Tokyo: Edo Castle AKA Tokyo Castle (江戸城)
A visit to a Japanese city is not complete without visiting its landmark castle. A visit to these Shogunate-era structures are among the favorite activities of the flock. And to our excitement, we learned that the Japanese capital, Tokyo, has a castle of its own, the Edo Castle.
Today, the Imperial Palace, currently the home of the Japanese emperor, is standing on the site of the former Edo Castle. The park-like complex occupies a large part of Chiyoda Ward with a land area of 3.41 square kilometers. During the Japanese property boom in the 80s, it is said that the palace complex alone valued more than the total value of all the real estate in California, U.S.A.
The plan for the former Edo Castle is similar to the plans in other castles throughout Japan. The entire complex is surrounded by a moat. The old Edo Castle complex is divided into various wards or citadels which is divided by moats and walls. Access between these wards is by bridges, with buffer gates on either side. The original Edo Castle complex is much larger than it is today, even extending back to what is now the grand Tokyo train station five hundred meters away.
THE EAST GARDENS
The East Gardens (皇居東御苑, Kōkyo Higashi Gyoen) is part of the Imperial Palace complex that is open to the public. As what its name suggests, it is one of the many green sanctuaries in the Japanese capital that offers a break from the usual fast-paced busy lifestyle of modern Tokyo. Indeed, when standing at the center of the large, green lawn, behind the luscious trees are lines of modern buildings trying to peek from view. There are lots of trees, trees lining up on most walkways and roads. Among those trees are a total of 260 trees donated by each of the prefectures, planted west of the Nihonmaru gardens.
You can also have a walk through the pond gardens that you can feel is authentically Japanese, and feel as if with nature, and one of these pond gardens is the Nihonmaru Garden.
The East Gardens used to be a vast complex of mostly wooden buildings during the Shogunate era and is part of the Honmaru (main circle) and Ninomaru (secondary circle). The Honmaru is where the Shogun lived. Unfortunately, natural and man-made disasters such as fires, earthquakes and the Second World War took a toll on these structures and was never rebuilt. Today, the Imperial Palace is undertaking steps to preserve what is left of the site.
Most of the man-made structures in the East Gardens are built in the traditional Japanese architecture. Many of these were purposed or repurposed into airconditioned resting place and souvenir shops. Some newer buildings were built here on a more modern architecture, some of which occupies some of the agencies of the Japanese government. One of the modern structures, the Toka Gakudo, was built in 1963 as a private music hall and a gift for Empress Kojun.
THE [MISSING] MAIN KEEP
Little that we know that Tokyo’s own historic castle lacked the distinctive main keep. Most major Japanese cities have a castle with its tall wooden tower in its distinctive traditional Japanese architecture as one of their major landmarks. Even Hiroshima has its own castle, with its keep destroyed during the atomic bombing in 1945 but has since been rebuilt.
What remained of the main keep is only its stone foundation or the tenshu. The tenshu measured 11 meters high, equivalent of a three-story building. A five-story keep used to stand on this building. The wooden structure measured 51 meters in height, equivalent of a modern 18-story building, and is the tallest in Japan at that time, symbolizing the shogun’s power. The main keep was constructed for thirty-one years, being finally completed in 1638, only to be burned down nineteen years later. It was since never been rebuilt.
Sometimes we wonder why for more than three centuries no one bothered to rebuild the keep? Probably it is due to Edo enjoying a long period of peace (Pax Tokugawa) and eliminated their need of rebuilding the fortified tower. However, strings of natural and man-made calamities may have strained the resources of the local government which eventually made them abandon any attempt to rebuild the keep.
Recently there is a running campaign to have the main keep reconstructed. There is already a plan and an artist’s rendition of the completed tower. The organizers’ objective, they say, is to give Tokyo more of its historic pride and give the Japanese capital a symbol appropriate to embody its history, as well as drawing more tourism revenue. The reconstructed structure is to house a museum that would show life during the Edo period. So far, neither the Imperial Household Agency nor the Japanese government has an official say on the project.
EDO CASTLE As The Emperor’s Residence
Even without the main keep, the Edo Castle still served as the home of the Shogun, the daimyos, and his other officials. Then came the Meiji restoration where the shogunate’s powers were subdued. In 1868, the teenage Emperor Meiji decided to have the Edo Castle as his new residence and have its occupants expelled, including Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu. He also made Tokyo, then called Edo, his de facto capital and gave its current name meaning the “Eastern Capital”. The castle grounds would later be called as the “Imperial Castle”.
Entrance is free. Upon entrance, you are given a resin card or “ticket”, which you will be returning to the counter upon exit. The park closes early at 5:00 in the afternoon.
You are also not permitted to fly a drone in the palace grounds, well, because it is part of the Emperor’s official residence.
Nearest Train Station:
- Takebashi Station (Tozai Line)
- Otemachi Station (Chiyoda, Marunochi, Hanzomon, Mita, Tozai Lines)
- Kudanshita (Tozai, Hanzomon, Shinjuku line)
- The iconic Tokyo station is located 500 meters from the East Gardens