million residing in the city centre itself. It is the largest metropolitan area in the world by population.

    A Few Tokyo Facts

    Residential population:
    32 million in the Greater Tokyo area. 8.4 million of which live in the ward area (year 2005)

    Population density:
    14,000 people per square kilometre.

    Average commuting time:
    1.5 to 2 hours. Twenty six million people use the city’s public transport system each day!

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