The history of Edo Castle dates back to the Heian Period when a fortified palace was built by the Edo clan on this site. In 1457 Ota Dokan constructed the first Edo Castle under the Uesugi clan. The castle remained under the control of the Uesugi family until the coming of the Tokugawa. Before Tokugawa Ieyasu, Edo (Tokyo) was just another town in the Kanto area. Partly due to Ieyasu's revolutionary city planning, the town of Edo developed at lightning speed and quickly became the social and political center of Japan.
In 1590, after Toyotomi Hideyoshi completed the unification of Japan he granted lordship over the greater Tokyo region to his lieutenant Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa could have ruled from the well established castle town of Odawara (80km west of Tokyo); instead, he took the opportunity to build a new city from the underdeveloped village of Edo. In a little over 100 years, Edo's population would grow to more than a million people, making it the largest city in the world.
When Tokugawa became Shogun in 1603, Edo effectively became the capital of Japan. He mobilized a workforce from all parts of the country to build the huge stone walls, watchtowers, and palaces of the castle. The castle was the heart of Tokugawa's city and the largest castle in the world. The castle design was the work of the great castle architect, and Ieyasu's friend, Todo Takatora.
The 15km outer moat and the 5km inner moat connect to the Sumida River to roughly spiral around the inner compound of the castle. The entire 15km of the outer moat was dug and completed in around four months, an incredible feat in any century. These Inner and Outer moats were crossed by 36 gates, many of which have left their mark on well known place names: Hanzomon, Toranomon, Akasaka Mitsuke (-mon & -mitsuke are gates); Hitotsubashi, Kandabashi, Suidobashi, and Iidabashi (-bashi means bridge) are all namesakes from those fortified bridges. Buddhist temples were even strategically located in the Northeast (Kaneiji Temple) and Southwest (Zojoji Temple) to ward off evil spirits in accordance with Japanese feng shui.
Since the end of the Edo Period (1868), Tokyo has suffered calamities such as the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) and WWII where fires destroyed much of the city. Even so, you can still find remnants of the original castle scattered around Tokyo. There are around 20 original buildings (3 of the gates are registered as Important Cultural Properties) and sections of the stonework fortifications can be seen throughout the city.
The six main compounds surrounded by the inner moat remain almost as they were at the end of the Edo Period. The Western and Fukiage Compounds are now known as the Imperial Palace and the First, Second and Third Compounds are called the "Imperial Palace East Gardens." You can walk the gardens, but the public is only allowed into the Imperial Palace grounds on special occasions. The North Compound is home to a park, museum, and the famous Budokan event hall. Jogging around this central core is a popular course for Tokyo runners. Any day of the week, you will see countless joggers making the 5km trek around the castle grounds. Many people don't realize that the massive stone walls and waterway they jog around were the original castle walls and moat. Along this course you can also enjoy the sights of 9 gates and 3 watchtowers, including the Otemon Gate.
The amount of stonework that has lasted over the past 400 years is amazing considering all they have withstood. Each stone was expertly fit together without mortar to provide enough flexibility to stand through hundreds of years of earthquakes. Most of the stone walls and fortifications of the outer moat were destroyed to make way for new developments in the 1900s. Sotobori Dori (Outer Moat Road) was built over part of the outer moat after filling most of it in. The canal across the northern part of the castle today is the only part of the old moat that was not filled in. If you walk along the high embankments you will occasionally come across ruins from the original fortifications.
For 264 years, 15 generations of Tokugawa ruled Japan from Edo Castle. The Tokugawa gave up control of the castle when they lost the Boshin war in 1868. The Emperor was restored as the ruler of Japan and moved to Edo Castle. At this time, the city was renamed Tokyo, or "Eastern Capital". The next time you are in Tokyo or even look at a map of the city, note the large green area in the middle and think about how the castle defined the city of Tokyo today.
I have visited Edo-jo many times and never tire of walking the grounds or searching out remnants of the original castle. The size may surprise you because it would take most of a day to walk the whole grounds just off the main compounds to visit all the structures even with a well planned trip.
I've also written an extensive article on the stone quarries that supplied the stones and some background about how the Tokugawa built this extensive network of stone walls: Edo Castle Stone Quarries
I have a little over 100 photos of Edo-jo on this page pinned to the map. I'm in the process of organizing them into some albums for easier viewing. The albums do not have strict definitions but loosely group together photos from the same area that you should be able to easily visit in one grouping. Some areas around Iidabashi, Tokiwabashi, and Akasaka have had some developments since these photos were taken, mostly making the castle parts more visible or accessible and I'll try to get these updated in the next few months. (Mar 14, 2023)
|English Name||Edo Castle|
|Castle Condition||No main keep but other buildings|
|Designations||Top 100 Castles, has Important Cultural Properties, National Historic Site, Special Historic Site|
|Historical Period||Edo Period|
|Artifacts||Soto Sakurada Gate, Tayasu Gate, Shimizu Gate|
|Features||gates, turrets, bridges, water moats, stone walls, walls|
|Access||Tokyo Station, among others|
|Visitor Information||Free admission. Opens from 9am. Closes between 4 and 5pm depending on the season. Closed Mondays and Fridays except when Monday is a national holiday, in which case it's closed on Tuesday. Also closed 12/28-1/3 and irregularly for other events.|
|Time Required||3 hrs.|
|Coordinates||35° 41' 17.66" N, 139° 45' 15.55" E|
|Added to Jcastle||1999|
|Admin Year Visited||1992, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022, 2023|
|Admin Visits||August 1992, many times since|